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Sohrab Books
1 Camberry Close
Basingstoke
Hants RG21 3AG U.K.
ISBN 1-870312-04-X

Christ and Christianity in Persian Poetry

Bishop Hassan Dehqani Tafti

[ List of Books by Bishop Hassan Dehqani Tafti | گفتگویی با اسقف حسن دهقانی تفتی و همسرشان مارگارت ]
¤ Introduction

1) Classical Poets from Ferdowsi onwards.
Classical poetry can itself be divided into two groups:

  1. An awareness of Christian thought in Persian Poetry
  2. Classical poets who actually mention the name of Jesus

2) Modern Poets.

3) Christian Poets today.

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Modern Poets Christ in Persian Poetry

Modern poetry is a new phenomenon in Persia. It started with Nima Yooshij in 1920. He is really the father of modern Persian poetry, and here the mould of classical poetry started to crack. Nationalistic thoughts came in - which was quite a new thing, especially before the first Persian Revolution when legends from before Islam started to come into Persian poetry, and mention of Christ also took on a new face. No longer was it mystical, but it was a way of expressing the inner problems, the country's problems, and people's social and political struggles.

Now some people may not agree with modern poetry. It took me a long time myself to accept it, but I have been converted to it. You can do far more in modern poetry - breaking the old moulds of rhyme and rhythm, giving meaning and life to it.

One of the famous modern poets is Mehdi Akhavan-Saliss (Omid). In a poem written in 1967 under the title of "Imaginary Bird" he identifies his sufferings with those of Christ in this line, from a translation by Professor Sorour Soroudi:

'As my enemy's desire, a lonely soul,
And the pen on my back, a cross
Has fate mistaken me for Mary's Jesus?'
Mehdi Akhavan-Saliss (Omid) - Persian Poetry

Then we go to another very popular modern poet, namely Ahmad Shamloo. Before the Islamic Revolution, on many evenings, groups used to collect in the Goethe Institute in Tehran, listening to poems being recited mainly by modern poets. Among them perhaps Shamloo was most popular. One of his poems is called "The Death of the Nazarene", orinted in a book called "Phoenix in the Rain" in 1966. Shamloo in this poem speaks about love and mercy in one's soul, facing the cruelty and injustice of man, and we can see how he describes Christ carrying his Cross. This is also translated by Professor Sorour Soroudi:

The burden's wooden tail
Drew a line
Heavy and trembling in his footsteps.
'Crown him with a wreath of thorns!'
And the long sound of the burden's tail
Ceaselessly
Spun a string of fire
In the delerium of his pain.
'- Make haste, Nazarene, Make haste!'
Discovering the mercy in his soul
He felt disburdened
And like a proud swan
Looked he into his limpidity.
'- Scourge him!'
The Leather rope
Landed
And the crimson cord
Passed through a big lump along his length.
'- Make haste, Nazarene, make haste!'
From the tumultuous ranks of the onlookers, Lazarus,
Pacing, went his way
Hands clasped behind,
And found his soul redeemed
From the agony of a biting debt:
'- He could verily have, had he himself so wished!'
The low sky sank heavily
Over the dying voice of mercy
The mourners walked up the hill
And the Sun
And the Moon
Darkened.
Ahmad Shamloo - The Death of the Nazarene
- From book

He has another poem called 'Moments and Always' in which he identifies himself with the cross of Christ, quite openly. The translation is by Professor Sorour Soroudi:

'Lo, there am I, having traversed all my bewilderments
Up to this Golgotha.
There am I, standing on the inverted cross
A statue as tall as a cry.
There am I
Having plucked cross-nails out of the palms with my teath.'
Very powerfull!

Ahmad Shamloo - Moments and Always - Persian Modern Poetry

Among modern poets we come across one by the name of Ahmad Alvand. In one of his poems, inspired by the Vietnam War, he brings Jesus down from heaven on Christmas Eve. The 'Son of God' observes that in a house in the black district there is no Christmas tree, no joy and no happiness. He searches for a tree for the deprived family at the banks of the Mekong River. Jesus swiftly reaches the banks of the river and is hit on the spot by a barrage of machine gun fire. Then:

'At God's threshold
Chrubs sing in harmony:
There he comes
A fresh wound in each palm:
A nail wound
And ...
And Mary whispers to herself:
'Crucified again'.
   (Translated by Sorour Soroudi)
Ahmad Alvand - On the Cross Again- Persian Modern Poetry

The last example of modern Poets I would like to mention is Mohammad Reza Shafi-ie-Kadkani (M. Sereshk). A book of his collected poems was published in 1968 under the name of 'In the Garden Lanes of Neshapour'. In one of the poems in that book, called 'Visit', Shai-ie employs Jesus' crucification and his miracles allegorically to create a false Messiah who symbolises the oppressive attitude of the so-called Christian West towards the Islamic East as seen by him:

'Lined up as beggars
We reaped with the sickle of each Crescent
Multiple harvests of poverty and hunger
In the miracle fields of this uncrucified Jesus.

O Messiah of plunder, of hate!
O artificial Messiah!
Where is the rain to wash off your face
The false images, the shadows of deceit?'
   (Translated by Sorour Soroudi)

Mohammad Reza Shafiei - Tehran 1348 - from the book In Neyshapur

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