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The Development
of Persian Poetry

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Modernist poetry, namely, a poetry which departs radically from the traditional school of the old masters, began to emerge only after World War II, when the deep social changes which had been developing for some time finally challenged the venerable literary tradition in a drastic fashion and eroded its foundations. It not only dispensed with the necessity of rhyme and consistent meter, but it also rejected the imagery of traditional poetry and departed noticeably from its mode of expression.

Nima Yushij (1897-1960), the father of modernist poetry, died in relative obscurity, but after World War II a number of young poets took up his cause, fighting against the shackles of literary conventions and writing free verse, sometimes with a vengeance. The vogue gathered momentum, and by the late 1950s it had become the dominant mode of avant-garde Persian poetry. Most of the contemporary literary movements in the West, from the Symbolist to Letterist to Imagist schools, have found exponents among modernist Persian poets.

In modernist poetry, all formal canons, thematic and imagistic conventions, as well as mystical dimensions of the traditional school are by and large abandoned, and the poets (taking their cues from the West rather than from native traditions) feel free to adapt the form of their poems to the requirements of their individual tastes and artistic outlooks. Hence the great variety of styles among modernist poets.

N. Naderpour, whose well-crafted poems are distinguished by a rich imagery no less than by the felicity of his polished language, has produced poems of considerable elegance and appeal since the mid-forties. He is also among the few modern critics who have not confused artistic integrity and achievement with commitment to definite sociopolitical views. A. Shamlu (Bamdad), who, prompted by his innovative urge, has experimented with a variety of styles, has remained a major influence among the modernist poets. An outstanding poet of this school is F. Farrokhzad, a female poet who casts her challenge against the shackles of social convention and marital morality, and the expression of her soul's search for love and fulfillment, in impassioned poems of remarkable sensuality and daring. Akhavan-e Thaleth, also a follower of the Nima school, has produced among others, long poems of veiled protest and of epic quality. In Sepehri, a poet of serene simplicity but overweening imagery, we find an original poet singing in praise of the simple pleasures of life and basking in the contemplation of nature. Lyric poetry has found able representatives in H. Ebtehaj ("Saya") and Simin Behbehani. Many other poets, mostly beginning their careers in the 1950s, have become well known in the modernist school. It is a fact, however, that practically no new major poet has come to the fore since the mid-sixties.

While the core of modernist poetry remains romantic, many poets of a liberal or radical bent have been preoccupied with protest against the establishment as well as with promoting their social and political ideas. Poems of protest, however, are mostly couched in allegory, symbolic language and muffled terms, as open criticism of sensitive issues could be perilous.

Modernist poets have, no doubt, produced works of considerable freshness and beauty, more in concert with the contemporary cultural climate of Iran than traditional poetry, but the new freedom and the continuing absence of well-defined and universally accepted criteria have also led to much inept and even nonsensical writing.


The Development
of Iranian Literatures

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Copyright© 1999 K. Kianush, Art Arena