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Rumi, Hafez, Omar Khayyam and the Global Artistic Perspective
Major artistic movements, form, mature and grow in clusters of time and region. Whether it’s the American jazz movement, or the great European classical music composers, Impressionist painters, Italian post WWII neorealist filmmakers, British Rock invasion bands (which were inspired by the American blues) or in this case the Persian classical poetry. Without an exception all major, global, highly creative and intensely demanding artistic movements are a product of a very specific cultural vibration set within a particular time and geography.
The Persian classical poetry movement is not an exception and follows this natural flow quite precisely.
When an artistic movement is formed, a whole universe of activity starts to buzz around it. Enthusiast groups are formed and special viewing areas or performance halls are built. A structure of trade forms around these movements, whether it’s art dealers, publishers, record and film producers, distributors, agents, managers and collectors. A system of training and education also shapes to support these movements; meaning as the artform grows so does the understanding and appreciation of it. And the training structure allows the young to aspire to become the next big players within these creative fields.
Although poetry has been immensely popular in Persia (and today’s Iran) for over a thousand years (or in forms much earlier), what we commonly refer to as Persian classical poetry movement in essence lasted about 400 years (about 1000-1400 CE) and produced many great poets. However, only three of which are globally recognized: Rumi, Hafez and Omar Khayyam.
In fact some might argue that Khayyam in height of his popularity in the West was much more known than today’s Rumi. As far as I know Khayyam is being quoted on at least four major studio Hollywood movies of 1940s, '50s and ‘60s: The Music Man, Pandora and The Flying Dutchman, Payton Place and The Picture of Dorian Gray. And there is also a biopic “Omar Khayyam” (1957), directed by William Dieterle (Portrait of Jennie, Elephant Walk, Salome…). These movies represent the very popular aspect of American culture. In contrast, except for an episode of the HBO series Six Feet Under, Rumi references are basically non-existent in American pop culture.
Since the English-speaking world appreciates Persian classical poetry through translations, the personality of these literary giants and the unique style of each poet is often ignored or morphed together to form an endless stream of brilliant verse. However, their work in the original Persian language is quite unique.
In the original Persian, Rumi and Hafez are as different from each other as Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. Hafez (1315-1390), who is undoubtedly the most popular of all the Persian classic poets in his homeland of Iran, is the true Persian word-meister. He has an immense grasp of the language, with a very distinct fluid style, that is often embellished with great care. The poetry of Rumi (1207-1273) by contrast is akin to Miles’ expression of Jazz, in many ways minimal, direct, honest, personal, soulful and masterful with a clear lack of embellishment. However, Hafez translations in English are often indistinguishable from Rumi, and this is of course expected when any great literary work is read through translation and interpretation.
Nevertheless, the beauty, grandeur, majesty, poetic craft and wisdom of these great beings come through not only in the original Persian language but in the English translations as well.
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