Pop Cultured: The influence of poetry in Iranian history

Poetry in Iran is not just documentation of history but an influential component of Iranian culture. Photo by Pixabay from Pexels.

In ancient history, the words of a prophet were highly valued in Jewish culture and philosophers were impactful to Greek culture. In Persia (now modern-day Iran), poets and poetry do not just act as a documentation of history, but are also an influential part of Iranian culture today, according to a TED Talk titled, “The beauty of Persian poetry,” delivered by Hamidreza Mohammadi, who is the founder of the Ganjoor website dedicated to Persian poetry. 

One of the most influential epic poetry books in Iranian culture is titled, “Shahnameh,” also known as “The Book of Kings.” The book was created 7,000 years ago by the Persian poet Ferdowsi, according to an article titled, “The Shahnameh: a Persian Cultural Emblem and a Timeless Masterpiece.” Ferdowsi gathered and wrote down stories about Iranian history and legends through rhymes. The combination of history and cultural values he wrote made it an important piece of literature and a crucial part of Iranian identity. His epic poem spread to China, India and even to Turkic cultures, according to the Library of Congress in an article titled, “A Thousand Years of the Persian Book.”  

Another prominent Iranian poet was known as Hafez. Like Ferdowsi, Hafez collected Persian literature and poetry in the 14th-century. His most famous book is titled, “Divan-e Hafez,” according to Tap Persia in an article titled, “Hafez – Biography, Poems, and Thoughts.”  His work is often said to be in every Iranian household. “Divan-e Hafez” is a book to give guidance and is even used to tell fortunes, according to the site. Today he is still heavily influential with his poetry, which appears in songs, art and calligraphy. Due to his wisdom and influence, Iranians may go on a pilgrimage to Hafez’s tomb to seek guidance, according to an article titled, “A Poetic Pilgrimage To Iran’s Hafez and Saadi Tombs.” 

In the 19th century, Iran began to modernize and opened itself to western ideas, according to a New Yorker article titled, “Poetry and Politics in Iran.” With the growth of foreign influences, there was also an anti-Western sentiment in Iran. In the mid-20th century, Jalal Al-e-Ahmad, a prominent writer published, “Occidentosis.” His book talked about the influx of western cultures in Iran as a disease, adding that embracing western culture would attack the values in Iranian poetry and thus Iranian nationalism.  

Poetry in Iran is even influential on holidays like Shab-eh Yalda. Shab-eh Yalda is a holiday celebrated annually on Dec. 21. It celebrates the shift from light over darkness, according to a site titled, “Yalda Night, Iranian celebration of the longest night of the year.” During the holiday, Iranians eat fruit and nuts, but most importantly read verses in the “Divan-e Hafez.” Family and friends will make a wish and read a page from the “Divan-e Hafez” aloud to get the answers to their wishes. Beyond Iran, the holiday is also celebrated in countries like Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.  

Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, says poetry can be used as a weapon against oppression, according to an article titled, “Poetry is a powerful weapon against oppression: Ayatollah Khamenei.” By explaining Islamic lifestyles, concepts of morality, politics and culture through poetry, it can be a great way to combat against foreign influences in Iran, according to the article.   

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