The following is a qita’ by Bahar. A qita’ is a fragment, sometimes literally like when the rest of the poem is lost or unfinished, and sometimes metaphorically when the poet was just feeling pithy. They don’t get much attention and are usually gathered up in the back of the poet’s divan, or collected works, and ignored. Their brevity and obscurity make them perfect blog fodder (not to be confused with God Fodder by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, the band with two bassists. Remember? They had that song…trumpty diddledee green grey something…). This one is a good example of a metaphorical fragment because it contains a coherent argument about the nature and value of poetry and poets. Bahar is contrasting the emotional and technical aspects of poetry and coming down hard on the emotional side. You could argue that this is indicative of a burgeoning modernism in Persian letters as it leaves behind the strictures of traditional verse and opens itself to experimentation with form and content. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
So anyway, he uses the word shi’r to mean poetry as we understand it today and nazm to mean poetry which adheres to the technical aspects of versification but completely lacks emotional impact. It’s an idea that has meaning to a general audience but also applies specifically to the deep self-loathing that Persian literature holds for the poetry of the nineteenth century and the Bazgasht movement which sought to return to poetry’s golden age of one thousand years earlier, give or take. The poets of that era have largely been dismissed as mere copycats and I think it’s rather unfair, so maybe I’ll get around to translating some of them one of these days.
None of that has all that much to do with Bahar’s little poem though, so here it is:
شعر دانی چیست مرواریدی از دریای عقل
شاعر آن افسونگری کاین طرفه مروارید سفت
صنعت و سجع و قوافی هست نظم و نیست شعر
ای بسا ناظم که نظمش نیست الا حرف مفت
شعر آن باشد که خیزد از دل و جوشد از لب
باز در دلها نشیند هر کجا گوشی شنفت
ای بسا شاعر که او در عمر خود نظمی نساخت
وی بسا ناظم که او در عمر خود شعری نگفت
What does it mean to understand poetry? A pearl in the sea of reason.
A poet is a magician who can pierce the pearl of wit
Structure, meter and rhyme are verse, not poetry
Many are the versifiers whose lines are nothing but worthless words
Poetry rises from the heart and bubbles over the lips
coming to rest again in the hearts of all who listen
There are so many poets who have never composed a line of verse
and there are so many versifiers who have never given voice to a poem