The literary and musical traditions of the Persianate world are perhaps unique in that poetry is still closely associated with a variety of musical forms. Certain forms of Persian poems such as the ghazal and rubaiyat have their roots in musical accompaniment, and certain classical or folk traditions are known to consistently pair music and poetry. Yet at the same time, poetry that was perhaps written for the page is later set to music. Whereas in mainstream English language music production it is quite rare or niche for classic poetry to turn up as song lyrics, Persian language poetry continues to enjoy a healthy presence in many musical genres, be they pop, classical, jazz, or rock.
In an effort to acquaint listeners with the diversity of Persian poetry in music, this mix provides a sampling of songs from multiple genres that feature many different types of poems in Persian. The songs presented herein draw from different poets and dialects: some are in classical forms, some are modern or free verse iterations, and some that transcend these categories, such as an excerpt from the late Iranian poet Ahmad Shamloo’s Persian translation of Langston Hughes — a renowned African-American poet.
Ajam has featured many articles regarding the vibrancy and ongoing developments in Iranian poetry, particularly in terms of issues of representation and translation. In that spirit, this mix allows the poetry to speak for itself.
Tracklist with Rough Translations Below:
All translations from Persian courtesy of Kamyar Jarahzadeh unless otherwise noted.
1) Mowlana Rumi – From Divan-e Shams (Arranged and Performed by Shahram Nazeri and Shams Ensemble)
O lovers, leave behind your schemes.
Become crazy, become crazy.
Jump into the heart of the fire,
Become a Moth, Become a moth.
Lose yourself, destroy your house
And when the lovers come,
Make them your housemates, make them your housemates.
2) Langston Hughes – Harlem
(Translated into Persian by Ahmad Shamloo)
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
3) Mowlana Rumi – From Divan-e Shams (Performed by Dang Show)
For the love of lovers, give life–
Without love the knot won’t open.
My soul: be drunk here.
My mind: be silent here.
There was never such fog in the world
My heart: right here, be limp.
I’m afraid of war, but if war comes
I say: become war.
If from your lips descends a kiss,
If that were to pass you by,
Since that makes the surface, become the throat.
Since this makes a face, become a claw.
Out of every few, some are not enemies.
And in every direction, there is one in his drunkenness.
For the lover, be so drunk that you are his cup
And for your enemies–be their leader.
4) Omar Khayyam – Read by Ahmad Shamloo
Among the departed of this long road,
Who has returned to tell us the secrets?
Enough–on these two roads of greed versus need,
Don’t leave anything behind: you won’t be back.
5) Homay and the Mastan Group – Saz va Avaz (author of poem disputed)
Oh mufti, we’re more awake than you.
Even with all our drunkenness, we’re more sober than you.
You drink the blood of people, we drink the blood of grapes.
So what’s your verdict, then? Tell us who’s more bloodthirsty.
6) Abolqassem Lahooti – Ashegh Shodam (Gunaham Een Ast) Performed by Ahmad Zahir
I fell in love, that is my sin.
The pain of my heart, from that I have no refugee.
Except for pain, don’t come to me.
Don’t come for my flowers.
I am a garden of pain, and this is my crop.
7) Man o To – Ghazal Shakeri (Poem by Mowlana Rumi)
Just as that moment that we sit on the patio, you and I.
In two roles, and with two faces, but in one life, you and I.
Without you and I, you and I, we can come together with virtue.
Happy and far away from the distraction of superstitions, you and I.
8) Sarakhbor-i Rast – Academy of Maqam Tajikstan (Poem by Hafez)
Translation courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways
Wine-bearer, brighten our cup with the light of wine,
Songstress, say what we accomplished that was longed for in this world!
Oh, he who knows not our eternal enjoyment of wine,
In the winecup, we saw reflected the faces of the beloved.
Eternal is the one in whose heart lives love,
Our eternal existence is written in the Book of the World.
9) Saghinameh – Maryam Akhondy
Translation by Shahriar Shahriari
O Bearer, bring the wine that brings joy
To increase generosity, & let perfection buoy
Give me some, for I have lost my heart
Both traits from me have kept apart
Bring the wine whose reflection in the cup
Signals to all the kings whose times are up
Give me wine, and with the reed-flute I will sing
When was Jamshid, and when Kavoos was king
Bring me the elixir whose grace and alchemy
Bestows treasures, from bonds of time sets free
Give me so they’ll open the doors once again
Of long life and the bliss that will remain
Bearer give the wine that the Holy Grail
Will make claims of sight in the Void and thus fail
Give me so that I, with the help of the Grail
All secrets, like Jamshid, themselves avail