Let’s explore the immense beauty and richness of the Persian language.
Introduction and Facts about the Persian Language
So before we dive in, let’s learn a few basics about the Persian language. Many think that Persian is only spoken in Iran. While Iranians make up the largest number of Persian speakers, there are many others outside of Iran for who Persian is either their native language or understand it with some level of fluency. It’s estimated that at least 110 million people worldwide speak Persian or one of its many dialects. It has the status of an official language in three countries, namely Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
Along with these three countries, several others have large Persian speaking populations including Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Russia and Turkmenistan. Other areas, for example in the Caucasus, Armenia and parts of western China speak Indo-European languages closely related to Persian.
Learning the Persian Language
Persian is arguably the most beautiful spoken and written language there is. If you don’t understand the language, don’t worry, it’s not as difficult as it may seem. I myself am still learning it through classes, books and resources that I find online. I’ve put together some basic lessons and vocabulary lists based off of my notes as well as links to cool tutorials that I’ve found to be extremely helpful. Hopefully you’ll find them useful as well. Check them out below.
Since time immemorable, poetry has been indisputably the most prolific form of divine and creative expression in the Persian-speaking world. Though poetic forms of expression started with the migration of the Indo-Europeans (a.k.a. the Aryans) who were the ancestors of the Iranian-speaking peoples, what we today know as Persian poetry originated sometime in the 9th century. This was around the time that the older language of Pahlavi, or Middle Persian, was infused with Arabic and Turkish words to create something resembling the modern form of Persian we know and love today. By the 10th century, Persian became the language of culture of the Muslim East and its use was encouraged by both Iranian and Turkic rulers who had by then replaced the Arab conquerors from a few centuries before. This was especially true of the Samanids, a dynasty of Persian descent that ruled over parts of what is today Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. From that time onward, the popularity of Persian blossomed until it became the dominant spoken and literary language of the vast majority of people from Iraq to the borders of the China.
Types of Persian Poetry
One early and popular form of Persian Poetry was the qasida. This genre actually originated with the Arabs, though the Persian poets adopted its form for their own uses. Qasidas follow a pattern of a single elaborate metre with every line rhyming with the same word or sound. Their content generally extols the virtues and courage of the poet’s patron, often the local ruler or Shah. Some of the most famous writers of Persian qasidas were Khaqani and Anvari.
As you can see in the passage by Khaqani below, each line ends with the same sound (in this case also word).
The bird that sings the song of pain is love
The courier who knows the tongue of the Unseen is love
The existence that call you to nonexistence is love
And that which redeems you from you is love
—Translation by R. Saberi
Another form that somewhat resembles the qasida is the every popular ghazal. It generally contains rhyming couplets and a refrain with each line having the same metre. It is arguably one of the most popular forms of Persian verse and was popularized in the Persian-speaking world by masters of the form such as Hafez and Sa’adi.
The other very popular form of Persian poetry is the rubaʿi. It is generally written as a two-couplet, four line poem. Nearly every Persian has dabbled with literature has written a ruba’i in their lifetime. The most famous though, at least in the west, is Omar Khayyam, whose English translation of his Rubaiyat was a best-seller in London in the late 1800s.
The final of the four major forms of Persian poetry is the masnavi, also known as mathnawi . This genre also uses rhyming couplets but is generally longer than the forms above and used primary in epic literature and narratives. The greatest masters of this form are arguably Farid al-Dīn ʿAṭṭar, Jalaluddin Rumi, Ferdowsi and Nizami.