The effects of poetry

Sometime back I cited a case to show the power of poetry, citing the case of Abu Abdullah Jafar ibn Mohammad ibn Hakim ibn Abdurrahman ibn Adam Rudaki Samarghandi and the effect his poem had on Samaanid Prince Nasr II ibn Ahmad…. I am not going to repeat it here. (You may read it on: OR OR

Let me get a more contemporary account for you. It is from the admirable Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran (2006) by Jason Elliot. I have already cited the book before also and there are still some more passages I would like to share with you… such as this, which speaks about the effect of poetry. Over to Elliot himself.

~~On the flight from Tehran to Shiraz, I sat next to a friendly and voluble man in his mid-40s. He spoke fluent English and we were soon deep in conversation. “Have I heard of you?” he asked when I said I was a writer. I told him I doubted it. “Any relation to George Eliot?” I had to disappoint him and explained my ancestors had been castle rustlers. “You won’t guess what I am,” he said cheerfully. “I am a forensic pathologist.” He was returning to Shiraz, with his wife, from a conference in Stockholm and a brief tour of some European capitals. He enjoyed the trip, he said, but confessed that the encounter with forensic pathologists from Europe and America had left him feeling depressed.

“When they heard I was from Iran, they bought phrase books and tried to speak to me in my language.. But what did they say? As-salaamu alaikum and kaifa halek. Arabic!” He rolled his eyes and described with missed expressions of sympathy and exasperation having to explain that neither he nor the vast majority of his countrymen spoke a word of the language.

(Then follows a brief passage where he bemoans the lack of information about his country and all the asinine questions he had to field at the conference, ending with a fine flourish with a dialogue from Casablanca of all places… which I have passed over the time being). But then, he says…I continue……

He said he was glad that someone would be writing about Iran. “I shall say I met one of the sons of George Eliot. And you,” he thought for a moment,”you will say you met one of the sons of Aresh, whose arrows flew for two and a half days, and where it landed became the border between Turan and Iran.”

This unexpectedly poetic reference was from the great mythis materpiece of Ferdowsi, the Shahnameh. As it happened, I had some of his poetry in a small book I had brought with me, which I fished out. (This happened to be the Chahar Maqala, which I have already written about earlier…see the above links). It fell open on the immortal lines composed by the blind poet, Rudaki (I am nor going to cite them again…. do see above)

I read the first couplets in Persian but before I could reach the second he said “No, no. Its like this,” and prised the book from my hands. “I remember this,” he said, “its wonderful” and read the entire poem. Then he flipped through the pages and began on a new poem. As he read, his left hand began to mark out the metre like a conductor, and soon his whole body was swaying to the rhythm of the lines. “They sing this bit sometimes,” he said, “with a man and a woman.” So saying, he began to sing, switching between keys at each line, and after a few more lines broke out into that passionate ullulating that is so difficult to describe. “Poetry,” he said, almost breathlessly, as if emerging from a trance, a few minutes later. “It makes us very emotional.”

My sentiments exactly……


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