Saadi, The Eminent Iranian Poet
Friday, April 13, 2012
Compiled By: Firouzeh Mirrazavi
Deputy Editor of Iran Review
Iran is planning to mark the national Sa'adi Day paying tribute to the eminent 13th-century Persian poet during a ceremony in the historical city of Shiraz.
Many Iranian university professors and scholars are slated to attend the ceremony celebrating the birth anniversary of the world-renowned poet.
This year’s event, set to be held at the National Library and Document Center Hall of Shiraz on April 19, 2012, will include discussion sessions focusing on the ‘Islamic Studies’ and ‘Persian Culture’ in Sa’adi’s works.
Born in Shiraz in 1194 CE, Sa’adi Shirazi, is known as a Sufi master, mystic and metaphysicist in the history of Persian literature.
His proficiency in Persian literature confers on him the title ‘Master of Prose and Poetry’.
Abū-Muḥammad Muṣliḥ al-Dīn bin Abdallāh Shīrāzī (1184 – 1283/1291), better known as Saadi, was one of the major Persian poets of the medieval period. He is recognized not only for the quality of his writing, but also for the depth of his social thoughts.
A native of Shiraz, his father died when he was an infant. Saadi experienced a youth of poverty and hardship, and left his native town at a young age for Baghdad to persue a better education.
As a young man he was inducted to study at the famous an-Nizzāmīya center of knowledge (1195-1226), where he excelled in Islamic Sciences, law, governance, history, Arabic literature and theology.
The unsettled conditions following the Mongol invasion of Khwarzim and Iran led him to wander for 30 years abroad through Anatolia (he visited the Port of Adana, and near Konya he met proud Ghazi landlords), Syria (he mentions the famine in Damascus), Egypt (of its music and Bazaars its clerics and elite class), and Iraq (the port of Basra and the Tigris river).
He also refers in his work about his travels in Sind (across the Indus and Thar with a Turkic Amir named Tughral), India (especially Somnath where he encountered Brahmans) and Central Asia (where he meets the survivors of the Mongol invasion in Khwarezm).
While Mongol and European sources (such as Marco Polo) gravitated to the potentates and the good life of Ilkhanate rule, Saadi mingled with the ordinary survivors of the Mongol onslaught. He sat in remote teahouses late into the night and exchanged views with merchants, farmers, preachers, wayfarers, thieves, and Sufi mendicants.
For twenty years or more, he continued the same schedule of preaching, advising, learning, honing his sermons, and polishing them into gems illuminating the wisdom and foibles of his people. His life clearly reflects upon the lives of ordinary Muslims, who suffered displacement, plight, agony and conflict, during those turbulent times.
When he reappeared in his native Shiraz he was an elderly man. Shiraz, under Atabak Abubakr Sa'd ibn Zangy (1231-60) was enjoying an era of relative tranquility. Saadi was not only welcomed to the city but was respected highly by the ruler and enumerated among the greats of the province.
In response, Saadi took his nom de plume from the name of the local prince, Sa'd ibn Zangi, and composed some of his most delightful panegyrics as an initial gesture of gratitude in praise of the ruling house and placed them at the beginning of his Bustan. He seems to have spent the rest of his life in Shiraz.
Bostan (The Orchard) and Golestan (Flower Garden) are Saadi’s masterpieces. Bostan is entirely in verse (epic meter) and consists of stories aptly illustrating the standard virtues recommended to Muslims (justice, liberality, modesty, contentment) as well as of reflections on the behavior of dervishes and their ecstatic practices.
Golestan is mainly in prose and contains stories and personal anecdotes. The text is interspersed with a variety of short poems containing aphorisms, advice and humorous reflections.
Copies of both works were often penned by the masters of calligraphy and sometimes decorated with miniatures of great beauty.
Saadi displays great wisdom in all his works with an understanding of the human mind, and many of his lines and sayings have been frequently quoted.
He is also remembered as a great panegyrist and lyricist. He wrote many qasidas (long panegyrics) in Persian and Arabic, mystic ghazals (love poems) and satirical poetry.
Saadi's prose style, described as "simple but impossible to imitate" flows quite naturally and effortlessly. Its simplicity, however, is grounded in a semantic web consisting of synonymy, homophony, and oxymoron buttressed by internal rhythm and external rhyme something that Dr. Iraj Bashiri quite skillfully captures in his translation of the Prologue of the work:
"In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Laudation is due the most High, the most Glorious, Whose worship bridges the Gap and Whose recognition breeds beneficence. Each breath inhaled sustains life, exhaled imparts rejuvenation. Two blessings in every breath, each due a separate salutation.
Whose hand properly offers and whose tongue,
The salutation due Him, and not be wrong?
Says He: "Ingratiate yourself, O family of David,
Unlike the unthankful, that I thee bid!"
Subjects proper, best admit to all transgression,
At His threshold, with contrite expression;
How otherwise could mortal creatures ever,
Make themselves worthy of His discretion?
The shower of His merciful bounty gratifies all, and His banquet of limitless generosity recognizes no fall. The inner secrets of His subjects, He does not divulge, nor does He, for a rogue's slight frailty, in injustice indulge.
O generosity personified!
To the Christian and the Magi,
You bestow with pleasure,
From Your invisible treasure.
O ardent benefactor!
You will lift Your friends high,
There is solid proof of that,
Not abandoning enemies to die!
He has ordered the zephyr to cover, with the emerald carpet of spring, the earth; and He has instructed the maternal vernal clouds to nourish the seeds of autumn to birth. In foliage green, He has clothed the trees, and through beautiful blossoms of many hues, has perfumed the breeze. He has allowed the life-imparting sap to percolate and its delicious honey to circulate. His power is hidden in the tiny seed that sires the lofty palm.
The clouds, the wind, the moon, and the sun,
For your comfort, and at your behest, run;
They toil continuously for your satisfaction,
Should not you halt, monitor your action?"
Saadi demonstrates a profound awareness of the absurdity of human existence. The fate of those who depend on the changeable moods of kings is contrasted with the freedom of dervishes.
For western students, Bostan and Golestan have a special attraction. However, Saadi is also remembered as a great panegyrist and lyricist, the author of a number of masterly general odes portraying human experience, and also of particular odes such as the lament on the fall of Baghdad after the Mongol invasion in 1258.
He is also known for a number of works in Arabic. The peculiar blend of human kindness and cynicism, humor and resignation displayed in Saadi’s works, together with a tendency to avoid the painful dilemmas, make him the most typical and lovable writer in classic Iranian literature.
Saadi distinguished between the spiritual and the practical or mundane aspects of life. In his Bostan, for example, Saadi uses the mundane world as a springboard to propel himself beyond the earthly realms.
Images in Bostan are delicate in nature and soothing. In the Golestan, Saadi lowers the spiritual to touch the heart of his fellow wayfarers. Here the images are graphic and, thanks to Saadi’s dexterity, remain concrete in the reader’s mind.
The world honors Saadi by gracing the entrance to the Hall of Nations in New York with this call for breaking all barriers:
Of one Essence is the human race,
Thusly has Creation put the Base;
One Limb impacted is sufficient,
For all Others to feel the Mace.
Saadi is said to have died in 1290 and his tomb in Shiraz is a shrine. He remains the master of love poetry and one of the greatest poets that Persia has produced.