Shamlu’s poetic world

Mansur Khaksar


The transformation of Farsi poetry brought about by Nima Youshij, untying it feet from the fetters of the prosodic measures, was a turning point in the long tradition of our poetry. It opened a huge vista in the perception and thinking of the poets that came after him. Nima offered a different understandings of the principles of classical poetry. His artistry was not confined to removing the need for a fixed length hemistich and dispensing with the tradition of rhyming. Above, and overseeing these changes, and going beyond altering the formation of the old poetry, he was focusing on a broader structure and function based on a more contemporary understanding of human and social existence. His aim in renovating poetry was to commit it to a natural identity and also to achieve a modern discipline in the mind and linguistic performence of the poet.

Nima rightly recognised that the formal and literal technique dominating classical poetry interfered with its vitality, vigour and progress. Although he accepted some of its aesthetic properties and extended them in the new poetry writing, he never ceased for a moment to widen his poetic experience by emphasising the singular distinction of this art, and in returning a natural order to it. What Nima Youshij founded in contemporary poetry, which confirmed an entire era in the conviction that the traditional order of poetry could be challenged, his creative successor, Ahmad Shamlu, kept in our horizon by imparting a more innovative experience.

The “white poem”, which draws its sources from this great poet, avoided the compulsory rules which had entered the Nimai’ school of poetry and adopted a freer structure. This allowed a more direct relationship linking the poet with his or her emotional roots. In previous poetry, the qualities of the poet’s vision as well as the span of the subject could only be expressed in general terms and were subsumed by the formal limitations imposed on poetic expression.

Nima’s poetry transgressed these limitations. It relied on the natural function inherent within poetry itself to portray the poet’s solidarity with life and the wide world surrounding him or her in specific and unambiguous details and scenes. “White poetry” continues the poetic vision as Nima underlined and avoids the contrived rules imposed on its creation. However its most distinct difference with Nimai’ poetry is to move away from the rhythms it employed. Nima Yioushij paid attention to an overall harmonious rhyming and created many experimental examples to achieve this end.

Ahmad Shamlu discovered the inner characteristics of poetry and its manifestation in the literary creations of classical masters as well as the Nimai’ experience. He offered an individual approach. By distancing himself from the obligations imposed by older poetry, and some of the limitations that had entered the Nimai’ poem, he recognised the role of prose and music hidden in the language. In the structure of “white poetry”, in contrast to the prosodic and Nimai’ rules, the poem arms itself entirely with the natural ability of words and incorporates a prose-like process without losing its poetic distinction.


Night with a bleeding throat

Has sung awhile

Cold sits the sea

In the blackness of the forest a branch towards the light

Cries out


 Sketch (tarh) from The mirror garden - baghe ayeneh)


This was a cry both choked back and expressed that shows all its inner designs clearly in a prose-poem. What stands out in this form of expression is poetry and the intellectual flight of the poet. Ahmad Shamlu, by insisting on the inner beauty of prose and the twists and turns of its expressive logic, broadens the poet’s intellectual process. Based on the needs of poetry and its emotional world, Shamlu rearranges the order, the succession and some of the rules of the language of prose to create a phenomenon in accord with verse and poetry. The poet performs this event and the structural development with the help of the emotional self which, in the most personal moment of creation, carries a world that is compassionate-humane in his thoughts:


This is no crown

That you could lift from between two lions

It is a kiss on the sun’s crest

                             that your life is called for

And the ashes of your bones

                             are its reward


[From: The knife on the dish - deshneh dar dish]


Whatever the interpretation, “white poetry” is a development over the Nimai’ poetry - a large branch of that. It is a poetry created upon Nima Youshij innovations. Nima thought that any change in the construction and the tools of a poet’s expression is conditional on his/her knowledge of the world and a revolutionised outlook. “White poetry” could not take root outside this teaching and a sincere application of it


Death ineffectually


With piercing eyes

We in truth have for the moments

not born witness

but in the form of these pains

Which from many tinted love of humans

                   we have a portion.


[From the Phoenix -Qoqnus]


In the absence of Shamlu, whose name will forever remain in our poetry, “white poetry” has opened an established and productive territory in contemporary Farsi poetry

August 1, 2000


Mansur Khaksar is poet and critic and an influential member of the Iranian literary scene both while he was in Iran, and in exile. He edits Daftarhaye Shanbeh in the USA. He has translated Farrokh Afrooshteh, Dena PO BOX 3953, Seattle Wa 98124-3953, USA.