Reza Baraheni on Nima Youshij Excerpt from the book Nima Youshij: Modern Persian Poetry, published by Candle & Fog, 2014. Collected and Translated by Somaye Talebi, Leila Rasouli. Edited by Babak Bouban. (c) Published under permission of copyright holders.
Nima in Afsaneh [The Legend] was definitely a romantic, influenced by the mid-nineteenth century’s poetry, but Nima in She’r-e-man [My Poetry] moved from Romanticism towards “symbolism”, as if he had travelled from France in the mid-nineteenth century to the late-nineteenth century and had had the honor of Mallarme’s company. However, there are principal differences between Nima – the symbolist of this time and age – and Mallarme – the founder of symbolism. The first difference among all is that Mallarme, more often, makes use of allusions and suggestions by means of which he interlaces the warps and wefts of a certain object and this is far from the spirit of descriptive realism in poetry. However, Nima does not merely use symbols, but wherever he feels the need, he provides descriptions of objects – not abstract but concrete ones – and thus adds the spirit of descriptive realism to the symbolism of his time.
Some have accused Nima of composing poetry based on western criteria as a result of which, they believe, his poems seem so alien within the context of Persian poetry. This is by no means acceptable, since compared to the criteria of westerners and in the context of western poetry, Nima’s poetry seems as fresh and alien as a Chinese poet’s does in France or Britain. I have seen several western poets and critics who, after reading some translated poems of Nima, find them original and even strange and have always requested for explanations as much as they need explanations while reading Hafez’s poetry. I have also seen Iranians who have lived in foreign countries and come back to Iran with a haversack full of Baudelaire, Verlaine and Apollinaire’s works, yet reading a poem such as Rira has made them flabbergasted. This is because Nima’s poetry is neither close to western poetry – except in an exalted level which is shared among all the poems – nor to eastern – as it regards life and nature through a kind of logic different from any others. Moreover, that is because Nima’s poetry is not made for blank, lazy, atrabilious or sentimental minds.
Nima’s poetry is the language of objects and birds, the language of animals, forests and the sea. He provides us with images of these in a way that no Persian poet before him has ever done. He knows these objects perfectly well and uses words to which he is strangely accustomed – words such as “touka” and “makh ola” which show his old familiarity with his childhood environment. No poet in Persian literature has ever provided the descriptions which Nima provided about the sea. Regarding the forest the case is the same. Furthermore, Nima speaks through the words concerned with the sea and forest; however in the previous Persian poems the sea and the forest were viewed from a general perspective. Nima’s ideology is a highly visual one. Most of all, he employs metaphors and symbols. Nima has such power of elision no other poet has ever had. For example, in a simile you may say “the flower” added to “the sun” equals “the flower of the sun”. Nima says ‘one thing added to something that is not said equals my purpose’; “the sun” added to the thing which is unsaid equals “freedom”. So the concept of “freedom” is obtained through a combination of above-mentioned elements and in the context of poetic language this is called “myth”. Within these combinations there may be up to forty elisions by means of which Nima reaches a specific kind of brevity. Nima is one of the most significant mythmakers in the world and Morgh-e-Amin [Bird of Amen] is a good example of his approach.