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Middle East Kavitha Dispatch

An Iranian Dead Poets' Society
April 15, 2000

After two straight days of driving, we finally arrived in Shiraz, in southern Iran, late last night. What we thought would only be a five or six hour drive turned out to take more than twice that long! The trip itself was actually quite nice. We drove past beautiful mountains and stopped to visit some wonderful ruins along the way, like Persepolis. But by the time we finally arrived in Shiraz, we were more than ready to be there. First of all, we were STARVING! Being the big university town that it is, Shiraz offered a much larger selection of fast food options than we had seen in a long time. And most importantly, we were EXHAUSTED! We had been sleeping in the bus or on floors for days now, and the thought of a bed in a hotel room was very appealing.

So we went out to dinner, unpacked our bags and got cozy... we were home (temporarily at least). Shiraz is on our itinerary and we have to visit certain historical sites while we're here, but I've got a major confession to make: none of us really wants to go anywhere. We just want to rest in our hotel. I know, I know, it's awful. How many people get to visit Iran in their lifetime? Not many, especially not Americans. And here, we've been given such an incredible opportunity, and we're not making the most of it. You're right it's awful. But to be honest, traveling every single day gets a little hard... especially when you've been doing it for well over a year (like some of us). We've been on the move every single day, and by the time we arrived in Shiraz, we were tired. There -- I admitted it. We just wanted one day to stay home, not take any pictures or video, or visit any sites. Is that too much to ask?

"Okay, so what's in Shiraz that we've got to see?" asked Monica.

"Hmmm... let's see..." said Abeja, consulting the itinerary. "Looks like there are a couple of tombs of some poets."

"There's also a bazaar, but all the shops will be closed, since tomorrow is the 13th day of the New Year. Everyone will be picnicking with their families, instead of working in the shops."

"I'll skip the Dead Poets' Society visit... Pick me up when you are down for the picnic," said Jazzy.

"Yeah, me too," said Brian. "I've got two dispatches to write. It will be nice to have some time to catch up on my work."

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Another glorified tombstone?
Aw man, I knew it! I had to go. I had nothing to write about, so it was up to me to write about the tombs of Shiraz. "Great, another glorified tombstone for some old poet whose poetry I can't even appreciate since he wrote in another language," I thought to myself. Abeja, who is always up for an adventure and an outing, was nice enough to come with me. So, the next morning we left the other trekkers lounging, listening to their walkmans, catching up on emails and writing dispatches, and set out to discover more about Shiraz's famous Dead Poets' Society.

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Kavitha and Abeja have a most enjoyable day!
Much to our surprise, what we started unwillingly turned out to be one of the most enjoyable and pleasant days we've had in Iran!

The city of Shiraz is famous, not only here in Iran, but around the world, for being the birthplace of two of Iran's most beloved poets, Sheikh Mohammad Shams-ed-Din and Khaje Shams-ed-Din Mohammad. Wow, those Persians really knew how to name a guy! Don't be discouraged by the name though, you can call them Sa'di and Hafez.That's what all the locals do!

These are excerpts from Sa'di's Golestan (The Flower Garden), see how it compares to Hafez's poetry... which do you prefer?

These are excerpts from Sa'di's Golestan (The Flower Garden), see how it compares to Hafez's poetry... which do you prefer?

Expose not the secret failings of mankind, otherwise you must verily bring scandal upon them and distrust upon yourself.

Whoever acquires knowledge and does not practise it resembles him who ploughs his land and leaves it unsown.

The sinner who spends and gives away is better than the devotee who begs and lays by.

A learned man without works is a bee without honey, "Tell that harsh and ungenerous hornet: As thou yieldest no honey, wound not with thy sting."

The dervish in his prayer is saying: O God, have compassion on the wicked for to the good thou hast been abundantly kind, in as much as thou has made them virtuous.

Sa'di lived from 1207-1291, and Hafez, around 1324-1389. These two poets have a few things in common. Their fathers died while they were still young, so their education was entrusted to local scholars in Shiraz. They both became very interested in literature and religion (in fact the name Hafez means, "One who can recite the Koran from memory"). But this is where their similarities end.

Hafez Poetry

Shiraz, city of the heart,
  God preserve thee!
Pearl of capitals thou art,
  Ah! to serve thee.
Ruknabad, of thee I dream,
  Fairy river:
Whose drinks thy running stream
  Lives for ever.
Wind that blows from suburban,
  Whence thy sweetness?
Flowers ran with thee as thou ran
  With such fleetness.
Flowers from Jafarabad,
  Made of flowers
Thou for half-way house hast had
  Mussella's bowers.
Right through Shiraz the path goes
  Of perfection;
Anyone in Shiraz knows
  Its direction.
Spend not on Egyptian sweets
Sweet enough is Shiraz streets
  Shiraz honey
East Wind, hast thou aught to tell
  Of my gypsy?
Was she happy? Was she well?
  Was she tipsy?...
Hafez! so, is becoming a burden to you-
  Her absence
Why, you weren't thankful-
  Of her presence

While Sa'di spent much of his life traveling to distant countries, Hafez turned down many an invitation to live in royal courts in and around Iran, because he loved Shiraz, the city of his birth. While Sa'di wrote simple moral poetry and rhyme that reflected what he had learned during his travels, Hafez wrote mystical poetry inspired by Sufism and his love of life. Hey, that reminds me of Rumi back in Turkey.

Louie, one of our guides here in Iran, told us that Sa'di was his favorite poet. "I like Sa'di's poetry because it is straightforward and clear to understand." Sa'di developed a style of poetry called Mosajjya. Mosajjya is almost closer to prose than to poetry, but Sa'di used rhyme to convey moral or religious stories.

Hadi, our other guide, prefers Hafez. "Hafez's poetry," said Hadi with a starry look in his eyes, "shows the beauty of life."

"Hafez's poetry isn't simple like Sa'di's," explained Louie. "Men sit around for hours trying to figure out what Hafez meant in his poems."


venerated - regarded with respect, revered
vibrant - bright
gazebo - a covered, outdoor area used as a shady resting place
continuum - something that is continuous

One thing I've noticed about Iranians is that they love their poets, and they love parks. The famous poets of Iran are venerated by Persians for their beautiful verses, and for the important role they played in preserving the religion, language, and culture of Iran. And parks are a mainstay in Iranian society, because they are ideal places to spend time with your family, which is a very important aspect of Persian culture. So why not combine the two?

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Iranian families enjoy walking around the tombs
The tombs of Hafez and Sa'di are not somber places for the dead. Instead, they are vibrant and colorful parks, bursting with life. Birds chirped happily in the green trees, as Abeja and I walked through the gardens. Families enjoyed their holiday time, sitting on benches, eating ice cream and taking pictures. There were lush green lawns, colorful flowers greeting the spring, crystal fountains with golden fish, orange trees brimming with fruit, and oh yeah, there were some dead poets too.

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The Tomb of Hafez, surrounded by beautiful flowers
In beautiful marble tombs, the beloved poets rest. Hafez's tomb is inside an octagonal gazebo surrounded by his park, while Sa'di's tomb (down the street from Hafez's) is inside a larger marble building. The tombs are engraved in beautiful Persian calligraphy with verses from their poetry. After paying our respects, we joined the rest of the families, soaking in the warm spring sun and roaming the beautiful paths of the park.

Hafez poetry again

Saki, pass the brimming goblet round-
  Love seemed so simple, hazards now abound!
Thanks to the breeze-blown musk from charming curls
  Our hearts in blood of misery are drowned.
What safety in my lover's house,
  when bells Ring out their call the caravan to load?
Colour your mat with wine, if magus bids you:
  The traveler knows the custom and the road.
Dark night, and fear of waves and whirlpool's terror:
  The burdenless on shore know not our state;
My pleasure-seeking brought me ill-repute.
  What masks the mystery men celebrate?
To find God, Hafiz, you must not have flown;
  On finding Him, this world you must disown.

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Kavi contemplates joining the Dead Poets' Society
After several hours, we returned to join the rest of the team. "How were the dead poets?" they asked laughing. While the trekkers caught up on work, resting in the hotel, I couldn't help but feel that we had had the more relaxing afternoon. How could I explain that the tombs of the poets are not dead at all? I finally came to understand why these tombs of dead poets are so popular to Iranians. Instead of somber memorials to the past, these mausoleums are symbols of the beauty in Persian culture and its continuum into the future. Old grandfathers who grew up reciting the beautiful poems now visit the tombs joined by their granddaughters, who may not understand Hafez's words, but will never forget the beauty of his tomb.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at
Your Turn!!!

What do you think of the poetry of Shiraz's great poets?

Share your thoughts
and see what others wrote!

Abeja - The Odyssey is Non-Profit, but Not Non-Prophet
Brian - A Chat with a Mosque
Jasmine - No More No Ruz
Kavitha - Trekkers and Mongols in Iran's Desert Plateau
Team - Turn Off That Faucet! Water Doesn't Grow on Trees, You Know

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