The Ghazal is the leading medium for lyrical expression not only in Persian, but also in Arabic, Turkish, Urdu, and many other poetic traditions. We will read, discuss, and enjoy Persian Ghazals by Rumi (d. 1273), Saʿdi (d. 1291), and Hafiz (d. 1390), towering figures whose verse has inspired global audiences well beyond the Persian language and the time periods and cultural geography to which they belonged. Together, we will unpack their poems linguistically and rhetorically, translate them into English, and discuss their approaches to beauty, love, and spirituality. Persian 455 is taught as a content-based language course, meaning we study Persian in order to better understand a specific topic— in this case Ghazal poetry.
Why Is this Course Good for Your Life?
Toni Morrison (d. 2019), the celebrated American novelist, was once dismissed by a white critic for only writing about Black people. The said critic held that Morrison’s imaginative prose would be better appreciated if it were concerned with less provincial and more universal (read white) issues. Throughout her consequential career, Morrison strove to mute the internalized white gaze in her creative process in order to recenter her literary imagination around her people’s humanity.
What does it mean then to read classical Persian poetry in twenty-first century America? To counter the dehumanization of any people, we must unlearn how we assign social and cultural value and how we universalize our objects of value. We must learn new ways of valuing what is important and beautiful in the world. Over the past millennium, millions of people from Iberia to India have composed and celebrated Ghazals as a lyrical expression of what they hold as subversive and beautiful. The aesthetic world of the Persian Ghazal will be a point of entry into a different value system, one that we will learn how to appreciate and critique together. Gaining entry into this world requires a patient practice, a step toward the recuperation of our humanity from racist systems.