Research article
Issue: № 3 (7), 2016


The article devoted to the works of one of the famous Persian poets of the XVI c. Muhtasham Kashani. Muhtasham along with Kalim Kashani, Talib Amoli and others was one of the brighetest representatives of the “Indian style” in Persian literature. However his works to this day remains little known. The ghazals of the poet which are a significant part of his poetry are considered in the article. Particular attention is paid to the ideological-tematic basis of ghazals as well as to their artistic features; it emphasizes the uniqueness of the ghazals of Muhtasham.

Among those who created the Persian literature of the 16th century a worthy place rightfully belongs to Muhtasham Kashani. His name is mentioned in many sources, evidences of eyewitnesses, when describing certain events, but all of these details have a fragmentary character and do not allow to make a much complete picture of his life.

The poet’s date of birth is unknown. His family came from Nazak, but then his father khoja Mir Ahmad settled in Kashan, and here was born Kamal al - Din Muhtasham. Subsequently, he was nicknamed “Shams ash - shuara "(" The Sun of Poets"). Khoja Mir Ahmad, in order to feed his family, was engaged in textile trade and this occupation then moved to Muhtasham. However, the interests of the young man were in a completely different sphere; verbal creativity, the ability to clothe thoughts and emotions in poetic lines beckoned him. This predetermined his fate and vigorous activity in the field of poetry.

His mentor in the way of poetic art was Sadaki Astrabadi [1, p. 793]. But Muhtasham was also influenced by other masters of artistic expression, in particular by Lisani Shirazi (died in 1534/35). Lisani, by the way, had an impact not only on Muhtasham, but also on poets such as Zamiri Isfahani (died in 1579), Vakhshi  Bafqi etc. [2, p. 733]. In his turn Muhtasham, already being a famous poet, had many disciples. Among them stood out such authors as Nav'i Khabushani (died in 1610)., Zukhuri Tarshizi (died in 1616.) and the compiler of the famous anthology "Hulasat al - Ash'ar" ( "The quintessence of poetry") Taki ad - Din Kashi (died in 1608/09).  The latter, moreover, after the death of his teacher, took over the work on the collection and systematization of his poems, which formed the basis of the divan by Mukhtasham [2, p. 743].

We do not have precise information about whether Muhtasham entirely devoted himself to literary career, leaving the trade in textiles. But, obviously, he was one of those who formed the literary milieu of the era. Z.Safa said that he was familiar with a number of poets - contemporaries: Khairati Tuni, Khali Gilani, Zamiri Isfahani, Vakhshi Bafqi and others [1, p. 793]. Possibly he was also close with court circles. His numerous glorifications dedicated to the crowned personages and important persons allow us to judge.

These glorifications were well paid. However, hardly Muhtasham, considering his numerous complaints about the difficulties, was quite a wealthy man and led a comfortable existence. In family life, he also was not particularly happy and had no children.

Most of his life the poet spent in Kashan, although he was known far beyond the borders of the city. Ya.Ripka writes that through his brother Abd al - Ghani Muhtasham was able to establish links with the Indian court [3, p. 281] and sent there laudatory qasidas in honor of the rulers and dignitaries of the Shah.

Possibly he went into other cities of Iran, especially Yazd. But Kashan always remained the main residence of the poet; Here he died in 1588 and he was buried here.

Muhtasham left a significant literary legacy including both poetry and prose. His poetry, which contains nearly 12 thousand baits (including also poems in his prose writings), stands out with variety of genres, but he became famous primarily for his religious poetry, particularly heartfelt elegy. Almost all researchers, who mentioned the name of Muhtasham write about it [4]. At the same time ghazal lyrics of the poet has not been given enough attention, and so far it is still very poorly understood, although to the pen of Muhtasham belong many bright ghazals.       

In total there are 700 ghazals in the divan of poet. They are created in accordance with the canons of the genre and the description of the feeling of love, the mention of his unrequited love, his complaints and reproaches to the beloved in the ghazals prevail. As an example, we can provide the following a ghazal:


                  Waiting for you, I was with the hope tonight,

                   You haven’t come and your expectation killed me tonight.

                   Where have you been, for hoping to see you before dawn (the day),

                   I [even] did not speak, and [only] tears were streaming out of my eyes


                  I swear by your eyes, curls and ringlets, that without you,

                  I had no dream, no silence, and rest tonight.

                  Thinking thanks to whom has blossomed flower of your heart,

                  My heart, scratched [itself] from the confusion, shed blood


                  If anyone heard my plaintive wails,

                  Then wept bitterly over unhappy me tonight.

                  Touch my lips with yours, and at least a moment stay with me till


                  For my patience is exhausted tonight.

      Like a candle extinguished Muhtasham from sorrow,

      [But] compassionate [to him] did not pass near his bed tonight [5, p. 25].


This ghazal with redif “emshab” – “tonight” contains common set of formal - substantive indicators of medieval Persian ghazal, from the image of the "suffering lover" and to conditionally - artistic drawing specific to the genre. The volume of ghazal – is seven baits also corresponds to the accepted requirements, and it should be noted that ghazals by Muhtasham mostly include seven to nine baits, although his divan has larger ghazals, containing eleven and twelve baits.

Semantics of ghazals by Muhtasham also oriented to show the relationship of lovers. And in most cases, they are painted in the colors of grief and sadness. These moods are inherent in the hero. His feelings are in the focus of the poet. And unlike other authors Muhtasham describes them in a relaxed manner. His hero rarely experiences severe confusion or is at the limit of emotional state. He  rather quietly discourses and talks about his condition.

The beloved of the hero - is the goal of his spiritual aspirations, the meaning of his life, the source of his experiences. She does not look as active as her lover, but nevertheless her image – is an important semantic center of the poem. In this regard, Muhtasham introduces new notes to the ghazal, often resorting to the description of the girl. Descriptions are abound in graphic means and are conditionally divided into direct and indirect. The poet draws his images in the surrounding reality, and refers to a literary tradition. In the following lines are used images of nature, individual subjects, by which the image of the beloved is created:


                    The sun fascinated with your moonlike face,

        Transforms your beacon in the quarter.

                    The moon, polished by the sun, is the

                    Mirror [reflection of] your beautiful face.

                    Young cypress with all its freedom

                    Is an old servant of your sweet figure.

                    Bud, circle (sphere) of the mouth of which turned into an ear,

                    Is a connoisseur of your eloquent rubies.

                    Khotan Musk, the land of which became a balm,

                    Is a dust in the way of your curls with the scent of jasmine.

                    The brave gazelle of idols’ eyes

         Affected by the evil eye of arrows of your gazelle (i.e. eyes).

         For the bird of heart of exhausted Muhtasham,

         Nest (housing) is a quiver of your [5,p. 34].


The first bait determines the specificity of all ghazal. It mentions the beauty of a girl for the first time, who fascinates even the sun. Each subsequent bait contains one image, with which beauty is concretized. Herewith, each "natural" or "objective" image corresponds to some -  part of the body, "the moon" - the "face", "cypress" - "figure", "bud" - "lips", "musk" - "curls" "arrow of gazelle" - "eyes".

A general composition decision includes all the visual tools and poetic techniques. Thus, in the third bait are used oppositions "young" - "old", "free" - "slave"; in the fourth and sixth baits “rubies" and "arrows of gazelles" are metaphorical designation of the girl’s lips and eyes. In addition, the "face" and "figure" are further accompanied by the epithets "beautiful" and "cute", and "curls" are endowed with "the scent of jasmine."

However, with all the variety of graphic means the description of the beloved by Muhtasham does not go beyond the inherent medieval Persian-language poetry of abstract portraits, behind which is not a real person. Rather, we are talking about a certain ideal, who embodies the feminine beauty and plays an important role as the starting point in a love relationship of the heroes. They, appositely, also develop in accordance with a familiar pattern; they have traditional motives of jealousy and resentment in love, inconstancy and treachery of the lover. Relationships are tested and indispensable introduction of opponent's image. He, though, does not encounter directly the hero, but is present as an invisible obstacle in his path. Hero even envies him, for she destroys the opponent with “sweet coquetry"and spares even"poison of her eyes"for him [5, p. 44].

Keeping literary continuity, Muhtasham at the same time finds new features and details that give a peculiar coloring to his ghazal lyrics. The relationship of his lovers gets not just a static image, but in some cases they enter into conversation with each other, in a lively and colloquial form expressing lashing and mentioning about feelings:


                  I said to her: “Do not torment constantly [my] groaning heart”,

                  She said: "If you are my lover, do not complain to the torment."

                  I said to her: "How much can I hear reproaches from strangers?"

                  She said: «Hear from me, do not listen to the strangers».

                  I said to her: «What should I do because of sufferings of my heart

                                                                           tormenting my soul?”

                  She said: “While your soul is alive [exists] do not express your

hearts’ sufferings”,

                  I said to her: «I wish I wouldn’t confess my love to you”,

                  She said: «Since you confessed, then no longer deny [it]”.

                  I said to her: “Because of my state I have hundreds of grievances

                                                                                               to love”,

                  She said: “Look at the state of the others, do not be offended  

so much”

                  I said to her: “Better if I sacrifice my head for you”,

                  She pulled out a blade, that [they say] do not ask for mercy.

                  I said to her: “Do not humiliate madly in love Mukhtasham,

                  She said: "Do not humiliate yourself for the sake of his glory" [5, p. 221].


Dialogic structure reflects the circumstances in which the characters reside. The young man is experiencing emotional excitement, reports about his experiences, trying to convey to women his condition, waiting for a response. His beloved is indifferent, in a relaxed manner, coldly responds to his remarks.

In short questions and answers there is a presence of conflict, which in other ghazals develops into open confrontation. It is represented in several ways, ranging from the fine details and finishing with actions and behavior of the characters. His increase leads to the fact that the hero is ready to give up his love and leave the beloved. His this intention is consistent with behavioral stereotype of the hero in the direction of the "vasukht" of Medieval Persianlanguage poetry. Features of the "vasukht", as can be seen, are also shown through in the lyrics of Muhtasham, but here they gain a more complete and logically consistent form. In this sense, the image of the opponent fits naturally into the environment of lovers. 

Their behavior, as compared to the ghazals of other authors, is described more motivated. Seeing the indifference of the beloved, knowing his own powerlessness and solitude, the young man confides his feelings, expresses complaints not to the girl, but refers to the natural elements, (reminding lovers of large epic poems), to the sagi, his heart, and even to the opponent. These applications differ with a particular expression, actually representing a monologue of the character, enclosed in a formal framework of ghazal.

Muhtasham resorts in appeals to various poetic techniques, using the names of mythical and literary characters, hints at the Quranic stories, as if trying to fully describe the emotions of the hero, to reveal his shape in a certain situation. One of these appeals, in particular an appeal to the wind looks as follows:


                 Oh, the morning breeze! Take the pain tormenting me to

 the drug,

                 That is, take away my soul and give to the beloved.

      The message of the mote bring to the sun, illuminating

                                                                                 (decorating) the world,

                 Gift of the ant deliver to the palace of Suleyman.

                 The apology of the weakness of the slave servitude report to the Master,

                 Notify sultan about dervish’s kissing doorstep.

                 After hearing about my humility, arise,

                 Majestically pass and tell [about it] to the graceful


                 If you'll listen to the story of my state from the

beginning to the end,

                 So quickly come back and bring me the good news

about blessing,

                 And if not, then start the rules of intercession

                 In front of her [to write] a message and complete [my] story.


                 Look, if the message doesn’t settle matters,

                 Help her and make her shed a tear.

                 For the sake of lovers’ light of eyes,

                 Carry the smell of shirt from Egypt to Kanaan.

                 Mukhtasham, again known under the name (address)


                 Shorten the story and deliver the message to the addressee [5, p. 220].


In the first bait there is a direct reference to the morning breeze with a request to help. The hero likens his love with heartache and compares the beloved with the drug. As the drug eliminates the pain, meeting with the beloved can heal his hearty tortures and for this he is ready to sacrifice his life.

The content of the second bait is curious enough. In his first hemistich the poet uses the well familiar from Sufi literature images of motes and  the sun, and in the second resorts to the well-known from literary and Quranic tradition images of the ant and Suleyman. The purpose of such an organization of bait is in opposition of lovers. And besides the boy, comparing himself to a mote and ant, diminishes his own value and shows his insignificance in relation to the girl. The beauty of her is likened to the sun, "illuminating the world", and the power and influence – to the power of Suleyman.

The designated in the second bait opposition continues in the next one. Here also in each hemistich Muhtasham refers to the contrast: slave - master, dervish - Sultan, maintaining a predetermined setting to identify heroes of the various provisions. However, in the next three baits the opposition is eliminated, being replaced by the desire of the young man to convey to the beloved the message of his sufferings and thereby soften her heart.

The culmination of his intentions is reflected in the penultimate bait. It also has a hint of the familiar motifs and in particular episodes from the history of Yusif contained in the Qur'an and in many literary works. As is well known, thanks to the shirt of Yusif brought from Kanaan to Egypt, his father found healing and received his sight. This motif is used in the sense that the good news from the beloved, like Yusif’s shirt, can heal emotional wounds, give the light of hope and bring back to life.

The final bait, at first glance, falls out of the general semantics and applies only to the author himself. But it contains two points, connecting it with the rest of the baits. This is a key concept of loyalty and motive of message. The motive of message is repeated several times throughout the ghazal and is quite logically reflected in the last bait. The concept of loyalty is even met only once can be related to the author himself, nevertheless is perceived more widely in the context of the poem, as an essential attribute of the relationship of lovers.

Muhtasham pays much attention to the development of their images. However, he often talks about the feeling of love in general, its essence and peculiarities of manifestation, noting:


                 If you wish peace and faith, do not look for love of angels,

                 And if you dream of love, then leave the world and faith [5, p. 227].


Muhtasham examines love from the philosophical aspect. Sometimes in his thoughts are woven not typical to his work Sufi images; in some ghazals didactic coloring is predominant. General points, as well as the main theme, the poet seeks to convey in an unobtrusive, entertaining way, without violating the canons of the genre.

In his ghazals are often found sound repetitions, redif, the use of only one poetic figure or motif throughout the whole poem. He uses also such game features as a repeated pattern of one hemistich. His whole ghazal is built on this principle and several baits from it are as follows:


              She was in a tent with a lowered [to her face] veil, shy, but

              Last night the tent was eliminated, yesterday night the veil,

tonight – hijab.

             Look at my courage [for] on her stadium I kissed

             Last evening the ground, in the afternoon – horseshoes of [her] horse,  and

                                                                              tonight – the stirrup.

             If one night I make a place in her quarter,

                                            then [even] her dog because of my [deed]

 At night, will move away from me, in the morning will show estrangement, and in the afternoon will avoid me [5, p. 24].


Although ghazal talks about love, but the focus of it is made not on the basis of content, but on a purely formal beginning. The composition of the second hemistich acts one. Its feature is that the semantics of misra was necessarily included in the three-part series. It, in its turn, is oriented to the temporary figures: last evning - last night - tonight; last night – in the afternoon- tonight; at night - in the morning - in the afternoon. In fact, under the framework of the chronology is adapted imagery of each bait, and this scheme is reflected in the final couplet:


                 Mukhtasham, the patience in the army with the appearance of

the Shah of love,

                 Turned into trouble yesterday night, tonight into excitement,

and in the afternoon into confusion.


Formal - game elements in Persianlanguage poetry of the 16th-17th centuries were used quite often, and besides both in epic poetry, and in the poetry of small genres. In the epic poems, especially in nazira on "Khamsa" by Nizami in which the beginning of the game was laid in the very nature of the role model [6, p. 48], they stood out in the individual fragments and episodes, the plot, as well as on bait level. In the lyric poetry, as a rule, they have met either in bait, or in some - hemistich, as seen in the above lines.

Muhtasham as one of the major poets - lyricists of the 16t century in his ghazal poetry favored the development of traditional motifs. However, there are among his poems those that have tasks unusual for ghazals. They are a few poems, wearing a laudatory character, devoted to the glorification of the crowned heads. Their imagery is also different from their respective samples and is more like imagery qasidas, in the creation of which the poet has shown uncommon skill.

Ya.Ripka noted that his qasidas to Shahzade ("princes") were accepted with sympathy even by the rigid  Shah Tahmasib, who even for religious reasons did not  sympathize panegirism [3, p. 281].

Overall Muhtasham’s ghazals were in line with the regulatory requirements of the genre in the Middle Ages. At the same time, they surely stood out for their originality and artistic skill and occupied good place in the Persian-language poetry of the 16th century. And Muhtasham Kashani had an impact on the subsequent development of the ghazal genre in the 17th-18th centuries.