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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Nizami Ganjavi (1140/1–1202/3)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by A. V. Williams Jackson (1862–1937)
NIZAMI’S name as a Persian poet is one that is not so well known in the Occident as the name of Firdawsī, Hafez, or Sa’dī; but Nizami is one of the foremost classic writers of Persian literature, and there is authority for regarding his genius as second only to Firdawsī in the romantic epic style. He was a native of western Persia, and was born in the year 1141. He is generally spoken of as Nizami of Ganjah, and that seems to have been his home during most of his life, and he died there in his sixty-third year (A.D. 1203?). Nizami was brought up in an atmosphere of religious asceticism, but his life was brightened by the illumination which came with the divine poetic gift; his talents won him court favor, but his choice was retirement and quiet meditation, and there was a certain halo of sanctity about his person.  1
  It is interesting to the literary student to think of this epic romanticist as writing in Persia at a time when the strain of the romantic epopee was just beginning to be heard among the minstrels of Provence and Normandy, and the music of its notes was awakening English ears. And yet Nizami’s first poetic production, the ‘Makhzan-al-asrār,’ or ‘Storehouse of Mysteries,’ was rather a work of religious didacticism than of romance, and its title shows the Sūfī tinge of mystic speculation. Nizami’s heart and true poetic bent, however, became evident shortly afterwards in the charming story in verse of the romantic love of ‘Khusrau and Shīrīn,’ which is one of the most imaginative tales in literature, and it established Nizami’s claim to renown at the age of forty. The subject is the old Sassanian tradition of King Khusrau’s love for the fair Armenian princess Shīrīn, who is alike beloved by the gifted young sculptor Farhād; the latter accomplishes an almost superhuman feat of chiseling through mountains at the royal bidding, in hopes of winning the fair one’s hand, but meets his death in fulfilling the task imposed by his kingly rival. In Nizami’s second romantic poem, ‘Lailā and Majnūn,’ we grieve at the sorrows of two lovers whose devotion stands in the Orient for the love of Eloisa and Abelard, Petrarch and Laura, Isabella and Lorenzo; while likenesses to Ariosto’s ‘Orlando Furioso’ have been suggested. The tragic fate of Lailā and Majnūn, the children of two rival Bedouin tribes, is a love tale of pre-Islamic times; for Nizami’s subjects were never chosen from truly orthodox Mohammedan themes. His ‘Seven Portraits’ (Haft Paikar) is a series of romantic love stories of the seven favorite wives of King Bahrām Gōr, and leads back again to Sassanian days. The ‘Iskandar Nāmah,’ or ‘Alexander Book,’ is a combination of romantic fiction and of philosophy in epic style, which makes the work one of special interest in connection with the romances which form a cycle, in various literatures, about the name of Alexander the Great. The five works above mentioned are gathered into a collection known as the ‘Five Treasures’ (Panj Ganj), and in addition to these Nizami also produced a ‘Dīvān,’ or collection of short poems; so that his literary fertility is seen to be considerable.  2
  The selections which are here presented are drawn from Atkinson’s ‘Lailā and Majnūn,’ London, 1836, and from S. Robinson’s ‘Persian Poetry for English Readers’ (privately printed, Glasgow, 1883). Those who are interested will find further bibliographical references in Ethé’s contribution in Geiger’s ‘Grundriss der Iranischen Philologie,’ Vol. ii., page 243.  3

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