Lesson 60: Transition to Persian Poetry

In the last lesson of this series, we talk about the importance of poetry in Persian culture, and talk about why we're learning this magical language in the first place.

To find out more about Persian miniatures, check out the wikipedia page!

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how are you?

Note: In Persian, as in many other languages, there is a formal and an informal way of speaking. We will be covering this in more detail in later lessons. For now, however, chetor-ee is the informal way of asking someone how they are, so it should only be used with people that you are familiar with. hālé shomā chetor-é is the formal expression for ‘how are you.’

Spelling note: In written Persian, words are not capitalized. For this reason, we do not capitalize Persian words written in phonetic English in the guides.


I’m well

Pronunciation tip: kh is one of two unique sounds in the Persian language that is not used in the English language. It should be repeated daily until mastered, as it is essential to successfully speak Persian. Listen to the podcast for more information on how to make the sound.

Persian English
salām hello
chetor-ee how are you?
khoobam I’m well
merci thank you
khayli very
khayli khoobam I’m very well
khoob neestam I’m not well
man me/I
bad neestam I’m not bad
ālee great
chetor-een? how are you? (formal)
hālé shomā chetor-é? how are you? (formal)
hālet chetor-é? how are you? (informal)
khoob-ee? are you well? (informal)
mamnoonam thank you
chetor peesh meeré? how’s it going?
ché khabar? what’s the news? (what’s up?)

Leyla: So here we are, the last lesson in this series, lesson 60- can you believe it Matt?


Matt: Ha, it’s pretty unbelievable.


Leyla: Yes, it’s been years in the making- we’ve gone through weddings, changes in cities, babies, jobs, presidents- but something that’s been constant has been these lessons.


Matt: It’s definitely been a big part of my life, learning to speak Persian, and making these podcasts- I was even able to talk about the lessons in my med school interviews.


Leyla: I’ve definitely enjoyed this whole process. Chai and Conversation will continue, and we have a lot of great changes coming up in the future which you’ll be able to follow on our website at www.chaiandconversation.com . But, for now, we’re laying this format of lessons to rest while we work on other formats of learning. We’ll be developing our reading and writing series, and teaching Persian using some new learning formats that I’m really excited about.


Matt: I’m excited to continue learning and keeping up with the new material.


Leyla: In this final lesson, I wanted to take us back to the very beginning- the reason we started making these lessons in the first place. When we first began Chai and Conversation, the political climate was a bit different. Tensions between Iran and the west were very high, and it seemed that Iran was on the front page of the news almost every single day for a different reason. Podcasts were a newer form of getting ideas across on the internet, and I thought they were a really nice and intimate way to communicate with people. I’d grown up speaking Persian, and watching my mother effectively teach the language, and I thought- what better way to bridge cultures than to create a way for people to learn to communicate with one another. And that’s what we’ve been doing ever since- we’ve said from the beginning, language is a key to culture, and we’ve been committed to providing that key.


Well, a lot has changed since we started- it’s now 2017, and it seems like it’s more important than ever to keep these doors and lines of communication open. Misunderstanding and mistrust only grow when we don’t take the time to listen to each other and get to know each other better.


Matt: And unfortunately, Iran continues to be one of the most misunderstood countries in the world these days.  So, on behalf of the chai and conversation team, we want to thank you for joining us on this language learning journey, and in the journey of getting to know Iran and the Iranian people better. It’s through these efforts that together, we can make the world a better place!


Leyla: So after all that, I thought we’d devote this last lesson to one of the most important contributions Iran has made to the world, and that is of poetry. This will be less of a language lesson, and a bit more of a very general introduction to Persian poetry, with the hopes that it will pique your interest and inspire you to look into specific poets and poems a bit more closely.  Persian is a very poetic language, and you can’t really understand Iranians or their language without having some knowledge of their poetry.


So, let’s get right into it. To begin, the word for culture in Persian is farhang


Matt: farhang


Leyla: So a bit about the language of Persian, otherwise known as Farsi, to begin with. Some of you might know that originally, the language was called Parsi


Matt: parsi


Leyla: That’s where the word Persian comes from. It wasn’t until the Arabs invaded Iran in the 7th century that it became known as Farsi- and this is only because Arabs don’t have the letter ‘p’ and could not pronounce the word parsi. In fact, after the Arab invasion of Iran, the Farsi language started to be replaced by Arabic. Four hundred years later, in the 10th century BC, an Iranian poet named Ferdowsi wrote a book called the Shahnameh, or the book of kings. Shahnameh


Matt: Shahnameh


Leyla: So the shahnameh chronicles the epic lives of the kings, both real and mythological, that played a  role in the history of Iran. In shahnameh, he made the pointed decision to write the book in the Persian language, thereby cemented Farsi as the official language of Iran. The shahnameh is credited with reviving the Persian language and really cementing its supremacy in Iran, so that it wasn’t overtaken by Arabic. So the shahnameh is an extremely important book in Iranian history, and to this day, a copy of the shahnameh can be found in every Iranian household. Copies of the shahnameh are usually beautifully illustrated with a popular type of painting common to Iranian culture, and that is the form of the miniature


Matt: miniature


Leyla: We’ll link to an image of a miniature in the notes for this lesson, but basically, miniature are 2d form drawings that are extremely detailed and depict 2d figures.


So ferdowsi was a poet, and poetry is one of the most important parts of Iranian farhang. So the word for poetry is shehr


Matt: shehr


Leyla: and the word for poet is shaher


Matt: shaher


Leyla: Again, poetry is key in Persian culture. Iranians revere poets and poetry, and believe that poetry contains universal truths. In fact, most Iranians have tens if not hundreds of their favorite poems memorized, and can recite them at any given occasion when a certain poem seems applicable. In the future in Chai and Conversation, I hope to  share some of my favorite poems that I have memorized along with their translations. So this will also be in a future phase of Chai and Conversation. For now, let’s learn a bit about the famous poets of Iranian culture. Perhaps the most famous Iranian poet in the west is Rumi, known in Iran as molana


Matt: molana


Leyla: So molana was a great sufi poet, and he is known for his poems about his great love Shamseh Tabriz


Leyla: Shamseh Tabriz


Matt: As many of you know, my last names is Shams, and it comes from this character in Rumi poetry. Rumi met Shams, and he ignited passion and love in him- he became his muse, and all of his poems are written with Shams in mind. Of course, being a great Sufi poet, all of Rumi’s poems have double meanings- they are written for Shams, an earthly man, but they also contain the double meaning of being about God as well.


Leyla: There are two other poets that come up most often when talking about Persian poetry, and they are Sa’adi


Matt: Sa’adi


Leyla: and Hafez


Matt: Hafez


Leyla; Sa’adi was a 13th century poet from the city of Shiraz, and his tomb and remembrance is there- people come from all over the world to visit the site of his burial. His poems center around moral or social thoughts. One of his best known poems is bani adam- it’s actually inscribed on the United Nations building entrance, and Obama actually quoted the poem in one of his norooz greetings to the Iranian people. I’ll say a couple lines of it in Persian, and then tell you a translation: bani adam azayeh yek peykarand, keh dar afareenesh zeh yek goharand’. We’ll have the transliteration of this poem up on our website, and a full translation, but basically the poem says that human beings are all of the same being- if one is in pain, then so are all the others. So in essence, it’s asking for compassion- we are not all free until we are all free, basically. The way Obama translated the first couple lines of the poem in his norooz address was “The children of Adam are limbs to each other, having been created of one essence.


And now hafez


Matt: hafez


Leyla: So, rarely rarely will you ever enter an Iranians home and not see a book of Hafez prominently featured in the home. Hafez was a 14th century mystical poet, writing about love, wine, pleasures of the flesh and other earthly pleasures, and also about divine love. And this is what’s important to know about Iranian poetry and Hafez’s poetry in general. Hafez is extremely playful and joyous, and you can totally really his poems on a surface level. He talks about being drunk and happy and in love. But on a different level, they’re all about divine love- again, he is a Sufi, which is the mystical sect of Islam. So the double meaning of all the poems is that he’s talking about being drunk in love, but in actuality, it’s being drunk in love with God.


So, I’ve wanted to do this lesson for a long time- like I said, we didn’t cover a lot of vocabulary in this lesson, we just had a bit of a history lesson about the important shahers of Iran. However, I think it’s really important that we go over this, because poetry is one of the most important parts of Persian culture, and to understand the Persian language fully, you will need to transition into the world of poetry at some point. And hopefully with Chai and Conversation, we can do a bit of a transition from Prose to poetry together. It will help you to take your understanding and grasp of the Persian language to the next level. It may sound difficult to do, but remember that Iranians learn poetry as soon as they learn to speak- so learning prose and poetry at the same time might not be as difficult as it sounds.


Matt: And with that, we come to the end of this lesson. It’s been quite a journey getting to lesson 60, and I’m so happy to have been a part of the process. I’ll be a part of Chai and Conversation in the future as well, whether on occasional guest posts on the site, or occasional videos we hope to make. This is not the last you’ll be hearing from me!


Leyla: Of course, Matt will always be a part of the Chai and conversation team. And our other team member, Chadwick, will help us to transition to future learning materials as well. I want to thank everyone who’s been with us this far into the lessons.


Matt: And as always, we welcome your comments, suggestions and snide remarks about the direction we should head in the future.


Leyla: Yes, there’s still so much we want to do, and we’re hoping that you stay with us as our language learning journey continues.


Matt: We might not always be able to control what happens in politics and outside forces, but we can always strive to relate better with one another. And with that, beh omeedeh deedar from Matt


Leyla: And ta dafeyeh baad from Leyla