• Make a Shield from Wisdom: Selected Verses from Nasir-i Khusraw’s Divan

    Kegan Paul International in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, 1993, pp. vii + 103. Reprinted in 2001 by I. B. Tauris.

    ISBN Paperback:
    1 8606 4715 1
    ISBN HardBack:
    0 7103 0455 2
  • This book provides an important survey of the major themes and techniques employed by the poet, Nasir Khusraw, and includes a significant number of new English translations of his verses. This poetry, in spite of being written by one of Ismailism’s finest intellectuals and one of Persian literature’s finest poets, has received surprisingly little attention from translators to any language (the only other full book of translations being Nasir–i Khusraw: Forty Poems from the Divaninfo-icon, tr. by P.L. Wilson and G. R. Aavani, Tehran 1977). Thus, this current book goes a long way in beginning the process of presenting Nasir’s poetry to an English–speaking audience. Professor Schimmel herself draws explicit attention to the need for additional scholarly work, such as studies of Nasir’s use of rhythmical patterns and in–depth analyses of his ‘theology’ in the widest sense.

    Nasir Khusraw (1004–ca. 1077), one of the most fascinating figures not only of Ismaili and Islamic history, but also of the entire Middle Ages, has left a rich legacy behind, both in his own considerable writings and in the imaginations of those who believed in him and those who sought his downfall. Of his writings that still survive, we have his Safarnama (a record of his seven–year journey from Central Asia to Jerusalem, Cairo, Mecca and back home again), six volumes of philosophical and religious texts explaining Ismaili doctrines, and poetry, much of it contained in the Divan.

    After a 10 page Introduction summarising Nasir’s biographical information, the major features of his journey, the contents of his writings, and the history of Western and Iranian scholarship on him, the book is divided into three chapters. The first chapter, ‘Nasir–i Khusraw as a Poet,’ (pp. 11–24) describes his techniques as a poet, including the structure of his most frequent poem form, the qasidainfo-icon, and how he often chooses the most difficult rhymes and metres to show both his skill and the seriousness of his topics instead of, for example, the ‘dancing’ rhythms of Rumi. This chapter also explores Nasir's vivid use of language to express profound philosophical ideas, heartfelt descriptions of nature (which he sees as signs of the Creator), and devotion to religion and the use of intellect, rather than “frivolous love songs” or other traditional court poetry. The result of such poetry, as Professor Schimmel points out, is that “the reader enjoys the combination of erudition, witty puns and true poetical feeling.”

    The second chapter, on ‘The Contents of Nasir–i Khusraw’s Poetry’, (pp. 25–43) delves even further into his poetic subject matter, basing a discussion of his most frequent themes on a generous number of illustrative verses. These themes include his sadness of exile in Yumgan; the passage of time and the onset of old age; how this world will pass but the soul will live on eternally; the importance of religious rituals (such as prayer, ablution, and fasting) as well as ta‘wil (the esoteric interpretation of these rituals and the Qur’aninfo-icon); the virtue of having patience (‘patience is like olives, and victory its oil’), and the pre–eminence of knowledge as the goal of human beings. This chapter shows that Nasir’s intention was to “spread wisdom, advice, counsel by means of his poetry”, as Professor. Schimmel shows in her translation of these lines:

    Make a shield from knowledge, for there is
    No stronger shield against calamities
    Whosoever owns the shield of knowledge
    Will not suffer the blows of Time.

    Chapter three, ‘Selected Poems from the Divan’, (pp. 44–96), is the largest of the book’s chapters, taking up almost half the volume, filled as it is with even more samples of Nasir’s poetry and discussions of the dominant themes. It first discusses those poems which provide biographical details of the poet’s date of birth, his earliest searches for knowledge, and how he turned to God for consolation. Then, poems treating the Prophet Muhammad and his message of the Qur’an are presented, showing the Qur’an as a precious pearl, a mine of wisdom. Demonstrating his immense technical skills as well as his devotion, Nasir has one entire qasida in which the final word of each line is ‘Muhammad’ and another qasida arranged similarly, in which the final word of each line is ‘Ali’. With his emphasis on knowledge and reason, Nasir often wove into his verses the Nasir Khusraw’s poetry in the context of other poets of his day, especially its connection to the Sufi poets, as well as more recent poets, such as Muhammad Iqbal (1877–1938). The reader thus benefits from the depth and breadth of Professor Schimmel’s knowledge of Persian poetry and Islamic spirituality, while gaining a rich understanding ofNasir Khusraw’s poetic style.

  • Introduction

    Nasir–i Khusraw as a Poet

    1. The Contents of Nasir–i Khusraw’s Poetry
    2. Selected Poems from the Divaninfo-icon

    Select Bibliography


    Quotations from the Qur’aninfo-icon

  • Works of Nasir–i Khusraw

    Divaninfo-icon, ed. Nasr Allah Taqavi et al. Tehran, 1304–1307/1925–1928; ed. M. Minovi and Mehdi Mohaghegh. Tehran, 1353/1974. Partial English trans. P.L. Wilson and G.R. Aavani, Fifty Poems from the Divan. Tehran, 1977.

    Gushayish wa rahayish, ed. S. Nafisi. Leiden, 1950. New ed. and English trans. F.M. Hunzai as Knowledge and Liberation. London, 1998.

    Jami‘ al–Hikmatayn, ed. H. Corbin and M. Moin. Tehran and Paris, 1953. French trans. Isabelle de Gastines, Le Livre réunissant les deux sagesses. Paris, 1990.

    Khwan al–ikhwan, ed. Y. al–Khashshab. Cairo, 1940; ed. A. Qavim. Tehran, 1338/1959.

    Safarnama, ed. and French trans. Charles Schefer, Paris, 1881; ed. M. Ghanizada. Berlin,1341/1922; ed. S.M. Dabir Siyaqi, 5th ed., Tehran, 1356/1977. English trans. W.M. Thackston, Jr., Naser–e Khusraw’s Book of Travels (Safarnama). Albany, NY, 1986.

    Shish fasl, ed. and English trans. W. Ivanow as Six Chapters. Leiden, 1949.

    Wajh–i dininfo-icon, ed. M. Ghanizada and M. Qazvini. Berlin, 1343/1924; ed. G.R. Aavani. Tehran, 1977.

    Zad al–musafirin, ed. M. Badhl al–RaHman. Berlin, 1341/1923.

    Other Works and Studies

    Bertel’s, Andrei E. Nasir–i Khosrov i ismailizm. Moscow, 1959. Persian trans. Y. Ariyanpur, Nasir–i Khusraw va Isma‘iliyan. Tehran, 1346/1967.

    Blois, François de. Persian Literature: A Bio–bibliographical Survey (begun by the late C.A. Storey). London, 1992, vol. 5, part 1, pp. 201–212.

    Browne, Edward G. “Nasir–i–Khusraw, Poet, Traveller, and Propagandist”, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1905), pp. 313–352.

    ––A Literary History of Persia. Cambridge, 1924, vol. 2, pp. 218–245.

    Corbin, Henry. Ïtude préliminaire pour le Livre réunissant les deux sagesses de Nasir–e Khosraw. Tehran and Paris, 1953.

    “Nasir–i Khusrau and Iranian Isma‘ilism”, in The Cambridge History of Iran: Volume 4, The Period from the Arab Invasion to the the Saljuqs, ed. R.N. Frye. Cambridge, 1975, pp. 520–542.

    Ethé, Hermann. “Nasir Chusrau’s Rusanainama oder Buch der Erleuchtung”, Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, 33 (1879), pp. 645–665; 34 (1880), pp. 428–464, 617–642.

    “Auswahl aus Nasir Chusraus Kasiden”, Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, 36 (1882), pp. 477–508.

    “Kürzere Lieder und poetische Fragmente aus Nasir Chusraus Divan”, Göttinger Nachrichten (1882), pp. 124–152.

    “Neupersische Litteratur”, in W. Geiger and E. Kuhn, ed., Grundriss der Iranischen Philologie. Strassburg, 1895–1904, vol. 2, pp. 278–282.

    Fagnan, E. “Le Livre de la Félicité par Nasir e Hosraw”, Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morganländischen Gesellschaft, 34 (1880), pp. 643–674.

    Hunsberger, Alice C. Nasir Khusraw, The Ruby of Badakhshan: A Portrait of the Persian Poet, Traveller and Philosopher. London, 2000.

    Ivanow, Wladimir. Nasir–i Khusraw and Ismailism. Bombay, 1948.

    Problems in Nasir–i Khusraw’s Biography. Bombay, 1956.

    Ismaili Literature: A Bibliographical Survey. Tehran, 1963, pp. 159–163.

    Mohaghegh, Mehdi. TaHlil–i ash‘ar–i Nasir–i Khusraw. 3rd ed., Tehran, 1980.

    Nanji, Azim. “Nasir–i Khusraw”, The Encyclopaedia of Islam (New ed.), vol. 7, pp. 1006–1007.

    Poonawala, Ismail K. Biobibliography of Isma‘ili Literature. Malibu, Calif., 1977, pp. 111–125, 430–436.

    Rypka, Jan. History of Iranian Literature, ed. K. Jahn. Dordrecht, 1968, pp. 185–189.

    Iafa, Dhabih Allah. Tarikh–i adabiyyat dar Èran. 4th ed., Tehran 1362–1373/1983–1994, vol. 2, pp. 443–456, 893–898.

    Teufel, Franz. “Zu Nasir Chusrau’s Rushanainama und zu Le Livre de la Félicité [criticism of Ethé’s and Fagnan’s editions and translations]”, Zeitschrift der Morganländischen Gesellschaft, 36 (1882), pp. 96–114.

  • Annemarie Schimmel

    Professor Annemarie Schimmel (1922-2003) was a leading German Islamicist who published more than 50 books on Islamic literature, mysticism and culture and translated Persian, Urdu, Arabic, Sindhi and Turkish poetry and literature into English and German. She was Professor (Emeritus) of Indo/Muslim Culture at Harvard University and Honorary Professor at the University of Bonn. Her publications include Gabriel 's Wing: A Study into the Religious Ideas of Sir Muhammad Iqbal (Leiden, 1963), Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill, 1975), Triumphal Sun: A Study of the Works of Jalaloddin Rumi (...Read more