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Article: Canonizing the Poets

אחרון המשוררים הקנוניים

Canonizing the Poets

Samuel Thrope

Imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery. This was certainly the case for Nur al-Din Jami (1414–92), a Persian poet, Sufi mystic, philosopher, and courtier. Born near the village of Jam, Jami was a central figure in the renaissance of Persian culture in eastern Iran and Central Asia during the Timurid era (1370–1500).

Among the many scientists, thinkers, and artists who flocked to the Timurid capital of Samarkand, Jami stands out for both his voluminous output and his preoccupation with the literary past. During his fifty-year career, alongside numerous prose works in Persian and Arabic, Jami produced examples of every single genre of classical Persian poetry. Each of these compositions is either modeled on or responds to an earlier work. For example, Gift of the Noble (Tuhfat al-ahrar), a rare example of which, copied during Jami’s lifetime, can be seen here, was written in response to Nizami Ganjavi’s didactic poem Treasury of Secrets (Makhzan al-asrar).

Jami did not aim to merely repeat earlier works or conventions; rather, his goal was to establish the canon: the topics, style, and form of the poetic tradition up to his own time. He was largely successful in this, and his poems were celebrated wherever Persian served as the language of culture, from Turkey to India. While his reputation declined with changing tastes in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in the late eighteenth century, Jami was again elevated by the Bazgasht (Return) movement in Iran, which lauded him as “the seal of the poets.”