three pairs of lovers with space

THE POEMS OF OBEYD-E ZAKANI

 

Obeyd-e Zakani (ca. 1300-71) was a Persian writer, who became court poet to the Shah Abu Ishaq in Shiraz. His poems, which were noted for their unusual sexual frankness, were only finally published in an unbowdlerized version in New York 1999, as Kolliyat-e Obayd-e Zakani, edited by Mohammad Ja`far Mahjub.  Only some of them have been translated into English: thirty by the eminent scholar Dick Davis were published in his Faces of Love: Hafez and the Poets of Shiraz. The six[1] of these of Greek love interest are presented here from the Penguin edition (New York, 2013) pp. 195-215.

 

                                 

                                  I

In arts and sciences, don’t try to be a master,
Unless you want to be, like me, a big disaster;
To catch the eye of princes, just suck up to them,
Sing silly songs, fuck boys – and you’ll get on much
     faster.

                                  II

I’M OFF TO STROLL THROUGH THE BAZAAR – AND THERE
I’ll see what can be flushed out from its lair;
I’ll lure a rent-boy home here, or a whore;
One of the two – either will do – I don’t care. [2]

                                 III

I’D LIKE A BOY TO FUCK – BUT I CAN’T PAY;
I’d like some wine to while away the day –
But as I’ve got no cash for carnal pleasures,
It seems there’s nothing left to do but pray.

                                 IV

WHERE IS SHIRAZ’S WINE, THAT BURNED OUR GRIEF AWAY?
And those brisk, pretty boys who served us, where are they?
Tomorrow if, in heaven, there is no wine or pleasure,
God’s heaven will be hell, just like Shiraz today.[3]


Brothel scene (Persian miniature, 1566)

                                 V

MY PRETTY DEAR, YOU’RE STILL TOO YOUNG TO MAKE
The pilgrimage to Mecca and repent,
But if you feel the need to be a pilgrim,
Take my advice, my dear, it’s kindly meant:
Straddle my prick and ride it – that can be
Your thousand-pilgrimage equivalent.

                                VI

WELL, ONCE UPON A TIME, IN DRIBS AND DRABS,
Income turned up for me, throughout the year;
I’d dry bread and fresh herbs to hand, in case
A friend should unexpectedly appear;
And sometimes there’d be wine to drink, for when
A pretty boy or sweet young girl came here.
But now I’m getting on in years, my life
Has suddenly become much more austere;
I’ve neither dry to eat, nor wet to drink,
And all that’s in my house is me, my dear.

 

[1] A seventh poem, “If That Full Moon Were True And Good” is translated by Professor Davis using male pronouns, ie. as if addressed to a boy, but he points out that he has sometimes had to make arbitrary decisions as to the gender of pronouns because there is no distinction in the Persian, which is anyway in keeping with the androgynous character in sexual desirability in Persian poetry in general, and Obeyd’s in particular.

[2] Both the poems on this page [“I’m off to stroll through the bazaar” and the preceding poem not presented here] demonstrate Obayd’s equal-opportunity lasciviousness, one that is just as interested in girls as in boys. Because most more “serious” poets of the period, like Hafez and Jahan Khatun, are very rarely erotically specific, so that the gender of a partner in one of their poems is usually left unstated, in the original Persian, even by implication, Obayd’s poems are useful as examples of how the poetic conventions of the period can be used for talking about both sexes. It doesn’t do to be dogmatic about the gender of a partner in a medieval Persian lyric poem. With a very few exceptions, it’s usually impossible to say categorically that any given poem is about a boy or a girl; as Obayd insists, it might well be about either or both. [Translator’s note]

[3] A poem presumably written after Mobarez al-din closed the wine-shops, and also clamped down on the use of “pretty boys.” [Note by the translator, who explained in his introduction that Mobarez was a “fanatically religious” and brutal warlord who captured Shiraz in 1353 and became King there, causing Obeyd to leave Shiraz for the five years of his reign.]