Icarus and Prometheus: In Memoriam Shamlu and Moshiri
This article commemorates the two Iranian poets who passed away within a month of each other in the millennial year 2000. Ahmad Shamlu (born 1925) and Feraydun Moshiri born (1924) represented two distinct trends in modernist Persian poetry. One trend is based on constant experimentation in poetic language, mood and tempo; the other is premised on preserving maximum possible continuity with the millennium-old tradition of poetry in Persian. The article opens with a theoretical observation, articulating the position that in all cultures the perception of poeticity arises from the tension between identicality and difference. No poetic composition that does not revive the memory of previous compositions stands the chance to be accepted as poetry, just as no composition that adds nothing to that store of previous perceptions will be seen as new and therefore adding anything to the canon.
The article reviews the poetic careers of the two contemporary modernist Iranian poets within that framework. Whereas Shamlu constantly experimented with novel poetic utterances and enunciations, Moshiri's poetry remained relatively constant from the beginning of his career to its end. Much of the address is devoted to the presenting the evidence from the works of the two poets that corroborates this point. At the same time, while Shamlu constantly challenged established cultural notions and norms, Moshiri affirmed those very norms more or less unquestioningly, simply giving poetic expression to the existing values and valuations, particularly with reference to the poets of the past. In fact, Shamlu's proclivity to ceaselessly question certain basic assumptions current around him, caused him to fall out of favor time and again, even with many who admired his poetry. In this ambition to submit the culture to radical criticism, he resembles the Greek Icarus whose waxed wings melted when he flew too close the sun. Because of the crucial part he played in popularizing modernism in Persian poetry, Moshiri can be compared to Prometheus, the Titan who stole fire from heaven to make it available to ordinary mortals.