After tomorrow the days disappear: Book Review

After tomorrow the days disappear: ghazals and other poems. By Hasan Sijzi of Delhi; translated by Rebecca Gould. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2016. Pp. xxvii, 109. ISBN: 9780810132306.

This book is a translation of selected poems of Hasan Sijzi of Delhi, including his ghazal, by Rebecca Gould, a reader in comparative literature and translation studies in the School of Modern Languages at the University of Bristol. Gould has also included an introductory section about Sijzi’s life and his origin (thirteenth to fourteenth century) as well as the composition of his Persian poetry.

Sijzi’s full name is Amir Najm al-Din Hasan Dihlavi ibn Khwaja ʿAla al-Din Sistani. His father, who was born in Sistan (eastern Iran and southern Afghanistan), also known as Sijistan, contributed to the poet’s name “Sijzi,” meaning from Sijistan. While his birth location is not exactly known, Sijzi spent most of his adult life in Delhi. He started writing poems at the age of thirteen and was greatly influenced by Persian poets such as Saʿdi, the author of Golestan and a pioneer in the ghazal form, and Abu Saied Abu al-Khayr, famous for his quatrains (rubaʿiyat) form. By the early modern period he was a central figure for both Indo-Persian literature and in the history of Indian Sufism. The literary form of ghazal had a long history in Persian and Arabic literature, but it started to have an important impact on Sijzi’s era, when Persian literature was becoming Indo-Persian literature.

Gould claims that Sijzi’s poems, at a time when poetry was struggling within political sovereignty, created an atmosphere of spiritual longing through the prism of worldly desire. There were many meanings in his verses that seem to show erotic desire or spiritual love, and that define the shift from court poetry to Sufi poetry in Persian literature. It also indicated the historical shift in literary production and new sources of political power within the Delhi Sultanate (1206–1526).

Sijzi was a good friend of the famous poet Amir Khosrow in the Delhi Sultanate, and their friendship was very much affected by their mutual relation to their teacher, Shaykh Nizam al-din (1238–1325). Gould described in her introduction the fact that Sijzi and Amir Khosrow extended the boundaries of Persian literature in part by incorporating Indic content into their verse. Their techniques and aesthetics actually set the stage for the merge of multilingual and cross-confessional innovations of later centuries. Hasan Sijzi, however, stayed more fully in the Persian aesthetic, and an example of this can be seen in his “Ishqnama” (Book of desire), which is an adaptation of an Indian story into a Persian narrative form.

Gould describes the use of radif as the most distinctive element of Persian poetry. Radif is basically a short phrase or word repeated at each line’s end which produces a measured rhythm with different variations in meanings both in Persian and when translated into English. Radif appears twice in the first couplet, and then at least once at the end of every other couplet. Gould states that radif is empowered in the concluding verse in Persian poetry, where it includes the pen name (takhallus). On this account Sijzi refers to himself in the third person while also creating an imaginary listener/reader, which was a style used in the ghazal form during the thirteenth century.

In general, this book is a good source for any literary and poetry collection. It offers a blended Islamic Sufism and non-Islamic Indic tradition, similar to what Hafez and Rumi are best known for in the West. The collections are wisely selected in this book and they target a large audience interested in Persian poetry and specifically in ghazal. Its content enriches readers’ cultural perception by opposing the readers to the harmony of repeating rhymes in ghazal forms. Gould has professionally provided details using several examples of radif, and at the end of each ghazal she has also added the radif in transliterated Persian along with its English translation. The book includes fifty ghazals, seventeen quatrains, two fragments, and one ode from among Hasan Sijzi’s works.

Shahrzad Khosrowpour
Chapman University