Wheeler Thackston

Light in Persian Poetry

From the familiar “light of the sun and the moon,” “guiding lights,” and “rays of the light of inspiration” to the less familiar “goblets glowing with the light of wine,” “the dazzling light of the face of the beloved,” “light of the eyes,” and “moths scorched by the light of candles”— Persian poetry is replete with images of light. The several terms for light in Persian – nur, ziya’ and raushana’I – are often used synonymously, but sometimes they are subtly distinguished as they appear in the constant images of light used by classical Persian poets to capture an essentially visual image in poetic language. This presentation will survey various “lights” found in poetry and explain some of the idiomatic usages that are difficult to understand, even in Persian, without knowing the underlying—and unstated—concepts with examples from the major poets of the tradition.

Wheeler Thackston is retired from teaching Persian and other Near Eastern languages. He is the author of grammars of Arabic, Persian, and Syriac and has translated numerous works from classical Persian on the Timurid Dynasty and Mughal India. Thackston was a Professor in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University from 1972 until 2007.