Homeless in Eden: The Importance of Malaye Jaziri’s Poetry

Sheikh Ahmad (c. 1570-1640 CE), better known by his pen name Malaye Jaziri, was the most important Kurdish poet of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. His poetic oeuvre, or diwan, is one of the most significant works in all Kurdish literature, representing the fundamental genesis of modern Kurdish poetry.

Malaye Jaziri was the first to deploy Classical Perso-Arabic forms in Kurdish verse, adopting and adapting the ruba‘iqasida and, most notably, the ghazal as verse forms for poetry in the Kurdish language. In doing so, he established a written medium for the Kurdish poetic tradition, which, prior to his pioneering work, had been almost exclusively oral.

As a language of literacy, in Malaye Jaziri’s handling, Kurdish emerged as viable vehicle for poetic expression in the schools, royal courts, and written records of the Ottoman and Safavid Empires, and his work left an indelible influence on Kurdish poetry that endures to this day. It was in those courtly and scholarly contexts that Malaye Jaziri found a fleeting oasis for his creativity.

As the Kurdish homeland was carved up by imperial adversaries, and the Kurdish people themselves were scattered across a diaspora that still characterizes their existence today, the poet found himself homeless in a contested Eden, penning poetry that underscored the dignity of a people and their language in the face of genocidal campaigns.

“… each of his units of paired lines constitute discrete poetic expressions in their own right yet remain interdependent in relation to the poem as a whole.”

Malaye Jaziri’s full diwan comprises 142 poems. Seventeen of these are ruba‘i, short poems of four lines, while the longest poem, reflecting the poet’s fondness for symmetries, is a qasida that runs to a total of 142 lines.

In terms of matter and manner, his adaptations of the Classical Perso-Arabic forms emphasize the sustained correspondence of sounds. Consistent end-rhymes are a hallmark of this tradition, along with frequent use of internal rhymes and alliterations.

Each poem also maintains lines of uniform length — that is, lines consistent in duration within a particular poem but open to variation across poems within the same genre. His poems in the ghazal and ruba‘i forms address a Beloved of unspecified, indeterminate gender, and often close with a parting signature by his poetic persona (“Mala” or “Nishani”), signaling the poem’s end and reflecting upon the nature of the poem and its addressee.

More than a mere couplet (bayt), each of his units of paired lines constitute discrete poetic expressions in their own right yet remain interdependent in relation to the poem as a whole. Every couplet sets up images in tension, emotions straining toward an articulation that seem always to elude reductive treatment.

Our English translations approximate the Kurdish rhymes with English assonance and half-rhymes, which, in English-language poetry, achieve a less heavy-handed, more palatable effect. We also endeavor to balance the feminine and masculine traits of the addressee, never explicitly indicating whether the Beloved is male or female, to preserve the poet’s deliberate ambiguity on this point. In keeping with this indeterminacy, the poems invite supple interpretations, capable of adapting each poem’s sequence of surprising imagery to apply to a human lover, a deity, or a homeland.

The qasida, as the longest and most discursive among the forms that Malaye Jaziri employed, gave freer rein to his range of themes beyond love. With its roots in pre-Islamic poetry, the qasida can feature satire, panegyric, lament, or philosophical musings.

Like other Persian, Indo-Persian, Arab, and Turkish poets, Malaye Jaziri worked within a highly regulated set of poetic conventions, but the poetic strictures did not constrain the range of his vast sources of inspiration. He drew on voices from regions stretching from the Iranian plateau to the Turkish steppe, from the back alleys of Konya to the bazaars of Delhi, casting into sharp relief the interpenetration of apparent contrasts: metaphysical and material, transcendent and quotidian, death and desire, sacred and profane, the ephemeral and the eternal.

Within his poems’ formal parameters, he assayed thematic innovations, crafting a poetics that blended Sufi Islam with non-Muslim traditions of Kurdistan more widely (Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, and Yezidi, among others). The diwan showcases the geographical and thematic range on which Malaye Jaziri drew and introduces a Kurdish voice that stands comparison with leading Sufi poets across the ages.

The Kurdish diaspora in North America, with its main concentrations in Toronto, New York City, San Diego, and Nashville (“Little Kurdistan”), celebrates the traditional Kurdish Newruz by reciting Malaye Jaziri’s ghazals and dancing in a circle to welcome spring. His poetic expression stands as a salutary reminder of the complex, human experience behind the headlines and beyond national borders: ecstasy, laughter, dread, and love.

Although he wrote four centuries ago, his imagery remains strikingly innovative today and, for its transcendent treatment of human worth and beauty, wields a compelling relevance at a time when international attention is again trained upon the Kurdish regions.




یەنگی تە ژ شەنگی ب درەنگی وە کەشاندن

سەد تیر و خەدەنگی ب چ ڕەنگی تە ڕەشاندن

سەرپەنجە ب ئشکەنجە تە وەک غونچە لڤاندن

هەستی وە ب مەستی ل مە ڤێڕا هەڕشاندن

You stretched your eyebrow’s bow, full taut and slow,

and launched a hundred arrows hewn of yew, arrows of a hundred varied hues.

You wagged your fingertip, a rosebud storm-tossed to and fro

and menacing my life with your intoxicating wounds.




خالا تەیە مشکین کو بوویە نوقطەیێ نوونان

وەک ئسم و طلسمان بوویە تەعویذێ عویوونان

چەشمێن د سیەه ڕادکرن فتنە ئوخوونان

لەو خوون ژ دو چەهڤێن مە دزێت شوبهی عویوونان

Your beauty mark is like a jot to grace the letter i.

A sacred name, a talisman, it wards off evil eyes.

Your own dark eyes cause turbid strife and blood to rise,

by which my eyes are wellsprings of the blood I cry.

ئسمێ تەیە مەکتووب د دیوانێ قدەم دا

Songs of Worlds to Come

ئسمێ تەیە مەکتووب د دیوانێ قدەم دا

حەرفەک قەلەمێ علمی ب تەقویمێ ڕەقەم دا

Your name is pristine writing in the everlasting book, inscribed

in letters that the Sage’s pen ordained before the maps of time.

ئەشکال و خەتێن دائرەیێ نوقتەیێ علمن

ئەڤ نەقش و مسالن د خەیالاتێ عەدەم دا

These shapes and shadows orbiting the central point of wisdom’s Sun

foreshadow all the stories, images, and songs of worlds to come.

میم مەتلەعێ شەمسا ئەحەد ئایینە سفەت کر

لامع ژ عەرەب بەرقێ ل فەخخارێ عەجەم دا

M made the morning rays of monotheist faith a mirror clear,

an Arab thunderbolt that breached the pagan arch when M appeared.

دا شاھدێ ئەسما ب ھەمی وەجھی بناسین

یەک مەستی سەمەدکر، ب یەکێ نەقشێ سەنەم دا

Now let us fully understand the facets of the names of God,

who made one drunk on the divine, while others turned to idols’ fraud.

یەک گرتییە زولفێ ویەکی خال نومایی

ئایینە ب ئەسکەندەری وجام ب جەم د

One tears his hair, while others contemplate a beauty mark for hours.

He granted Jamshid’s Cup and Alexander’s Mirror all-seeing powers.

ئەرواحێ موقەددەس شەبێ قەدران تە دخوازن

نوورا تەیە مسباحێ د قەندیلێ حەرەم دا

The Night of Power, Laylat al-Qadr, pure souls call you to pray.

Around the Kaaba, lanterns gleam: your radiance reflects their rays.

دا وەقتێ لقایێ ب تە حەی بین د بەقایێ

من نەقدێ دل و جان د فەنایێ ب سەلەم دا

To live forever in the moment of our meeting, take my all,

full payment in advance: I fully give my body, life, and soul.

یاقووت فرۆشان د کەف ئەلماسی شکەستن

ئەڤ سەفحەیێ ئەلماسێ کو نەققاشی قەلەم دا

The jewelers crushed their diamonds in their fingers when the Painter traced

that diamantine script and living portrait on the page’s face.

یا رەب ژ چ ڕوو لەب ب ثەنایا تە گوشایم

سبحانك لن أحصي في شأنك حمدا

O Lord, my feeble lips, my failing breath, can scarcely form a phrase.

All praise to You! Of all my words, not one suffices for Your praise.

مننەت ژ خودایی کو ب عەبدێ خوە مەلایی

ئکسیرێ غەمێ عشقێ -نە دینار و درەم- دا

Praise God who gave His servant Mala little in the way of wealth,

but lavished him with the elixir of love’s sorrow for his health.

Dr. Tyler Fisher (DPhil University of Oxford) is Associate Professor of Modern Languages and Literatures at the University of Central Florida. He has published English translations of poetry from Spanish, Catalan, Aramaic, and Kurdish. 

Dr. Haidar Khezri (PhD University of Damascus) is the University of Central Florida’s first Assistant Professor of Arabic. He teaches Kurdish, Arabic, and comparative literature at UCF, and has published translations out of and into Kurdish, Persian, Arabic, and English. He is the author of Central/ Sorani Kurdish: An Elementary Textbook (forthcoming from Georgetown University Press, 2023), and is currently co- editing The Oxford Handbook of Kurdish Linguistics.

Source: kurdistanchronicle.com