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 Poem by Jami

Poem by Jami

The calligrapher Ali Riza-i Abbasi—whose name is easily confused with his contemporary, the painter Riza-i Abbasi—joined the workshop of Shah Abbas I in Isfahan at the end of the sixteenth century. Not only was he praised for his skills in writing the six traditional cursive scripts, but he also created numerous architectural inscriptions in Isfahan, such as those adorning the Shaykh Lutfallah mosque. Ali Riza-i Abbasi’s nasta‘liq was both elegant and refined, as is exemplified in this folded copy of poetry by Jami, who died a century earlier in 1492. The sharp terminals and overall “dry” appearance of his writing, however, were no match for Mir Imad al-Hasani’s superior style of nasta‘liq.

Ali Riza’s jealousy and hatred of Mir Imad were widely known. His contemporaries argued that Ali Riza used his influence as a confidante of Shah Abbas to have his rival eliminated.

The poem reads:

A fourteen-year-old lovely on the roof’s edge, like a
          moon of fourteen [days], full in beauty
A jaunty cap topped her elegantly slender nature,
          and her rosy [cheeks] were ringed by the lush
          hyacinths [of her curly tresses]
She tuned her instrument to the pitch of loveliness,
          and she coyly displayed her beauty.
As she glistened like the moon, prisoners [of her
          love] mobbed her door and roof like the stars.
Suddenly an old man, back bent like a crescent
          [moon], his skirt drenched in blood like
          the sunset,
Turning his face hopefully toward his idol, he laid his
          white hair like a carpet on the ground.
Pearls of tears he pierced with his eyelashes, and,
          Scattering pearls from his two eyes, he said,
“O peri, with all my accumulated wisdom, I have lost
          my good name to madness over you.
“Like a tulip I am seared with your brand; I am as
          defenseless as grass in your garden.
“Gaze upon my condition with kindness; polish away
          the rust of grief from my soul.”
When the youth ascertained the old man’s state, he
could not perceive any sincerity in his words.
He said, “Distracted old man, turn around and look
          Behind you,
“For on that belvedere is one whose cheeks would
          turn the world into a rose garden.
“She is like the sun in the celestial sphere; I am but
          the moon. I am her least slave; she is my king.
“What am I that lovers who espy her beauty should
          Mention my name?”
When the poor old man looked in the other direction
          in order to see who was on the belvedere,
The youth reached out and pushed him off the roof,
          flattening him like a shadow in the dust.
It is not proper for him who undertakes the road
          of commerce with us to gaze anywhere else.
To be “double-signed” is to be fickle; the object
          of love is one and only one.


Translation excerpted from Abolala Soudavar, Art from the Persian Courts: Selections from the Art and History Trust Collection (New York: Rizzoli, 1992), 286–87.


Poem by Jami
Signed by Ali Riza-i Abbasi
Iran, Isfahan, Safavid period, dated 1598 (1007 AH)
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
Lent by the Art and History Collection LTS1995.2.87





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