A Persian Love Song

“I kneel before you: no door to the Kaʿba is open”

14 February 2024

(First published on Utrecht Religie Forum on 13 February 2024)

“I love you and I will stay faithful to you,” is how popular love songs are sometimes composed. Indeed, many well-known pop songs in the Anglo-Saxon tradition do not excel in poetic depth. There are of course several great exceptions; one thinks of artists such as Bob Dylan.

Persian Pop Music

In the Persian popular musical culture, however, we see something quite different. Here we see that singers use lyrics for their songs that are taken from the rich classical Persian poetry of Hafez (c. 1315-1390), Rumi (1207-1273) and others. Sometimes singers use an entire classical poem, sometimes just a few couplets, and sometimes they compose new songs with themes and metaphors based on classical poetry.

This blog briefly analyses a popular pop song by Dariush Eghbali (b. 1951). Before the 1979 Revolution, he was already hugely popular, and his popularity did not diminish after he fled to the United States. At the age of 73, he still gives concerts worldwide. His songs are also imitated by younger generations. One reason for his popularity is the political commitment in the lyrics, both before and after the Revolution.

An image from the videoclip of Dariush Eqbali (source: YouTube)

In his love songs he draws from classical Persian poetry. Several of his songs are religious with an antinomian message, reminding the listener of classical poetry in which the holiest tenets of Islam are criticised in order to introduce a new approach to faith. Themes and motifs from religious poetry have always remained popular in the Persian-speaking world right up to the present day.

The following love song is modern but almost all of its motifs and imagery come from classical religious poetry. It is framed within the religious context of a pilgrimage to Mecca, the beloved being compared to the House of God (Kaʿba), usually compared to a bride. The Kaʿba is the direction of the obligatory daily prayer (qibla) for all Muslims around the world.

In Persian poetry, almost all elements of the sacred journey are linked to the profane lover and the relationship between the lover and the beloved. The dangerous journey to Mecca through the mountains, plains and deserts is compared to the psychological trials of the lover who longs to win his beloved’s attention. The pilgrim’s determination to visit God’s House is equated with the lover’s desire to see his beloved.    

Song text

The song runs as follows: the song by Dariush, and an imitation:

رو به تو سجده ميكنم دری به كعبه باز نيست
بس كه طواف كردمت مرا به حج نياز نيست
به هر طرف نظر كنم نماز من نماز نيست
مرا به بند ميكشی از اين رهاترم كنی
زخم نميزنی به من كه مبتلاترم كنی
از همه توبه ميكنم بلكه تو باورم كنی

قلب من از صدای تو چه عاشقانه كوك شد
تمام پرسه های من كنار تو سلوك شد
عذاب ميكشم ولی عذاب من گناه نيست
وقتی شكنجه گر تويی شكنجه اشتباه نيست

I kneel before you: no door to the Kaʿba is open;

I have walked around you so many times, no need to go to Mecca.

Any direction I cast my glance, my daily prayer is no longer a prayer.

when you put me in chains, you make me even freer;

You are not inflicting wounds on me to torment me even more.

I repent from all, perhaps you can believe me;

How lovingly you tuned my heart through your voice!

All my wanderings turned into a spiritual quest at your side.

I suffer, but this suffering is not a sin:

If you are the torturer, torture is not a mistake.

The poem begins by immediately replacing the Kaʿba with the beloved. Since there is no way to reach the Kaʿba, the lover is willing to kneel before the profane beloved with the same intense love and zealous devotion that a pious Muslim has for God. The lover has proven his loyalty to the beloved by making her/him the centre of attention. He focuses on the beloved and walks around her/him in the same way that pilgrims walk around the House of God. Going on pilgrimage to Mecca is mandatory for Muslims at least once in a lifetime if they can afford it. But the lover’s intense love for the earthly sweetheart makes the religious obligation pointless.

Antinomian Features

The antinomian element of the poem lies in the suggestion of exchanging the love of God for an earthly beloved. In the third line even the obligatory daily prayer (namāz) is replaced by meditation on the beloved. The lover surrenders himself completely to the beloved, accepting all trials.

The masochistic nature of this love, prominent in the last lines of the song, is characteristic of classical Persian love poetry. In this tradition, the beloved is indifferent, haughty, unyielding, constantly tormenting the lover. As long as the lover is awake, he experiences the beloved’s cruelties and humiliations, but when he falls asleep the beloved appears in his dream, tormenting him to the point of waking him up. Despite all this anxiety and suffering, the lover remains faithful and even glorifies the beloved’s torture.

Dariush’s song shows how deeply the antinomian themes and motifs of classical Persian amatory poetry are embedded in contemporary Persian popular culture. The song also shows how religious motifs are intertwined with love themes in a secular context in Iran.

For a Dutch version of this blog click here.


Recommended literature:

Bruijn, J.T.P. de, in Encyclopaedia Iranica, s.v. Beloved. Available online BELOVED – Encyclopaedia Iranica (iranicaonline.org)

Scott Meisami, J., Medieval Persian Court Poetry, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.

Seyed-Gohrab, A.A., Laylī and Majn‎ūn: Love, Madness and Mystic Longing in Niẓāmī’s Epic Romance, Leiden / Boston: Brill, 2003.

Yarshater, E., “The Theme of Wine-Drinking and the Concept of the Beloved in Early Persian Poetry,” in Studia Islamica, 13, 1960, pp. 43-53.

© Asghar Seyed-Gohrab and the Beyond Sharia ERC Project, 2024. Any unlicensed use of this blog without written permission from the author and the Beyond Sharia ERC Project is prohibited. Any use of this blog should give full credit to Asghar Seyed-Gohrab and the Beyond Sharia ERC Project

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