What exactly does a mock encyclopedia consist of? Well, here we have an example from Persian by Fereydoon Tavallali. In a number of satirical entries, interspersed by poems like the following, Tavallali mercilessly mocks Iranian intellectual culture and the monarchy alike. Published in his 1946 book al-Tafasîl (Details), this poem deals specifically with the reign of Reza Shah (reigned 1925-1941), who did not come from the nobility and overthrew Iran’s last truly “royal” dynasty, the Qajars, in 1925 by a coup d’etat. It also mocks the classical patronage system, where Iranian poets would flatter kings into paying them or employing them at their courts. This is my last post for eight weeks since I’m going abroad tomorrow and will have little to no internet.
Fereydoon Tavallali – Gold Coins
I took a hundred gold coins and composed a poem
Praising a king who had no talent on this planet.
A king of kings who came from no noble progeny,
Like everyone else his father was a nobody.
A king of kings, but the celestial mother had no son
As ugly as he is under the seven blue domes of heaven.
A king of kings whose injustice and vice,
Like tears from laborers’ eyes, had no limits.
I took a hundred gold coins and in praise of that Emir
I wrote a poem that could not possibly be about him.
I compared his waist to a flower stem
Though his figure was like a spool of thread.
I called his eye a star, his brow the crescent moon
Though he was blind, completely lacking vision.
I called his hand delicate and his nails crystalline
A hand just like an ass’s hoof, no less.
I called his locks a violet flower and he truly believed it
Though he had but two hairs on his head.
I called his face heaven, rose garden, fresh spring,
A scowling face even ‘Umar couldn’t compete with.
“You are the hand of righteousness,” I wrote, “Arbiter of justice,
Iran has never seen a just Shah like you.
During your reign, lions befriended sheep,
Shepherds never feared desert wolves.
You are the Shah whose chair is soft and cozy,
Thrones of former Shahs didn’t even have springs!
You are the Shah who splits enemies with your sword,
The Prophet of the Age couldn’t split the moon like you!
You are the honorable Shah, sword in hand,
The old Shah didn’t even have an axe, poor thing!”
I took a hundred coins and made a fool of him in poetry.
Something was in it for me, so what harm was flattery?
Translation by: Michelle Quay