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“Your love weighs sweetly…”: A Poem by Jahan Malek Khatun

The cypress that grows up straight / sweetly represents my beloved’s the stature. / How can I compare his stature to a cypress? / The cypress is sweetly stuck in the mud of astonishment.

Poetry | Poetry Tuesday
March 9, 2021

The ghazal translated here is missing from the standard edition of Jahan Malek Khatun’s poems. We have translated it from an article recently published in Persian: Javad Bashari’s “Newly-found poems by Jahan Malek Khatun,” Payam-e Baharestan 1.3 (2009): 740-766. Bashari’s source is a 19th century manuscript that was copied in Istanbul in 1889 by the Iranian dissident Mirza Aqa Khan Kermani. Kermani was at that time residing at the home of Mirza Habib, best known as the translator of James Morier’s The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan (1824). Both dissidents were at that time political exiles from the Qajar Iranian state.

In the 20th century, the same ghazal was attributed to the Indo-Persian poet Amir Khusrow (1253–1325) by the renowned Iranian scholar Said Nafisi. However, the attribution to Amir Khusrow is uncertain. The ghazal lacks what in Persian is called the takhallos—a concluding signature verse that identifies the poet while adding an additional layer of rhetorical embellishment to the poem—in Amir Khusrow’s name. Two other ghazals by Amir Khusrow contain the same refrain (khosh ast, meaning “it is sweet”) as the one used in this poem, but both are signed in Amir Khusrow’s name. 

However, the poem translated here follows the same pattern as the other ghazals by Jahan Malek Khatun which use jahān—meaning “world” as well as referring to her name—in their signature verse. (Often, the takhallos is a fictional device that assigns an invented name to the poet’s persona, but in Jahan’s case, her takhallos matched her actual name.) This parallel casts doubt on Amir Khusrow’s authorship. For example, consider these two signature verses in two different ghazals by Jahan Malek Khatun, in which she identifies herself as author through a pun on her name (our translations follow):

I wondered if Jahan (the world) would rejoice in your justice;
Now I’m sure you wish for Jahan (the world) to be desolate.

Goftam jahān ze adl-e tow ābād-tar shavad
Aknun yaqin shodam ke tow khāhi jahān kharāb


When will you stop keeping me on fire like rue?
When will you stop destroying Jahan (the world) with your coquettish eyes?  

Tā key sepand-vār bar ātash nehi ma-rā
Tā key be chashm-e shukh jahān ra koni kharāb

Jahan Malek Khatun’s rival in poetry Ubayd Zakani also puns on her name in a short and somewhat misogynistic poem addressing Jahan Malek Khatun’s husband Amin al-Din, who was vizier of Abu Ishaq, ruler of Shiraz:

O vizier! Jahan (the world) is an unfaithful whore.
Aren’t you ashamed by such a whore?
Go and seek another loose vagina;
Jahan (the world) is not tight enough for the Lord of Jahan (the world).

Vazirā jahān qahba-yi bi-vafāst
To ra az chonin qahba-yi sharm nist
Borow kos-farākhi degar rā bekhāh
Khodā-ye jahān rā jahān tang nist

Bashari’s 21st century discovery calls into question the attribution of this ghazal to Amir Khusrow. Neither Bashari or Nafisi were aware of the conflicting assumptions that the other had made regarding the authorship of this poem. We are presenting these different perspectives here for the first time. Although the debate may never be definitively concluded, after centuries of doubting the authorship of this poem by a female poet, it turns out that the poem may well belong to Jahan Malek Khatun after all. 

Your love weighs sweetly on my heart.
I’m occupied by love: a sweet profession.

I sacrifice my soul to him, though he’s unfaithful,
I dedicate my heart to him. He’s a sweet lover.

For a frenzied nightingale in love with a rose
it’s pleasant to converse on the grass with thorns.

They sell their lives in the market of love:
Come inside! To sell is sweet.

The cypress that grows up straight
sweetly represents my beloved’s the stature.

How can I compare his stature to a cypress?
The cypress is sweetly stuck in the mud of astonishment.

That mouth is a vanishing point, shrinking:
it’s sweet to be a point on the circle of a compass.

No sickness is sweet, yet
it’s sweet to be made sick by your magic eyes.

The arrows from his eyes drown the world in blood
yet it’s sweet to be shot by arched eyes.

بار عشقت بر دلم باری خوش است
کار من عشق است و این کاری خوش است
جان دهم در پایش ار چه بیوفاس
تدل بدو بخشم که دلداری خوش است
بلبل شوریده را از عشق گل
در چمن با صحبت خاری خوش است
جان‌فروشانند در بازار عشق
یک قدم درنه که بازاری خوش است
راستی را سرو در نشو و نماست
از قد یارم نموداری خوش است
قد او را سرو چون گویم که سرو
در گل حیرت گرفتاری خوش است
نقطه موهوم یعنی آن دهن
نقطه‌ای در دور پرگاری خوش است
هیچ بیماری نباشد خوش ولی
چشم جادوی تو بیماری خوش است
تیر چشم او جهان در خون گرفت
لیک از دست کمان‌ داری خوش است