Ayatollah Khamenei meets with poets

Ayatollah Khamenei: Poets Are an Investment for the Country

The following is the full text of the speech delivered on June 20, 2016 by Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, in a meeting with a number of poets from throughout the country on the occasion of Imam Hassan al-Mujtaba’s (a.s.) birthday anniversary.

In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds, and peace and greetings be upon our Master Muhammad and upon his immaculate household, especially the one remaining with Allah on earth

For me, this meeting was a good and sweet meeting, just like all the meetings that we have had in the middle of Ramadan in the course of many years. This is a meeting of establishing a close relation with one another, of showing one’s respect and purity, and of witnessing achievements. When I compare the poems of today’s youth with the poems that were composed ten, fifteen years ago, I get a feeling of excitement and gratefulness because of witnessing this progress.

Thankfully, our youth have improved and moved forward a great deal. The number of poets has increased, the quality of poems has been enhanced and the poetic movement in the country is thankfully moving towards progress. Of course, our dreams and expectations are more. We have certain shortcomings in the area of poetic matters. I have many things to discuss with this gathering of wise, scholarly, gifted and artistic personalities. I would like to raise many points, but there is no time and no energy. It is two hours or more now that you are listening [to one another’s poems]. Now, it will not be good if we become an extra load, but there are many things to be said:

“Deep in my heart, I have many things to say

What should I do with that un-composed ghazal?”

I deem it necessary to say something in memory of our dear friend and our valuable poet, the late Hamid Sabzevari. In the course of these long years, he was an ever-present companion of ours in this gathering. We always – almost in all meetings – benefitted from his presence. When we are speaking in memory of the late Hamid Sabzevari, this does not mean that we are merely commemorating a friend and a poet. Rather when we do this, we learn certain things. By commemorating Hamid and Hamid’s personality and by reaching conclusions about Hamid’s poetic life, certain concepts are instilled into our minds. As long as these dear personalities are alive, such conclusions are not reached – now, if anyone wants this meeting to conclude such things, this is the way to do so [Supreme Leader and audience laugh] – and as long as they are alive, people do not have the chance to make correct conclusions. However, when they are gone, people think about them and they look at their lives.

As for the late Hamid, first of all, he had a great gift for poetry. He was really a poet. He was a poet by nature, not by endeavor. Second, he had mastery over all kinds of poetry and over a wide spectrum of words. He knew many words, he benefitted from diversity in his poems and he was up-to-date. The most important point about his poetry is that since the time I became familiar with him, he was up-to-date.   

I made his acquaintance in the beginning of the Revolution – in the first months of the Revolution – and I established a poetic and literary relationship with him amid those difficulties and those surprising and strange worries that we had at that time. He was a window that led some air of freedom towards us and I considered him as very valuable. Since that day until the end of his life, that man was always up-to-date. His poetry was up-to-date.

In my opinion, an extraordinary characteristic in the late Sabzevari is his songs, both in terms of quantity, and quality and content. Today, we have this shortcoming. Today too, we need songs. Songs are a need. Of course, I had written something about songs that I wanted to discuss at the end of my speech. Now that I have mentioned songs, it will be good to discuss it in this part. In my opinion, a song is a kind of very effective and touching poem. Its influence and effect is more than many – perhaps, we can say all - forms and styles of poetry. In other words, its sphere of influence is wider and its rate of exerting influence is higher. For example, we can compose a song that is suitable for the requirements of the present time so much so that youth can sing it when they go camping. For example, when a group of youth go hiking and do other activities, they can sing it together. When they hold the 22nd of Bahman rallies, they can sing the same song.

Such songs are very important because they are a way of repeating and promoting the concepts that we need to promote. Songs can do so and they work very quickly. Songs create a culture. One of the characteristics of a song is that it creates a culture in society without discriminating between different levels of society. That is to say, it covers everyone ranging from those with high levels of knowledge and understanding in society to the masses of the people and it does so very quickly. We used to see this in the late Hamid’s songs.

May God bestow His mercy upon Shahid Majid Haddad Adel – Dr. Haddad Adel’s brother – who narrated this story for me in the beginning of the year 1360. He said that in the year 1359, when Sanandaj was liberated from anti-revolutionary forces – at that time, Sanandaj was in the hands of anti-revolutionary forces and they were dominant- as for our forces, they were besieged in their camps- [when the city was liberated] the people became happy and they poured into the streets. Before Sanandaj was liberated, the streets were severely controlled and there were threats: one constantly heard the sound of bullets. After throwing the anti-revolutionary opposition out, Sanandaj became a normal city.

Well, Sanandaj is a beautiful and lovely city. Those who have seen it know that it is a lovely and beautiful city. He said, “I saw that someone had set up a fruit-juicing business in the corner of a street. And the youth of that city came and stood in lines so that they would get their fruit juice from him. As he was putting the carrots into the juicer and pushing the handle, he began singing, ‘This is a cry of freedom rising from the east.’”

This song had just been composed by Hamid. That poem had been composed perhaps one, two months or even a shorter time before that. Then, a person in Sanandaj sang this song while extracting carrot juice. And no one had said to him that he should do so. As Mr. Feiz said in his poem [referring to a poem by Naser Feiz, one of the poets present in the meeting], he was not an advocate of the Islamic Republic and no one had said to him that he should do so [Supreme Leader and audience laugh]. He did it of his own volition.

Notice that this is the effect of a song. A song penetrates one’s heart in the same way that fresh spring air penetrates one’s room. It is not necessary for some people to promote them, to write commentaries about them and to compose poems about the effect of songs. This is not necessary at all. When a song is composed in an artistic way, it produces an effect. Today, we have a shortage of songs. Today, it seems that we need songs and the late Sabzevari (may God bestow paradise on him) was the best in this regard. I do not remember it exactly, but I think that according to the figures that they gave me, he has composed about four hundred or even more songs. This is very valuable and it should not be ignored.

I referred to the poem that Mr. Sayyar and Mr. Erfanpur have composed together – as I said, I have heard it. I think that it was the same poem that was highlighted and harshly criticized by foreign anti-revolutionary networks. This means that they immediately understood the significance of that poem. I think that according to the reports that they delivered to me, it was Fox News and other such media that criticized it. The melody that they had chosen for it and the good content that it had drove them mad! It made them very unhappy. But we did not know anything about it. We ourselves did not promote it. We did not promote good songs.

In my opinion, composing songs and choosing good melodies for them is very good. I have certain recommendations about the wording of songs and their combination and other such issues. I will offer these recommendations later on. May God bestow His mercy upon our dear Hamid. I hope that He will benefit from divine mercy and that the things that were mentioned – which are part of his services – will become a provision for him in the hereafter, God willing.

My dear ones, poets are an investment for the country. Poets are among the dearest and most valuable investments for every country. Of course, all artists are a source of investment, but poets and poetry have certain characteristics among all these various kinds of art that make the value of poets increase in society. They are an investment and provision. Well, this investment should be employed by the country in sensitive times. This is a very clear and obvious point: When the country needs help in the area of cultural, political and social matters, in the area of popular relationships and social bonds and in the area of confronting foreign enemies, this saving should come in handy like the savings that we have in the National Development Fund – which is a place for saving our oil revenues so that they come in handy somewhere and someday. So, if we compose poems that do not have any position on the current issues of the country, such poems will not fulfill the needs of the country. Poems should have positions.

Of course, you know that – as I have said many times in this meeting – I do not support the idea that all of the poems you compose should necessarily be politically oriented and committed poems. This is not the case. There is nothing wrong with composing ghazal and romantic poems. After all, such poems are in the nature of poets. There is nothing wrong with this, but even in such poems – in ghazals and romantic poems – there should be some layers of guidance, not layers of corruption and deviation. This point should be observed, but what I am saying is that I do not expect you to address political matters from start to finish when you are composing a ghazal.

It is possible that you dedicate three, four couplets to emotional, romantic and other such concepts, and that you suddenly include two instructive couplets in the middle like a lancet that is suddenly pushed into the body of a patient. This was what our good poets did in a continuous manner. They composed a ghazal, but in that ghazal, you suddenly see that two couplets have touched on a sensitive issue. This way they would revive a forgotten issue and highlight it. After all, poems should be lively.

One issue is about the pomes that have been composed about the current issues of the country. Fortunately, in the present era, the poets who compose such lively and politically-oriented poems are not few in number. Fortunately, there are such poets. Today, we are better than ten, fifteen years ago in this regard. However, such poems are not promoted. For example, several poems were composed for the martyred divers or the martyred defenders of the Imams’ (a.s.) shrines. Another example is the poem that the gentleman in the meeting [Hujjatul-Islam wal Muslimeen Shafiyee] recited about the matters related to the defenders of the Imam’s (a.s.) shrines. These are very good and outstanding poems. Why are they not promoted?

I have a question to ask: what is the way to promote such poems? Another example is the poem that has been composed for Sheikh Zakzaky. Sheikh Zakzaky is an oppressed, courageous and determined individual who was attacked by others. This was how they took revenge on him. If we translate this poem and promote it in those countries where he is well-known, notice how much influence it will exert! Notice how efficient this is in boosting people’s morale! But we are not doing this! We have really ignored these areas. The same is true of poems about Palestine, Yemen, Bahrain and other such countries.

The same is true of poems about American crimes. Well, on the issue of the Bar-Jaam [JCPOA], for instance, the Americans behaved in a very treacherous manner. So, these things should be expressed. This is not only the responsibility of politicians. Artists can express these things better than politicians. And among the various forms of art, poetry is the easiest, most available and most popular form. These things should be said and explained for public opinion.

The same is true of the Sacred Defense. Of course, I would like to thank – sincerely and from the bottom of my heart – those brothers who have composed poems in this regard, many of whom are present in today’s meeting. They have done an excellent job, but they should continue it. Such poems should be developed and promoted. They should be promoted. However, I see that in some places, what they want is something else!

Such and such an impious and indifferent artist who has not shown the slightest interest in concepts related to the Islamic Revolution and to Islam in the course of these 38 years is praised, but an artist who has dedicated his entire life to this path is not praised, respected and admired in any way. This is a very wrong approach. Our officials should pay attention to such matters. So, one of the points that I want to raise is that we should compose lively, dynamic and politically-oriented poems and that we should reflect them. In other words, we should promote them. Different individuals, the IRIB and governmental and non-governmental organizations should promote them.

Well, fortunately, the group of people who are busy working in this area are really carrying out good tasks. However, their sphere of work and their resources are limited. Their resources should increase so that they can really work. This should be done in the area that I just said and in the area of building and cultivating young poets who are fortunately carrying out certain tasks in this area.

Another issue is about the poems that are very popular among the people including nohas and marsiyas [elegies]. Nohas are very effective. They can exert profound influence, of course if they have good content. For example, during Ashura or on other occasions, you see that millions of individuals – who are mostly young – stand up and listen to a person who is singing a noha. Such poems and melodies generate a feeling of excitement in them. They perform sine-zani and they shed tears. This is how their beliefs, feelings and emotions increase about religious concepts.

This is a very important opportunity. We should grasp this opportunity. When I say “we”, I mean that the country, Islam and the Islamic Republic should grasp it. I have offered this advice to panegyrists and other such individuals as well. Now, I would like to offer it to you who are men of poetry. For example, during the time of revolutionary activities – it was in the month of Muharram – someone brought us a tape of a sine-zani in Jahrom. At that time we were in Mashhad. It was so touching! First of all, it was beautiful in terms of poetry, meaning and wording. Second, it was very good in terms of its melody. Third, it was deeply moving, exciting and instructive. It was very valuable. After that, they brought us a tape from Yazd. I remember such tapes from these two cities. I do not remember seeing them anywhere else.   

These poems discussed the political concepts of those days – the concepts that were highlighted during the time of revolutionary activities – in the form of nohas. We had such poems in the Sacred Defense Era as well. The nohas that Mr. Ahangaran recited and the poet who used to compose poems for him in Ahwaz- Mr. Moalemi (may God bestow his mercy on him)- are an example of such poems. These too were poems and nohas that were instructive. We should pursue this task in a serious way.

Of course, noha poems have certain qualities. They should have certain qualities in terms of terminology, and poetic combination so that they produce an effect and so that a noha reciter can recite them. I strongly request that reciters of nohas and marsiyas pay attention to these points. They should ask poets to recite such nohas and then they should accept and benefit from them. You dear poets too should do your best in this regard.

Down there [outside the place where the meeting was held], one of the gentlemen recited a poem which meant this: if you draw your sword, there are many individuals to stand in front of you and to puff out their chest in the face of your enemies. Then I said, “I have drawn my sword. We are busy fighting and we are attacking the enemies from right and left.” But this is not the case. Today, the kind of sword that we use and the arena in which we fight are different from those early years. We are in a soft war. We are in a political, cultural, security and intelligence war. It is thoughts and willpowers that are fighting against one another. Today, we are very much in need of these efficient and influential tools. In my opinion, one of the most important tools in this area is poetry. It is you who should pay attention to this tool.

I believe that, as we said earlier, there are many tasks that have not been carried out in the area of poetry. One of these tasks is related to translation. One of the gentlemen in tonight’s meeting [Mr. Alireza Qazvah] said to me that they have translated certain poems into Urdu. This is a very good task. It is a very necessary task. Persian poetry in different areas should be translated. For example, poems about Palestine, the Sacred Defense Era, women, regional matters and Yemen should be collected and translated in Arabic, Urdu, English and some other languages. These translations should be good and they should be promoted and reflected outside the country.

For example, “Palestine in Persian Poetry” is a subject that can be worked on. Another subject matter is the incidents that occurred in the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq. What was the story about? Well, people in other countries do not know about such subjects. An Iraqi female doctor said to one of my friends, “The first and second times I travelled to Iran – after Saddam’s overthrow – whenever I approached an Iranian, I thought that it was they who had killed my two brothers in the war. I used to look at the Iranians like this. I held a grudge against the Iranians – and she continues to speak about the Iranians like this – until I met Soleimani [Sardar Qassem Soleimani]. When I saw that Soleimani has come and is making those sacrifices [in Iraq], things changed the other way around.”  

What I had in mind to discuss was not this part of her statements, rather it was the first part. What I had in mind was that Iraqi youth, Iraqi women and Iraqi mothers do not know what the main issue was and what really happened. Well, we were sitting in our houses. Their planes came and bombarded us. What were we supposed to do? Should we have remained motionless? They came and passed through our borders. They occupied several thousand kilometers of our borders. What should we have done? Should we have remained idle so that they would advance or should we have gone there to defend ourselves? Well, we did the latter. This is a reality. Why should this reality not be clarified for Iraqi youth, mothers, orphans and sisters? Why should it not be clarified for others? These are matters that can be addressed through the language of poetry.

Another point is that to be fair, our dear poets have improved and progressed a lot. When I take a look, I see that poems composed by our poets have become popular among the youth and the middle class in society. The country’s poetry has improved a lot. In general, we feel that our poetry has taken a step forward compared to what it was in the past.

However, this does not mean that we have reached a point where we do not need to move forward any longer. I have repeated this many times and I would like to repeat again: I strongly request that you never stop improving the poems that you are composing in the present time and enhancing the ones that you will compose in the future. The poems that you are composing in the present time are good poems and I like it when you recite them. We both enjoy and praise them, but this does not mean that your poems are at the peak. This is not the case. Your poems are good poems, but we want them to stand at the peak. We are after this. Words are one of the instruments for doing so: you should use beautiful, dignified and appropriate words. Sometimes, we see that poems are good, but that the words that have been used in them are inappropriate. This is not good. When good words are used in a poem, people enjoy it a lot.  

So, poetry should improve. And it is the responsibility of poetic experts to determine which poems are good. I have heard that some people present their poems in cyberspace - which has become very common these days. For example, someone has written something that is not very valuable. Then, several thousand individuals “like” it. Such “likes” are not of any value. What gives value to poets and to poetry is the opinion of experts – individuals who are competent in the area of poetry and who understand what poetry is and what good and bad poetry is. Others’ opinion is not a good criterion for determining which poems are good. In any case, there should be an effort to improve poetry.

Now that the honorable Minister is present in the meeting [Ali Jannati, the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance], I should say that one cannot train a poet in the course of one, five days or two weeks. It should be mentioned that certain classes have been conducted for training poets. Such classes have been held by technical-popular groups. If government organizations want to do something in this regard, they should help these groups. They should help them. They should support and equip them so that they can do their job.

There is another point here: the late Behjati (God’s mercy be upon him) turned Dua Abu Hamza into a piece of poetry. He was one of our dear old friends who was from Yazd, just like this gentleman in the meeting [Hujjatul-Islam Zakariya Akhlaqi]. However, Mr. Behjati was from Ardakan, but he is from Meibod. Meibod and Ardakan have differences of opinion and debates over different matters. Mr. Behjati is a good poet in any case. I do not exactly remember how much of the dua was turned into poetry. He himself referred to one specific part and said that that part was very difficult for him and that he could not finish it.

One of the tasks is that we can really turn these excellent and outstanding religious texts into poetry. This is one area and branch of the work. As cinematic personalities say, this is a poetic “genre”. Of course, it is not the case that we want to confine all of our work to this area. This is only one area of our work. As well as excellent content, such duas have excellent words. The duas that exist – such as Dua Arafa, Dua Abu Hamza, Dua Sha’baniyyah, and duas in Sahifa al-Sajjadiyyah – are imbued with excellent Islamic concepts and teachings, and with really the best and most beautiful words. It is good to reflect these duas in your poetry.

Last year, I recited this poem by Akhavan here: - of course he had composed it for another purpose [he addressed it to another beloved] – “You are my source of support and a refuge for the most beautiful moments of my innocent and glorious solitude and seclusion. You are my sweet and magnificent river.” Notice how beautiful this poetry is. In that meeting, I said that when I read this poem, my addressee is praying and prayers. Duas are the same thing that has been described in this poem: “You are my source of support and a refuge for the most beautiful moments of my innocent and glorious solitude and seclusion. You are my sweet and magnificent river”. Of course, he has addressed it to something else.

In my opinion, it will be very good if you can turn these duas into poems with such beautiful literature, with such exquisite concepts, with such superb music – music in poetry is a separate area in itself and its fluency, beauty, smoothness and melody save poetry from awkward pauses - and with such excellent methods and styles.

And the last point is about ayini poems [poems about the Imams (a.s.)]. Fortunately, some of our friends, who are ayini poets, are present here. Well, some of our poets really compose good poems. Their poems – whether their marsiyas or their panegyrics and eulogies - have good content about the Imams (a.s.). And they say many good things in their poems. However, this is not the case about some of our poets. We should do something to make ayini poems become a collection of teachings about the Imams (a.s.). In other words, when you give your poems to panegyrists and when they recite them on different occasions, the influence that they exert should be as much as several good minbars.

Of course, this should happen naturally. If the concepts are really good and if the poem is a good poem – for example, the poem that Mr. Ensani recited in the meeting - the influence that it exerts is as much as several good minbars. This is because it has used an artistic method. However, if the poem uses ordinary and cliché concepts which are not worth expressing, except for making people shed tears – of course, making people shed tears is a positive thing, but it is not the main goal – this will not exert any influence.

We should look at the poems that the likes of Komeit and De’bel have composed for the Imams (a.s.). We should see what methods they used and what concepts they incorporated in those long qasidas [a Persian and Arabic poetic form]. If we want to compose poems, we should do it the way they did. If these methods and tools are available to those who manage this meeting, it will be very valuable.

I hope that Allah the Exalted protects and preserves all of you so that you can do good and timely work and so that you can satisfy the needs of your country, your society and your system, God willing.

Greetings be upon you and Allah’s mercy and blessings