KESĀʾI MARVAZI

KESĀʾI MARVAZI (also vocalized Kasāʾi), Persian poet of the second half of the 4th/10th century. His full name was probably Abu’l-Ḥasan Majd-al-Din ʿAli b. Mo­ḥam­mad, as it is mentioned in Abu’l-Qāsem Bāḵarzi’s Domyat al-qaṣr, but some later sources (e.g., Āẕar Bigdeli, II, p. 660; Hedāyat, III, p. 1134) give Abu Esḥāq as his patronymic (konya; cf. Riāḥi, 1996, p. 18). The honorific term ḥakim, which often precedes his name, indicates his reputation as a poet of wisdom. The “solitary scholar” (al-mojtahed al-moqim be-nafsehi), to whom Bāḵarzi refers, is almost certainly to be identified with this poet. Sadid-al-Din Moḥammad ʿAwfi (q.v.; ed. Browne and Qazvini, II, p. 33) interprets the pen name “Kesāʾi” as a reference to his ascetic way of life (“kesāʾ‑e zohd dar bar dāšt”). This term can, however, be explained otherwise as a derivation from the same Arabic word kesāʾ ‘piece of clothing,’ pointing to the craft of a tailor (Ṣafā, I, p. 441; Neẓāmi ʿArużi, editor’s notes, p. 91).

The sources more or less agree on his origin from Marv, and he must have spent most of his life in that city. Further biographical information is almost completely lacking, but we do have a precise dating of his birth, provided by the poet himself in the opening lines of a famous poem lamenting old age: be siṣad-o čehel-o yak rasid nawbat‑e sāl / čahār šanba-o seh ruz bāqi az Šawwāl (“The year had arrived at three-hundred and forty-one:/ a Wednesday, and three days before the end of Šawwāl,” i.e., 26 Šawwāl 341/16 March 953). In the same poem he states that he had reached the age of fifty. Some modern scholars have concluded (e.g., Foruzānfar, 1971, p. 39; Ṣafā, I, p. 442; Edārači, pp. 288-89) that he must have therefore died in or shortly after 391/​1000-1001, but the exact date of his death is not recorded.

In the days of Kesāʾi, the area of Khorasan was in political turmoil. The Samanid kingdom was falling apart, while the Ghaznavids, the first Turkish dynasty in Persian history, were establishing their rule. The poet seems to have found protectors in both camps. The satirical poet Mo­ḥam­mad Suzani Samarqandi (d. 1173-74) alludes to the patronage lavished on the poet by Abu’l-Ḥosayn ʿAbd-Allāh b. Aḥmad ʿOtbi (d. 982), the vizier of the Samanid Amir Nuḥ b. Manṣur (Riāḥi, 1969, p. 444). In one of the fragments of his poetry quoted by ʿAwfi (ed. Browne and Qazvini, II, p. 34), Kesāʾi praises Sultan Maḥmud of Ghazna. This demonstrates that Kesāʾi wrote panegyrics to powerful men during most of his literary career, a matter that he evidently bitterly regretted later on in life (see the verse in Asadi Ṭusi, ed. Mojtabāʾi and Ṣādeqi, p. 87).

A divān of Kesāʾi was still extant until the mid-12th century and held in high esteem, but afterwards it fell into oblivion (ʿAbd-al-Jalil Qazvini, p. 231; Riāḥi, 1969, p. 446). Only a few complete poems have been preserved. The rest consist of short pieces, probably only fragments from larger poems, which were saved because they were of some interest to lexicographers and anthologists. To the former belonged Asadi Ṭusi (q.v.), the author of the Loḡat al-fors (11th cent.), and to the latter, the anthologist ʿAwfi (early 13th century). Kesāʾi is also cited several times by the early Persian rhetorician Mo­ḥam­mad Rāduyāni. The first collection of Kesāʾi’s poetry, compiled by Hermann Ethé (q.v.) on the basis of a number of biographical anthologies (taḏkeras), is now outdated; new material has been published by ʿAli-Akbar Dehḵodā, Mo­ḥam­mad Dabirsiāqi, and Mo­ḥam­mad-Amin Riāḥi. Two religious poems came to light only recently: one, a dirge on the martyrs of Karbalā, was found in an album added by the anthologist Taqi-al-Din Kāši as an appendix to his Ḵolāṣat al-ašʿār, compiled between 1585 and 1607 (cf. Riāḥi, 1996, pp. 65-72), and the other is a qaṣida in honor of the Imam ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb, which was found in a manuscript of the Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi, Istanbul (Riāḥi, 1969, pp. 447-49; idem, 1996, pp. 44-50, 89-92).

Kesāʾi wrote poems in Arabic as well as Persian. Despite the fact that so little of his work has survived, he is regarded as a fine lyricist to this day. This appreciation is based in large part on the images of nature in the fragments that have reached us (cf. Šafiʿi Kadkani, pp. 430-33). A remarkable example is this fanciful vignette of a water lily (nilufar) on the surface of a pond:

Nilufar‑e kabud negah kon miān‑e āb,

Čun tiḡ‑e ābdāda o yāqut‑e ābdār;

Hamrang‑e āsmān o ba kerdār‑e āsmān,

Zardi-š bar miāna čo māh‑e dah o čahār;

Čun rāheb-i ke do roḵ‑e u sāl o māh zard,

Wa’z meṭraf‑e kabud redā karda o ezār (ʿAwfi, II, p. 35).

Look at the blue water lily, surrounded by water:

Like a sword being tempered, a glistening hyacinth;

The same color as the sky, and in the manner of the sky:

In the center a yellow spot; a moon of fourteen days,

The cheeks, grown pale over months and years,

Of a monk who has wrapped himself in blue silk.

To writers closer to his time, however, Kesāʾi was foremost a religious poet, notably to Bāḵarzi and to ʿAwfi, and the latter notes (ed. Browne and Qazvini, II, p. 33) that “most of his poems treat asceticism (zohd), admonition (waʿẓ), and the virtues of the members of the House of the Prophet (ahl‑e bayt‑e nobowwat).” In the divān of the Ismaʿili poet Nāṣer‑e Ḵosrow (d. ca. 1072), a number of qaṣidas are concluded by a reference to Kesāʾi as a respected predecessor whom the younger poet claims to have surpassed. This instance of rivalry between religious poets has led to speculation about the branch of Shiʿism to which Kesāʾi adhered. The claim made by ʿAbd-al-Jalil Qazvini, the author of the Ketāb al-naqż (q.v.), in the mid-12th century, that he was an Imami seems to be more likely than the conclusion that he was an Ismaʿili, which was drawn by Moḥammad Moʿin (in Neẓāmi ʿArużi, editor’s notes, p. 97) and Saʿid Nafisi (I, pp. 26, 37-38; cf. his notes in ʿAwfi, ed. Nafisi). The exchange of poems between Kesāʾi and Nāṣer‑e Ḵosrow, quoted by Reżāqoli Khan Hedāyat (III, pp. 1135-37) from the Ḵolāṣat al-ašʿār of Moḥammad-Taqi Kāši is an anachronistic forgery, assembled from poems belonging to the divān of Nāṣer‑e Ḵosrow (see Neẓāmi ʿArużi, editor’s notes, p. 93; Ṣafā, I, pp. 444-45; Edārači, pp. 391-93, 474-75).

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(J. T. P. de Bruijn)

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