AMIRI, Yusof, a Persian-Chaghatay poet of the first half of the 15th century. He was of Persian origin; the dates of his birth and death are unknown. Amiri was a poet at the Timurid court in Herat and a confident of Bāysonḡor Mirzā, one of Šāhroḵ’s sons, whom he honored with a Persian qaṣida and with a few lines of gratitude in Chaghatay at the conclusion of his ‘Ten Letters’ (Dah nāma, British Library, MS. Add. 7914, fols. 270r:9-270v:7) which is dedicated to Bāysonḡor. Amiri was an erudite person with remarkable poetic skills. He enjoyed the secular atmosphere among the Timurid elite, where his poems were received with great enthusiasm (Dah nāma, fols. 270v:1-271r:5). The fundamentalist wave spreading in the Timurid empire was of a great concern to him. “Today I understood some of the frustrations Mercury had. All [these people] are talking about the Tablet and the Pen [and then not about events, heroes, and sentiments of real poetry]”—he complains in the Dah nāma (fol. 271v:2). Dowlatšāh Samarqandi (q.v.) mentions him in the Taḏkerat al-šoʿarāʾ (Browne, pp. 441-43), and so does ʿAli-Šir Navāʾi (q.v.) in the Majāles al-nafāʾes (Navāʾi, I, p. 22).
Yusof Amiri was a bilingual poet. Along with Persian he also wrote in the Chaghatay language, which, compared to his native tongue, was for him the tempered (moʿtadel) form of literary expression. For his audience at the Timurid court, he would use Chaghatay, but he was also asked to show his mastery in Persian (Dah nāma, fol. 279v:1).
Three of his works have come down to us: a collection of poems (divān) in Persian, a panegyric maṯnawi Dah nāma, and a contest poem (monāẓera) entitled Bang o čaḡir (‘Hashish and Wine’), the latter two in Chaghatay. His Persian divān exists in only one manuscript preserved in the library of the Ayasofya Museum in Istanbul (MS. 3883), which is still unpublished and very little-known. What was believed to be two Amiri’s works included in a manuscript at the University Library of Istanbul (Köprülü, p. 292) turned out to be the works of a late Chaghatay poet Amir Muḥammad ʿOmar Khan (Vambéry, pp. 200-08; Eckmann, 1964, p. 320) who used the same pen name Amiri. The Dah nāma survived in the British Library manuscript Add. 7914 (fols. 228-272; Rieu, pp. 288-89), and is still unpublished. Of the Bang o čaḡir, also preserved in the same British Library manuscript Add. 7914 (fols. 329-337; Rieu, p. 291) a Russian translation was made by Rustamov (pp. 321-44), which is followed by a facsimile edition of the manuscript.
The Dah nāma represents the genre borrowed from the Persians and much favored by the Chaghatay literary elite. At least three other similar poems had been in vogue before Yusof Amiri’s work: the Moḥabbat-nāma (‘The Book of Caring Love’) by Ḵᵛārazmi (middle of the 14th century), the Laṭāfat-nāma (‘The Book of Elegance’), by Ḵojandi (late 14th-early 15th century), and the Taʿššoq-nāma (‘The Book of Passionate Love’) by Sayyed Aḥmad Mirzā (first half of the 15th century). These three consist of at least ten letters written by the Lover to his Beloved in order to attract her interest (through a psychological process, as explained by Bābor in his Resāla-ye Wālediya; Bodrogligeti, 1986; see BĀBOR, ẒAHIR-AL-DIN MOḤAMMAD). Yusof Amiri changes the format: in his Ten Letters the Beloved reads and promptly answers every letter creating a two-way correspondence which eventually leads to a formal encounter, ceremonial celebration, and loud festivities. This work, with its polished language, colorful figurative speech, and erudite content, is one of the best pieces of the high-style Chaghatay literature.
The Bang o čaḡir, a prose work with inserted verses, belongs to the genre of literary contest that was well known both in Chaghatay and Persian literatures. For the 15th century, two more Chaghatay contest poems are known: one by Yaqini, called Oq yaynïng munāẓarasï (‘The Contest of the Bow and the Arrow’); and one by Aḥmadi, conventionally entitled The Contest of the String Instruments, since the existing manuscript does not have a title (Bodrogligeti, 1987, pp. 55-88). In contest poems, the parties sing praises of their own, and malign or put down their opponents until they engage in a heated battle. Then a moderator comes along to make peace between the two. Amiri follows the same pattern. Čaḡir (Wine) appears as a strong and brave young man, while Bang (Hashish) looks as an old Sufi. The Wine boasts with his strength (nobody can beat him) and rank (Allāh mentions him by name in the Qurʾān, which is considered respectful, even if the mention is not positive). He further claims that in Persian the reverse of his name (may) is ‘ocean’ (yam), which stands for endless wisdom and abundance. The Hashish says he is a medicine for the sufferer and a source of pleasure for the healthy; his real name is not ‘hashish’ (bang), which is often ridiculed because of its color and foul smell, but—reading the Persian word backwards—‘hemp’ (kanab). The language tends to become vulgar as the debate goes on. Finally, the Honey (bal) intervenes as the moderator and settles the dispute to the satisfaction of both parties.
In addition to their philological and cultural-historical value, Yusof Amiri’s poems are important primary sources for studying the use of figurative language in Chaghatay-Persian literary expression.
A. Bodrogligeti, “Babur Shah’s Chagatay Version of the Risāla-i Vālidiya: A Central Asian Turkic Treatise on How to Emulate the Prophet Muhammad,” Ural-Altaïsche Jahrbuch 56, 1984, pp. 1-61.
Idem, “A Masterpiece of Central Asian Turkic Satire: Aḥmadi’s ‘A Contest of String Instruments’,” Ural-Altaïsche Jahrbuch 59, 1987, pp. 55-88.
E. G. Browne, The Tadhkiratu’sh-shu’ará of Dawlatsháh, London, 1931.
J. Eckmann, “Das Tschaghataische,” Philologiae Turcicae Fundamenta 1, 1959, pp. 138-60.
Idem: “Die Tschaghataische Literatur,” Philologiae Turcicae Fundamenta 2, 1964, pp. 304-402.
M. F. Köprülü, “Çagatay Edebiyatı,” Islâm Ansiklopedisi III, Istanbul, 1945, pp. 270-323.
ʿAli-Shir Navāʾi, Mecâlisü’n-nefâyis, ed. K. Eraslan, 2 vols., Ankara, 2001.
C. Rieu, Catalogue of the Turkish manuscript in the British Museum, London, 1888, repr. Osnabrück, 1978.
E. R. Rustamov, Uzbekskaya poèziya v pervoş polovine XV veka (Uzbek Poetry in the First Half of the 15th Century), Moscow, 1963.
H. Vambéry, “Zwei moderne centralasiatische Dichter, Munis und Emir,” ZDMG 6, 1852, pp. 200-08.
Originally Published: December 3, 2010
Last Updated: August 3, 2011