ʿĀŠEQ EṢFAHĀNĪ, ĀQĀ MOḤAMMAD ḴAYYĀṬ (or, in one account, Moḥammad Khan), a Persian poet of the 12th/18th century (pen name ʿĀšeq). He must have been born ca. 1111/1700, as he is reported to have died at the age of 70 in 1181/1768.
ʿĀšeq’s work consists almost entirely of short lyric poems (ḡazals) with a straightforward and simplistic amatory content. He was an associate of the contemporary poets Mīr Sayyed ʿAlī Moštāq, Ṣabāḥī Bīgdelī, Hātef Eṣfahānī, Ṭabīb Eṣfahānī, and Loṭf-ʿAlī Beg Āḏar (Āẕar), the author of the well-known taḏkera, the Ātaškada. According to Āḏar, ʿĀšeq had some knowledge of conventional subjects, but this is not discernible in his poetry, which is plain and unsubtle in the extreme, perhaps due to the fact that he had had little formal education as stated by R. Ḵāleqī in “ ʿĀšeq-e Eṣfahānī,” Mehr 2, pp. 392-96. Āḏar reports that ʿĀšeq earned his living as a tailor (ḵayyāṭ), hence, perhaps, his sobriquet. Although he seldom showed annoyance with his friends, he was not easily appeased if someone did annoy him. He would allow no interference, even if justified, by anyone in his poetry, and would take offense. There are brief mentions of ʿĀšeq, derived from Āḏar’s Ātaškada, in the Anǰoman-e Ḵāqān (a taḏkera of the early Qajar period) and in Reżā-qolī Khan Hedāyat’s Maǰmaʿ al-foṣaḥāʾ (III, p. 732). Maḥmūd Mīrzā Qāǰār, in his Safīnat al-Maḥmūd (ed. ʿA. Ḵayyāmpūr, II, p. 387), bestows exaggerated praises on ʿĀšeq, even comparing him to Saʿdī and ḤāfeẓÂ¡.
According to Jalāl-al-dīn Homāʾī [private communication to this writer] Mīrzā ʿAbd-al-Wahhāb Kalāntar, the governor of Isfahan under Karīm Khan Zand, formed a literary society at Isfahan, which poets, including ʿĀšeq, were invited to attend. There they discussed and emulated the ḡazals of the early masters; but when the Kalāntar chose as its head Mīr Sayyed ʿAlī Moštāq, the leading advocate of the “reversion” movement (bāzgašt-e adabī, see below), ʿĀšeq disapproved and never attended again.
ʿĀšeq died, according to his contemporary Āḏar and also the evidence of a chronogram by Ṣabāḥī Bīgdelī (in Anǰoman-e Ḵāqān), in his 70th year at Isfahan in 1181/1767-68; Ḥosayn Makkī’s 1177/1763-64 (Dīvān-e ʿĀšeq Eṣfahānī, ed. Ḥ. Makkī, Tehran, 1318 Š./1939, Introd.) is certainly wrong.
ʿĀšeq’s dīvān runs to some 7,800 verses (estimate of Ebn Yūsof Šīrāzī, Fehrest-e Ketāb-ḵāna-ye Maǰles-e Šūrā-ye Mellī, Tehran, 1318-21 Š./1939-42, p. 345). A fine illuminated manuscript of it was reported by ʿA. Čehranamā Īrānī (“Dar atṛāf e Šāh-nāma-ye dovvom wa ʿĀšeq Eṣfahānī,” Armaḡān 14/9) to exist in the National Library of Egypt, the first poem being an ode apparently in praise of Aḥmad Mīrzā Ṣafawī. Čehranamā also quoted a fragment by ʿĀšeq beginning with Qorrat al-ʿayn-e dūstān Āḏar “Āḏar, the delight of the eye(s) of (his) friends,” which does not appear in Makkī’s edition, and three or four verses in praise of a certain Ḥāǰǰī Mīrzā Āqāsī (not to be confused with the minister of Moḥammad Shah Qāǰār).
Two editions of ʿĀšeq’s dīvān have been printed: 1. ed. with preface and short biographical note by Ḥosayn Makkī, (Tehran, 1318 Š./1939) containing a number of qaṣīdas (odes) and a tarkībband (stanzaic poem) lamenting the martyrdom of Imam Ḥosayn, qeṭʿas (short poems), some with chronograms of death-dates of unknown persons, and robāʿīs (quatrains), in addition to 944 ḡazals; 2. ed. by Saʿīd Nafīsī with notes and comments by M. Darvīš (Tehran, 1343 Š./1964).
ʿĀšeq lived at a time when Persian poetry was at its weakest, although reversion to the style of the early masters (bāzgašt-e adabī), at present viewed by some critics as a renaissance, was being pursued. In the present writer’s opinion, this reversion was rather a retrogression and amounted to no more than lifeless imitation of some of the early masters. Poets completely forgot the good points in the poetry of the Safavid period: the poet’s intellectual introspection and weltanschauung, treatment of new themes and fresh ideas, acute observation of man’s nature and his emotions, portrayal of characters and potentialities, and richness in artistic and philosophical metaphors and similes. Instead they were content to say simple things and platitudes in commonplace or long-familiar words and phrases dressed up as poetry. Admittedly the later poets of the Safavid period, particularly Ṣāʾeb, were prolix and wrote many poetically tasteless pieces, some more like puzzles than poems; but at least they felt obliged to innovate in subject-matter and imagery. The poets of the bāzgašt, however, not only discarded all thought of innovation but lacked even a smattering of the force and eloquence of the early poets whom they took as models. They wrote traditional qaṣīdas in the style of Ẓahīr Fāryābī, poems halfway between the ḡazal and the qaṣīda with old ideas and stereotyped words, and ḡazals in mere imitation of Saʿdī and, above all, Ḥāfeẓ. Borrowing from the ample stock of ready-made poetic tools bequeathed by Ḥāfeẓ was all too easy (and is still a widespread practice).
ʿĀšeq in his long career wrote practically nothing except amatory ḡazals and showed no interest in any subject-matter or imagery relevant to people’s manifold characters, outlooks, desires, and circumstances; but in fairness it must be said that he was an eloquent and melodious poet in his chosen field. His work is never careless and never coarse. Although his concentration on the ḡazal suggests that he lacked talent for any other genre, he was, in the present writer’s opinion, the best poet of his time.
Ātaškada, Bombay, 1277/1860-61, pp. 414-42.
M. Fāżel Khan Garrūsī, Anǰoman-e Ḵāqān, anǰoman-e čahārom (in manuscript).
(K. Amīrī Fīrūzkūhī)
Originally Published: December 15, 1987
Last Updated: December 15, 1987