KESĀʾI MARVAZI (also vocalized Kasāʾi) (b. Marv, 27 Šawwāl 341/6 March 953), 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 Bāḵ-arzi’s Domyat al-qaṣr, but some later sources (e.g., Āḏar, 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 Bāḵ-arzi refers, is almost certainly to be identified with this poet. Sadid-al-Din Moḥammad ʿAwfi (II, p. 33) interprets the pen name “Kesāʾi” as a reference to his ascetic way of life (“kesāʾ-e zohd dar bar dāšt”; ʿAwfi, II, p. 33). 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, commentaries, 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-hundredand forty-one:/ a Wednesday, and three days before the end of Šawwāl,” i.e. 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 1000-01, 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 satirist poet Moḥammad Suzani Samarqandi (d. 1173-74) alludes to the patronage lavished on the poet by Abu’l-Ḥosayn ʿObayd-Allāh b. Aḥmad ʿOtbi (k. 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 (q.v.; II, p. 34), Kesāʾi praises Sultan Maḥmud of Ghazna. He in fact seems to have written panegyrics praising powerful men during most of his literary career, a matter that he evidently bitterly regretted later on in life (see the verse in Asadi, 1986, 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 (early13th century). Kesāʾi is also cited several times by the early Persian rhetorician Moḥammad Rāduyāni. The first collection of Kesāʾi’s poetry, compiled by Hermann Éthé on the basis of a number of biographical anthologies (taḏkeras), is now outdated; new material has been published by ʿAli-Akbar Dehḵ-odā, 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 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- u sāl o māh zard,
Wa’z meṭraf-e kabud redā karda o ezār (ʿAwfi, II, p. 35).
Observe the blue water lily, in the midst of water,
Like a tempered blade or a lustrous ruby,
Same as the sky in color and as with the sky
Bearing yellow (or yellow yoke) at its center, just like a full moon.
Or resembling an ascetic monk with cheeks yellow, all the year round;
Like monk who has made of azure cloth, his trousers and gown.
To writers closer to his age, however, Kesāʾi was foremost a religious poet, notably to Bāḵ-arzi and to ʿAwfi (II, p. 33), and the latter notes 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 Kesāʾ adhered. The claim made by ʿAbd-al-Jalil Qazvini, the author of the Ketāb al-naqż, 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 (Neẓāmi ʿArużi, commentaries, p. 97) and Saʿid Nafisi (I, pp. 26, 37-38; cf. his commentaries to his ed. of the Lobāb al-albāb). 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, commentaries, p. 93; Ṣafā, I, pp. 444-45; Edārači, pp. 391-93, 474-75).
Abu’l-Rašid Naṣir-al-Din ʿAbd-al-Jalil Qazvini Rāzi, Ketāb al-naqżmaʿruf ba Baʿż maṯāleb al-nawāṣeb fi naqż “baʿż fażāʾeḥ al-rawāfeż,” ed. Jalāl-al-Din Ḥosayni Moḥaddeṯ Ormavi, Tehran, 1979, pp. 231, 238, 577.
Loṭf-ʿAli Big Āḏar, Ātaškada, ed. Ḥ asan Sādāt-e Nāṣeri, 3 vols., 1958-62, II, pp. 660-61.
Arthur J. Arberry, Classical Persian Literature, London, 1958, pp. 37-38.
Abu Manṣur Asadi Ṭusi, Loḡat-e fors, ed. Moḥammad Dabirsiāqi, Tehran, 1957, ed. Fatḥ-Allāh Mojtabāʾi and ʿAli Ašraf Ṣādeqi, Tehran, 1986, passim.
Sadid-al-Din Moḥammad ʿAwfi, Lobāb al-albāb,ed. Edward G. Browne and Moḥammad Qazvini, 2 vols., Leiden and London, 1903-06, II, pp. 33-39; ed. Saʿid Nafisi, Tehran, 1956, pp. 270-74, commentaries, pp. 660-68.
Abu’l-Qāsem ʿAli b. Ḥ asan Bāḵ-arzi, Domyat al-qaṣr wa-ʿoṣrat ahl al-ʿaṣr, ed. ʿAbd-al-Fattāḥ Moḥammad Ḥ olw, 2 vols., Cairo, 1971, no. 288.
François de Blois, Persian Literature: A Bio-Bibliographical Survey V/1, London, 1992, pp. 179-80.
Edward G. Browne, ALiterary History of Persia, 4 vols., Cambridge, 1902-24, II, pp. 160-64.
Moḥammad Dabirsiāqi, Pišāhangān-e šeʿr-e pārsi, Tehran, 1972.
ʿAli-Akbar Dehḵ-odā, Loḡat-nāma, s.v. Kesāʾi.
Aḥmad Edārači Gilāni, Šāʿerān-e hamʿaṣr-e Rudaki, Tehran, 1992, pp. 285-332.
ʿAbbās Eqbāl Āštiāni, “Yak qeṭʿa az ašʿār-e Kesāʾi Marvazi az šoʿarā-ye qarn-e čahārom-e hejri,” in idem, Majmuʿa-ye maqālāt-e ʿAbbās Eqbāl Āštiāni, ed. Moḥammad Dabirsiāqi, Tehran, 1990, pp. 267-71.
Hermann Ethé, “Die Lieder des Kisâʾî,”in Sitzungsberichte der philos.-philologisch und historschee Classe der köninglichen bayrischen Akademie der Wissenschaftenen, Munich, 1874, II, pp. 133-53.
Idem, “Neupersische Literatur,” in Wilhelm Geiger and Ernst Kuhn, eds., Grundriss der iranischen Philologie, 2 vols., Strassburg, 1895-1904,II, pp. 281-82.
Badiʿ-al-Zamān Foruzānfar, “Kesāʾi Marvazi,” Ārmān 1 1930, pp. 27-34; reprod. in idem, Majmuʿa-ye maqālāt wa ašʿār, ed. ʿEnāyat-Allāh Majidi, Tehran, 1972, pp. 1-7.
Idem, Soḵ-an wa soḵ-anvarān, 2nd ed, Tehran, 1971, pp. 38-42.
Reżāqoli Khan Hedāyat, Majmaʿ al-foṣaḥā,lith. ed., 2 vols., Tehran, 1295/1878, I, pp. 482-85; ed. Maẓāher Moṣaffā, 6 vols., Tehran, 1961, III, pp. 1134-39.
J. H. Kramers and J. T. P. de Bruijn, “Kisāʾī,” in EI2 V, pp. 175-76.
Saʿid Nafisi, Tāriḵ-e-e naẓm o naṯr dar Irān wa dar zabān-e fārsi, 2 vols., Tehran, 1965.
Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow Qobādiāni, Divān-e ašʿār,ed. Noṣrat-Allāh Taqawi, Tehran, 1969.
Aḥmad Neẓāmi ʿArużi Samarqandi, Čahār maqāla,ed. Moḥammad Qazvini, rev. Moḥammad Moʿin, Tehran, 1952, text,p. 44, commentaries,pp. 89-97.
ʿAli Qawim, “Kesāʾi Marvazi” Armaḡān,24, 1949, pp. 241-51.
Moḥammad b. ʿOmar Rāduyāni, Tarjomān al-balāga, ed. Ahmed Ateş, Istanbul, 1949, text, pp. 13, 22, 46, 147, 104, commentaries, pp. 97-98.
Moḥammad-Amin Riāḥi, “Qaṣida-i az Kesāʾi Marvazi,” Yaḡmā 22/10, 1969, pp. 441-49.
Idem, “Pišrow-e Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow,” Yaḡmā 27/10, 1974, pp. 561-71.
Idem, “Kesāʾi, pišrow-e Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow,” in Yād-nāma-ye Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow, Mashad, 1976, pp. 234-45.
Idem, Kesāʾi Marvazi: zendagi, andiša wa šeʿr-e u, 7th ed., Tehran, 1996.
Ḏabiḥ-Allāh Ṣafā, Taʿriḵ-e adabiyāt dar Irān I, Tehran, 1963, pp. 441-49.
Moḥammad-Reżā Šafiʿi Kadkani, Ṣowar-e ḵ-iāl dar šeʿr-e fārsi, 3rd ed., Tehran, 1987, pp. 430-33.
Šams-al-Din Moḥammad b. ʿAli Suzani, Divān, ed. Nāṣer Šāh-Ḥosayni, Tehran, 1959.
April 7, 2008
(J. T. P. de Bruijn)
Originally Published: April 7, 2008
Last Updated: April 7, 2008