About the Book
Khosrow and Shirin is a love story by Nezami Ganjavi—considered the greatest medieval Persian romance poet—based on historical characters of the seventh-century Iranian court. Written 850 years ago, the narrative poem is presented here for the first time in a stunning modern-verse English translation by Dick Davis, the pre-eminent translator of Persian poetry.
The love between an Iranian prince (Khosrow) and an Armenian princess (Shirin) is at the center of this tumultuous tale in which the exigencies of politics and warfare intertwine with no less powerful forces of erotic desire and the quest for personal and spiritual fulfilment. Nezami vividly dramatizes the clash between heroism and sensuality as they are pitted against the desire for the amenities of order and humane civilization. These marvelously presented discordant themes result in a complex love story based on conflicting concepts of love, one regarding the beloved as a prize to be conquered and possessed, the other unrequited and all-consuming, relishing the very notion of the annihilation of the self through love.
Davis has captured the energy and poetry of Nezami’s original in a delightful, contemporary idiom, and given us a story to read aloud, to savor, and to treasure for its luminous lyrical mastery. Davis’s superb introduction and textual commentary provide insightful background information for the general reader and scholar alike, intensifying the strength of his translation. Khosrow and Shirin will enchant both the classicist and the general reader, to captivate a new audience for Nezami’s masterpiece.
Praise for Davis’s previous translations
“Davis’ translation might be one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. Dick Davis has refreshed the classic verse form of the English epic—iambic pentameter couplets—and brought a very non-Western poem into the Western canon. His accomplishment is such that one wonders what might have happened to Western literature if Persia had triumphed at the Battle of Salamis….”
—Mark Jarman, The Hudson Review
“One of the most extraordinary and fascinating love narratives produced anywhere in the medieval world, Islamic or Christian….Excellent introduction makes a convincing case for Vis and Ramin being the source for Tristan and Isolde…New translation by the poet Dick Davis, widely regarded as our finest translator of Persian poetry, in heroic couplets…”
—Times Literary Supplement
About the Translater
Dick Davis brings a unique array of gifts to the challenges of translating Hafez and his contemporaries. In his own right, he is a poet of great technical accomplishment and emotional depth. He is also the foremost English-speaking scholar of medieval Persian poetry now working in the West. Numerous honors testify to his talents. In the U.K., he received the Royal Society of Literature’s Heinemann Award for his second book of poems, Seeing the World, in 1981; his Selected Poems was chosen by both the Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph as a Book of the Year in 1989; and his collection Belonging was selected as the Poetry Book of the Year by The Economist in 2003. In the U.S., A Kind of Love—the American edition of his Selected Poems—received the Ingram Merrill prize for “excellence in poetry” in 1993. He has received awards for his scholarship from the Arts Council of Great Britain, The British Institute of Persian Studies, and the Guggenheim Foundation, and he is the recipient of grants for his translations from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. Twice, in 2000 and 2001, he received the Translation Award of the International Society for Iranian Studies, and in 2001 he received an Encyclopedia Iranica award for “services to Persian poetry.” His translation of Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh: the Persian Book of Kings was chosen as one of the “ten best books of 2006” by the Washington Post.
Davis read English at Cambridge, lived in Iran for eight years (he met and married his Iranian wife Afkham Darbandi there), then completed a PhD in Medieval Persian Literature at the University of Manchester. He has resided for extended periods in both Greece and Italy (his translations include works from Italian), and has taught at both the University of California and at Ohio State University, where he was for nine years Professor of Persian and Chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages, retiring from that position in 2012. In all, he has published more than twenty books and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
Among the qualities that distinguish his poetry and scholarship are exacting technical expertise and wide cultural sympathy—an ability to enter into distant cultural milieus both intellectually and emotionally. In choosing his volume of poems Belonging as a “Book of the Year” for 2006, The Economist praised it as “a profound and beautiful collection” that gave evidence of “a commitment to an ideal of civilized life shared by many cultures.” the Times Literary Supplement has called him “our finest translator of Persian poetry.” In 2009 Mage published a book of Dick Davis’s own poems about Iran: At Home and Far From Home: Poems on Iran and Persian Culture. His book about the Shahnameh, Epic and Sedition was published by Mage in paperback in 2006. His books of translations are: Borrowed Ware: Medieval Persian Epigrams (1998), The Shahnameh (2004); The Legend of Seyavash (2004); Rostam: Tales of Love and War from Persia’s Book of Kings (2007); Vis and Ramin (2008); Faces of Love: Hafez and the Poets of Shiraz (2012).