About the Book
I gaze into the mirror of my heart,
And though it’s me who looks, it’s you I see.
So speaks one of the many distinctive voices in this new anthology of verse by women poets writing in Persian, most of whom have never been translated into English before; this is especially true of the pre-modern poets, such as the unnamed author of the lines above, known simply as the “daughter of Salar” or “the woman from Esfahan.”
One of the very first Persian poets was a woman (Rabe’eh, who lived over a thousand years ago) and there have been women poets writing in Persian in virtually every generation since that time until the present. Before the twentieth century they tended to come from society’s social extremes. Many were princesses, a good number were hired entertainers of one kind or another, and they were active in many different countries – Iran of course, but also India, Afghanistan, and areas of central Asia that are now Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan. Not surprisingly, a lot of their poetry sounds like that of their male counterparts, but a lot doesn’t; there are distinctively bawdy and flirtatious poems by medieval women poets, poems from virtually every era in which the poet complains about her husband (sometimes light-heartedly, sometimes with poignant seriousness), touching poems on the death of a child, and many epigrams centered on little details that bring a life from hundreds of years ago vividly before our eyes.
In the nineteenth century we begin to see political poems, often very angry ones, by women demanding both the independence of Middle-Eastern countries from Western governments and women’s emancipation.Perhaps the most personal and intensely emotional poems are those of the last hundred years, in which we see local sensibilities rooted in a millennium of literary and social tradition responding to, and embracing or rejecting, the myriad multi-cultural strands that make up the modern world.
The Mirror of My Heart is a unique and captivating collection introduced and translated by Dick Davis, an acclaimed scholar and translator of Persian literature as well as a gifted poet in his own right. In his introduction he provides fascinating background detail on Persian poetry written by women through the ages, including common themes and motifs and a brief overview of Iranian history showing how women poets have been affected by the changing dynasties. From Rabe’eh in the tenth century to Fatemeh Ekhtesari in the twenty-first, each of the eighty-three poets in this volume is introduced in a short biographical note, while explanatory notes give further insight into the poems themselves.
About the Author
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).