Mem û Zîn Analytical Study*: 4. The form and genre of Khani’s literary work

Analytical Study of Mem û Zîn

By Dr Kamal Mirawdeli:

‘Love and Existence: Analytical Study of Ahmadi Khani’s Tragedy of Mem û Zîn’

Chapter Four:  The form and genre of Khani’s literary work

Chyet describes Mem û Zîn in terms of form as “a long epic poem (2655 lines) in the Persian Masnawi style, characterized by strict symmetrical structure, each line consisting of two hemistichs in hazaj meter. Each hemistich contains a fixed nine to ten syllables, with each line rhyming at the end of the first and second hemistiches, but with no rhyme between the consecutive lines”   (Chyet, p.54 ).  Mem û Zîn’s form and especially its prosody have attracted more attention by Orientalists than its structural constructions, intellectual themes and content issues of the story.  Maybe the difficulty of understanding the poem was a reason.

The fact that Mem û Zîn is written in Masnawi has been rightly interpreted as using and being affected by Persian epic poetry. No doubt that Khani was influenced by Persian poetry and no doubt that he has tried, as Rasul has shown, to emulate a style of verse that would help to orientalise his poem and put it alongside other Oriental epic poems, in particular the Persians’.  As Bruinessen opines, Khani ‘appears to have modelled his work on the version of Yosuf and Zulaykha composed by the Persian poet Nizami of Genja” (Bruinessen op. cit. P. 40).

But using Masnawi does not mean imitation of style and does not mean that this genre was uniquely Persian in origin. In fact it is a very erroneous tendency to ascribe the origin of any sort of intellectual and cultural aspect of the Islamic Orient to any particular nation without conducting thorough historical investigations going back deep before Islam and without exploring the historical power relations and cultural interactions between different peoples within Islam and between Islam and other peoples such as the Greeks. For example many basic philosophical ideas described as Islamic have emanated from Greek ideas once the Greek philosophy was translated into Arabic in the 9th century and many Greek philosophical ideas were influenced by Zoroastrianism.

The non-Arab and then Arab translators themselves made a strenuous effort to find Quranic or other Arabic vocabulary to define essential philosophical terms such as essence, substance, form, reason, dialectic, etc. (See:  Kennedy-Day,  2003). Then, although labeled by the generic term Islamic, in fact Islamic thought, being the collective production of many civilized nations that contributed to the religion, contains diverse forms and schools of thought including pre-Islamic ones disguised or reinterpreted as Islamic. Sufism is definitely one of these schools, although that was a part of and never completely accepted by the orthodox Sunni Islam, but it is now a well-established part of Islamic thought.

The other cultural aspect a researcher needs to be aware of is the immense role of local or ethnic folklore, especially in relation to poetic forms, genres and styles and even content. For Kurds, due to the immense richness of their folklore, this consideration is vital.

As for Masnawi form, the word itself is of Arabic origin, it is from the root ‘thnai’ meaning two. Masnawi simply means two things together. So the Persian poets used it to name a structure of verse based on two rhymed half lines. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “The form originated in the Middle Persian period (roughly from the 3rd century bc to the 9th century ad). It became a favourite poetic form of the Persians and of those cultures they influenced” (EB online, 2010). The culture of the Middle Persian period was not a Persian culture as such. It is not that Persian influenced other cultures, but several ethnic groups shared the same culture and language, albeit with different dialects. That is why the origins of the language of Avesta, Zoroaster’s religious poems, remain unsettled. Like the Persians, the Kurds claim that Avesta is Kurdish and that in terms of vocabulary and structure it is closer to Kurdish than the Persian.  There is an opinion that Zoroaster’s Ghathas (the Ghathas of Zaratgushtra) are Median, the language of the Medes considered by Kurds as their ancestors. But to deal with the issue of the beginnings we need to go back even further than this. Herodotus and other Greek sources can provide useful information.

There are two other points I want to make about Khani’s use of Masnawi style.  No doubt Khani took the Persian poets, especially Firdowsi, in my view as an example. As it was Firdowsi who first embarked on the immense project of the Persian revival through, first: the use of Persian language and, second: delving deep in the national Memory and history to re-present the ancient roots, political power and civilization of the Persians. Firdowsi wanted the Persians to be in possession of a traditional account of their people and its long history. “This account is presented to us in the great poem of Ferdowsî, the Shah-Nameh, or Book of Kings, one of the earliest and most famous productions of the new era of Persian literature, and one of the most remarkable works which any Oriental literature can boast; a true epic, in which the mythic and heroic legends of the olden time, after being long preserved and handed down by tradition, laid up in the national Memory, and worked over, and developed, and systematized, by the national mind, are finally reduced to form, and woven together into one connected story, by a national poet, whose version is then universally accepted, and becomes the acknowledged and credited history of the people”  [Whitney, 1873, p. 190).

Khani, with his encyclopedic knowledge and being deeply versed in Persian literature, was most probably aware of Ferdowsî’s project, and the why and how of achieving it. But it is clear that, while Khani emulated the process as described by Whitney, he did not follow Ferdowsî’s example to write the history of Mîrs and sultans. This task was carried out in 1597 by another highly-regarded Kurdish aristocratic intellectual, Sharafkhan Bidilisi (1543-1603) (Izady, 2008). It is an indicator of a similar, so very much later, process of Kurdish revival that Sharafkhan Bidlisi, sometime before Khani, did chronicle the Kurdish Mîrs and governors and historical figures. But he did this, not in verse, and not as an epic or in any literary form and style, but in the form of the rational, professional discipline of historiography. Also he did not do this in his own language but in Persian. While Ferdowsî called his epic the Book of Kings, Shrafkhan called his history, as reference to both himself and his pride in his national history, Sharafnama, meaning the Book of Honour. By doing so, Sharafkhan established Kurdish historiography on the one hand, and provided a scientific historical and geographical framework for Kurdish ethno-nationalism.

Comparison between Ferdowsî and Khani         

Consideration of the basic differences between Ferdowsî and Khani helps to clarify some important formal and content distinctions between the two works and to show that Khani’s literary achievement is not an epic in the sense established by Ferdowsî and followed by other Persian poets and also to show to what extent his work, as he emphatically claims in several places in his text, is an original product in method and style, which is the creation of his own mind and heart, both of which have a formative function in its realization. I will base my information about Ferdawsi on the succinct synopsis of his profile in EB:

“According to Neẓāmī, Ferdowsī was a dehqān (“landowner”), deriving a comfortable income from his estates. He had only one child, a daughter, and it was to provide her with a dowry that he set his hand to the task that was to occupy him for 35 years. The Shāh-nāmeh of Ferdowsī, a poem of nearly 60,000 couplets, is based mainly on a prose work of the same name compiled in the poet’s early manhood in his native Ṭūs. This prose Shāh-nāmeh was in turn and for the most part the translation of a Pahlavi (Middle Persian) work, the Khvatāy-nāmak, a history of the Kings of Persia from mythical times down to the reign of Khosrow II (590–628), but it also contained additional material continuing the story to the overthrow of the Sāsānians by the Arabs in the middle of the 7th century. The first to undertake the versification of this chronicle of pre-Islāmic and legendary Persia was Daqīqī, a poet at the court of the Sāmānids, who came to a violent end after completing only 1,000 verses. These verses, which deal with the rise of the prophet  Zoroaster were afterward incorporated by Ferdowsī, with due acknowledgements, in his own poem. The Shāh-nāmeh, finally completed in 1010, was presented to the celebrated sultan Mahmûd of Ghazna … in view of his heretical Shīʿīte tenets, Maḥmūd, a bigoted Sunnite, was influenced by [his enemy’s] words, and in the end Ferdowsī received only 20,000 dirhams. The Persians regard Ferdowsī as the greatest of their poets. For nearly a thousand years they have continued to read and to listen to recitations from his masterwork, the Shāh-nāmeh, in which the Persian national epic found its final and enduring form.” (EB, online edition, 2010).

Relating these basic facts about Ferdowsî’s project to the facts of Khani’s enterprise we can point out these differences:

1. Ferdowsî depended on older extant written texts in Pahlavi (Middle Persian) language. Khani used a popular Kurdish folk story, apparently with ancient roots, but which was still active as part of Kurdewarî, the lived cultural milieu and Memory of Kurds.

2. Ferdowsî tells the history of the kings of Persia in order to revere and immortalize them. Khani tells the story of two lovers in conflict with the power and tradition of kings and governors and make this a pretext to advocate the cause of his people both as a distinct ethnic and geographical group and as the common people suffering from injustice of foreigners and local rulers.

3. Ferdowsî incorporated literature on Zoroaster and the Arab occupation of Persia. “The story told in the Shāh-nāmeh starts with Gayōmart, the first King but also the first man… It is a mixture of myth, legend, and history, some of which can be traced back to the Avesta and the Vedic literature of India.”  (EB online, 2010). In fact, Ferdowsî is thought to have been inspired by and following the Steps of another Iranian poet before him called Daquqi who tried to re-establish Persian literature by reviving and writing about the rise of Zoroastrianism He was killed while still at the start of his project but his work was incorporated by Ferdowsî in his Shāh-nāmeh.

Writing a Sufist story with Sufist characters, Khani did incorporate Zoroastrian beliefs in his work and has made indirect references to Zoroastrians and their beliefs.  In fact, Khani could have admired Ferdowsî for the project that it had established, as it was in its aim and direction similar to what was in Khan’s mind. Ferdowsî’s historical and legendary Memory goes back in history to the beginning of life and then the emergence of Zoroastrianism, a religion shared by all the Iranians, including Kurds and Persians. One of the main heroes of Ferdowsî that supports the Iranians and fights against the forces of evil, according to Ferdowsî, is Rostam, who is identified as a Kurd. (Sharafnama mentions him as an example of Kurdish courage).  In Ferdowsî’s Shāh-nāmeh, Iran is a country, power and culture that has always been in the position of domination. But this domination was challenged: first by the Arab usurper Ẕaḥḥāk (a humanized dragon derived from ancient mythology) and then by the King of Tūrān, a rival empire situated in Central Asia. Behind these conflicts is the Zoroastrian idea that throughout the history of the world a divine element and a demonic element are fighting with each other until, in the end, good prevails over evil.

Khani also stresses the conflict between good and evil. This is a strong thematic constitution of his story. But Khani, contrary to Ferdowsî, was not dealing with Memory, symbols, kings and past glories. He was reflecting on the reality of his time and age. And in that reality the Persians were for him, with the Ottomans on the other side of the border, the two forces of evil, that were causing destruction and ruin in his country. While Ferdowsî portrays Iran as a powerful dominating power throughout history, Khani laments the fateful phenomenon that God, from the beginning of time, has made the Persians and the Turks dominate over the Kurds in spite of the characteristic courage and nobility of the Kurds and their King-making role for other nations.

4. Ferdowsî’s work is a poem of nearly 60,000 couplets and is a universally recognized Persian national epic. Khani’s work with only 2657 couplets cannot be compared with Ferdowsî’s massive product, which took him, as reported, 37 years of his life. Also the subject matter, the content, the philosophy and the politics and poetics of the texts differ.

Mem û Zîn and Chyet’s epic criteria

5.  However, although Khani’s work has a Masnawi form, which is the usual verse-structure of Oriental epic, it is not recognized as epic as such precisely because of the standards set by Ferdowsî and his later followers. Khani’s work is a departure in many ways, at least thematically and philosophically and also in its clearly declared new secular nationalistic aims and ambition. These could offer new elements justifying its epic-like modality in spite of its size and range. However, Chyet (1991, pp. 76-78), after discussing several definitions of epic addressing its problematic, he comes up with “criteria which scholars of epic recognize in defining the genre”. According to these criteria he defines epic:

“An epic, then, is a cycle of tales regarded as the history of a given people from its inception until a certain point in time. As such epic combines myth, explaining how mankind and the world came to be in their present form, and legend, which deals with folk history. A recurring theme in epic is the battles successfully fought by a national hero against a foreign enemy (……..). Some epic traditions are oral, others are the written record of what is presumed originally to have been oral.”

This definition of epic, it is obvious, perfectly fits Shah-Nama as described by EB. There are the crucial two elements of myth, legend and also cycle of tales and national battles, etc. But Chyet asserts that this definition cannot be applied to Mem û Zîn (though he means the oral versions here but his view includes Khani’s), because it lacks these elements. He writes:

“First of all, it is a single story, rather than a cycle of tales. Secondly, M&Z does not pretend to be an historical account of the Kurdish people. It certainly does not treat of their beginnings, nor of how they came to be in the territory known as Kurdistan. Myth is absent from M&Z. As for legend, it is incorporated to the extent those factual places, such as Jezira Bohtan, (and perhaps historical personalities are included) and it is told as true (……..); nowhere in M&Z can one find long detailed descriptions of battle scenes. Nor can it be considered a chronicle either of battles or of dynastic succession.(………).In addition Mem dies after being imprisoned in a dungeon, whereas the victorious heroes of the epic genre would scarcely ever allow themselves to fall prisoner. Epic heroes defend nations from marauders and monsters. Mem must be protected by his chivalrous host Qaratajdin…With regard to the form (the texture) of the epic genre, and most versions of M&Z do not exhibit pure poetry, a trait which it shares with such Turkish epics as Korogu. It is hoped that the preceding discussion has debunked the misconception of Mem û Zîn as belonging to the epic genre”(Chyet, p. 78).

One cannot but agree with Chyet: Mem û Zîn does not belong to the epic genre as Chyet has defined and delimited! I agree with all his negative descriptions of M&Z, apart from his claim that M&Z does not exhibit ‘pure poetry’. [I do not know what he means by ‘pure poetry’. Perhaps he could have listed strict conditions like those he has done for epic genre, to claim that M&Z is not poetry either. I do not claim I have seen all the versions of the oral M&Z. But I have seen and studied the Mukiri version and as far as one can define pure poetry, which naturally remains affected by one’s language competence,  subjective knowledge, intention and appreciation, M&Z is ‘pure poetry’ and of the highest possible standard. But I want to repeat that Chyet’s description of his non-epic elements and characteristics of Mem û Zîn (I am talking about Khani’s version here) is accurate.

But this is precisely what Khani means by claiming to be original, innovative, purely a mountain Kurd and not imitating others. If a work challenges all these orthodox elements and definitions of the archaic established epic genre, then it must be a great innovation and it must be original. The question is: if this new product is not epic, then what will you call it? Or does it really matter whether you can frame it within a name, a genre and an institution or not?  Is it a right approach to define a work, negatively, because it does not fit into four-thousand year old standards and elements of epic genre, for Chyet’s delimitations are Homerian, Virgilian, Ferdowsîyan or are applicable to all the repetitive masculine violence-based epics but not to Khani’s which radically breaks from them although Khani was intimately familiar with these dominant epic devices.

But I do not think it does matter whether we call Khani’s Mem û Zîn an epic or not, although the concept and context of epic are actually not so rigidly delimited as Chyet has done. According to EB: “An epic may deal with such various subjects as myths, heroic legends, histories, edifying religious tales, animal stories, or philosophical or moral theories.”  Given its total departure from the traditional epic genre, as Chyet has clearly outlined, perhaps it would be proper to call Khani’s Mem û Zîn “an anti-epic epic.” Heroism in Khani has a different concept and content. Mem is not a traditional epic hero; he is a Sufist hero and a representative of different Kurdish historical experiences, realities and spiritual values. Heroism for him is courage to endure hardship and remain truthful to good and the will of the oppressed in the face of the power of the oppressors, it is martyrdom for his beliefs and for the kind of love, spiritual love that he came to understand and aspire through injustice, imprisonment, separation and suffering.

He is a totally different hero from those of Homer, Virgil and Firdowsi. He is an ordinary spiritual and an intellectual hero, not a supernatural one. He is the offspring of Kurdewarî, of isolated oppressed Kurdish communities, not the mainstream dominant aristocracies and empirical powers. And he does produce pure poetry and lofty lyrics in his own tongue to express himself and articulate his love and message! As we will show in the analysis of the text, Mem û Zîn is a actually a drama, it is a tragedy and its main characters – Mîr Zeyneddin, Mem and Zîn – are tragic heroes.

6. Ferdowsî  finished the work in 1010 and dedicated it to a Persian King, Sultan Maḥmud of Ghazna for which he was insultingly paid only 20,000 dirhams, enough to buy a foqāʿ (a beer) and share it with his friends, as the tradition goes. Later, Ferdowsî wrote a sharp bitter satire against him revenging the insult he received.  Khani wished a Kurdish Mîr, not any Mîr, to sponsor and support his work, not by giving him a monetary reward, which he despised, but by giving his work royal authority and accepting it as an original Kurdish creation, dressed in Kurdish language and cultural attire and sentiments. He indicates in his poem that he actually took it to a Kurdish Mîr, apparently educated, and called Mîrza, the title of the educated elite, but his treatment was ordinary and his work did not receive the special attention it deserved. Khani did definitely feel bitter and disappointed but this only added to his already apparent dislike and distrust of Mîrs and unjust authority in general. He does not attack or insult the Mîr who disappointed him. He still says:

But his consideration was too general

He did not pay us a special intimate attention

He is a special mercy to people                                                                                 

May God support him! (284-285)

7. Khani makes clear that, had he written his work in Persian, all its words would have been counted as gold and he would have been treated differently. But his dream was to raise the banner of Kurdish poetry on the highest roof of the universe and bring back to life Kurdish poets like him, who had lived before him, and been forgotten. He wanted to bring them back to life with Mem û Zîn, as precursors and pre-text to share in a collective dream of independence and authority for his people, which would allow their language, literature and civilization to flourish.  Khani knew in advance that the use of Kurdish would limit the appeal and potential audience of his work but he made a determined obstinate choice to use Kurdish because it was the medium of the common people for whose children he had written a dictionary and taught in Kurdish, and because he wanted to show the others: Turks, Persians and the world, that Kurdish is of no lower perfection and standard than other languages and that love as spirit and as heroic narrative is well-established among the Kurds.

For this Khani at least has gained the prestige of having his name being put beside Ferdowsî  by those who have studied and admired his project. Ferdowsî’s has maintained its impact and value for over 1000 years and become an enduring monument of Persian culture, making him the greatest Persian poet. But, as Joyce Blau recently put it, Khani’s “ Mem û Zîn .. [a] long ‘mathnawi’ of 2655 distichs, rich in poetic imagery and  lyrical scenes, has immortalized Khani for the Kurds, as Ferdowsî was immortalized by the Persians, and Homer by the Greeks” (Blau, J., Refinement and Oppression of Kurdish Language in Jabar and Dawood, 2006. p.104). Ferdowsi is seen as a national Iranian hero who re-ignited pride in Iranian culture and literature, and who established the Persian language as a language of beauty and sophistication. Ferdowsî wrote: “the Persian language is revived by this work.” Khani produced a conscious national project to lay the foundation for his nation’s unifying language, culture and liberation.

8. Khani did not write about Kurdish kings, perhaps because the Kurds did not have such kings, perhaps because the Kurds never liked kings or were in good terms with them or with any foreign authority in any time of their history. This is attested by the Assyrian records as well as by the Greek Xenophon in his Anabasis about 400 B.C. Khani goes even further than this: he does not like the Kurdish authority of his time, his Mîrs, either. Thus while appreciating the way Ferdowsî used Masnawi style and used his national language to develop stories from national Memory, systematize them and weave them together into one connected story, a Shah-Nameh (Book of Kings), Khani used the same strategy on a smaller scale and opted for a folk romance of two ordinary Kurds, two lovers, to make them, as we shall see later, the pretext of his own project of Kurdish national revival. Yes, Khani used Masnawi because Firdowsi, Nizami, Jami and Rumi, had successfully applied it for writing long epic poems. And this flexibility is the greatest advantage of this verse structure. The EB describes the nature of Masnawi as follows: “The Masnawi enabled the poet to develop the thread of a tale through thousands of verses. Yet even in such poetry only a restricted number of metres were employed, and no metre allowed more than 11 syllables in a hemistich (half-line). Meter and diction were prescribed in accordance with the topic. A didactic Masnawi required a style and metre different from a heroic or a romantic one. Most Masnawis, however, begin with a praise of God, and this strikes the keynote of the poem.”  (EB, 2010, online).

In fact, Khani has also used Masnawi for didactic purposes. His Arabic-Kurdish dictionary for medrese shagirds (school learners) is also written in Masnawi. But, while I stress that establishing Masnawi verse as a systematizing structure for epic was an achievement of Persian poets, Masnawi itself, albeit not with this name, had and has always existed in the folk traditions of Kurdish literature and perhaps it was used in Zoroastrian literature too.

Masnawi in Kurdish literature

In Kurdish folk literature we find abundant examples, not only of Masnawi metre and rhyme, but also of the thematic structure of the epic poetry written with it. EB says Masnawis begins with a praise of God and this strikes the keynote of the poem. This is a tradition of the Kurdish folk epics such as, for example, Beyti Abdurrahman Pashay Bebe, (Hemin/Oscar Mann: (2006), though the description of epic may not be a correct one as the whole oral version has not survived) written by a Kurdish shayer (the name used for illiterate beyt composer or singer). The proto-epic starts with the praise of God .The first 23 short 4-syllabic lines, one of the most common folkloric Kurdish syllabic structures, are repetitive devotions to the Creator. It starts with these lines:

Creator: You are the only omnipotent

My lord: You are the sole omnipotent

How immortal, and how unique

You keep up the earth and the heavens

There are 80 thousand worlds, no doubt even more,

I am one of these worlds, I see myself less significant than them all

I had to kneel in a thank-giving prayer for you have not made me unbeliever

I say there is no god but God, one thousand thanks

You are the beginning, you are the end

You are the outer existence and the inner existence (zahir, batin)

How many rains, how many snows,

How many rivers, how many seas,

How many skies, how many clouds,

How many heavens, how many fires,


How many armies, how many forces

Whatever you wish to order

Even if non-extant, will be present.

(Hemin-Oskar Mann, p. 533, my translation)

If written together, each two half-lines make an 8-syllable line. The half-lines are rhymed the same way as Masnawi. But the first 16 lines I have translated, all consecutively have the same rhyme. (qadir-nadir, ragir-ziyatir, kemtir-kafir, etc). This is a characteristic of Kurdish folk poems beyt that they cannot be characterized in terms of meter and stanza. The only revealing form they afford is their rhyming scheme and the ending of rhyming words. In this poem, the couplet structure is constant but the rhymed structure varies. There are groups of ten lines, 6 lines, 4 lines, etc., rhyming together.

There is another very interesting folk poem in Oskar Mann’s collection called Xazêm (Hemin-Oskar Mann, 467-477), which can illustrate the specific thematic nature of a Kurdish approach to life and love. The story is told with great humour and, at the same time, deep social and spiritual dimensions showing the high status of love and women in Kurdish society. The poem has 228 lines.  It tells the story of love between a gypsy boy and a gypsy girl. The boy is invited to sing in a public dance. He first asks his lover, the girl, whether he should accept the invitation or not. The girl encourages him to go and sing in the wedding and promises to go to the party.   But, when the party starts and he starts singing, he looks around and cannot see the girl. He asks his assistant to keep singing and goes to find out why the girl, as promised, had not come to join him in the dance. He finds the girl crying. She says she has not got a special dress suitable for the ball. Although she has seven dresses, she insists that the boy buys her a new special one for the occasion. The boy sings about her grievance to encourage people donate for her dress. Eventually the dress is ready and she does attend the ball without accepting the dress!  But she dances so passionately that she loses her gold nose-ring xezêm which is the main character of the ballad and hence its proper use as the title of the poem. She only knows about her loss when she goes home and the party is over. It becomes a disaster and a search on a universal scale for finding the khazem starts. Heaven and earth together join the search. Life, commerce, seas, gardens and government systems stop until the xezêm, after a long universal search told in joyful verse, is found. Even the Russians and the English are asked to know about the loss of xezêm and join the mourning for it:

In the town of Seqiz shops were shut

Khazem was lost, sadness meetings were held,

Iran, Turan, Isphahan

Tewrez and Taran and Jezire Botan

Serdesht and Sne towards Shino

People are sitting with hands around knees

Wirme and Maraghe until Qendehar

Bazaars and shops disappeared in cities

Bebes (Kurdish Baban Mîrs} would not come down from highlands

This sovereign Mîr should not keep ruling

The world should not remain stable

Traffic should stop in the travel roads

The Mîr of Amêdi should not govern

Dasni and dina and Sima and Ezidi

Would not go to the visit of the grave of of Shekh Adi

Dasne and dina, all the country

I do not accept anyone to do horse racing

I do not want anyone to play jlitane

All must remain mourning for the lovely girl (neshmialn)

God must know about this incident

Or I will destroy the land of Iran

The English and the Russians should know about this

And organise mourning for the beautiful girl

She lost her xezêm in a round of dance.

Then even nature shares the mourning:

The river of Badinan, how wide and big it was,

Not a mouthful of water was left in it

Poor fish had all died of thirst

I asked the sea

I exchanged two words of discourse with the sea

I say:” Why have you dried up in the prime of spring?”

It answers: “I am mourning for the khazem of the lover.”

Let this news reach the mountain of Sefîn

Any flower springing from the earth

With the qulling of Frahad, the original Stêel,

I will uproot them, roots and Stem.

Suddenly a teter, messanger, arrives from around Mosul, and brings the news to the gypsy lover that the khazem was found. And at once all this universal mourning comes to an end. The form of the poetic ballad is variant groups of 4,6, 8 rhyming 8-syllable lines. But in the middle there are dialogues expressed only in rhyming 8-syllable triplets and then change to couplets: two half-lines rhyming together in the Masnawi style:

Delê kirasekim dewê saf le mahut bê

Dewri damenî durr u yaqût bê

Le rasti memki denki zumrut bê

[Triplet: mahut, yaqut, zumrut- a-a-a]

Kirasim dewêsaf le kimxawa bê

Kobey qenewz, beri xra bê

Lal u gewher gulawrezi bê

Ketani Hindi perawezi bê

Nêwi Memkani nexşu nigar bê

Wêney Hindustan kari diyar bê

These three couplets are all rhyming half-lines in Masnawi style. They are aa, bb, cc; kimxewa bê –bo raxra bê, gulawrezi- erawezi, nigar – diyar. And the last couplet is 10 syllable hemischets identical to the ones used used by Khani in his Mem û Zîn:

Nêwi /Memka/ ni nex/ şû ni/gar bê

Wêney/ Hindu/stan ka/ ri di/yar bê


Let the space between her breasts be images and inscriptions

The art of Hindustan show its impact

In the Gorani sub-dialect of South Kurmanci beyt (couplet), the Kurdish word for Masnawi, has been used from ancient times for both Zorastarian and then Islamic religious poems and prayers and lyrical poetry.

Khani is genuine and honest in describing his work as original and innovative. Mem û Zîn is Kurdish in soul, spirit, surroundings, and in its motivation and aspiration. It is an extraordinary anti-epic epic. As we shall show, it is a tragic drama of beauty, love and truth. It discards in a very radical way all the traditional constraints of epic poetry and its aristocratic bias. He makes epic form a genre that portrays the heroism of ordinary people, expresses national and liberal aspirations, derives from the wealth of folk literature’s ideas, ideals, forms and styles and opens it up for the free play of complex layers of philosophical, political and mystical ideas.

* ‘Love and Existence: Analytical Study of Ahmadi Khani’s Tragedy of Mem û Zîn’ by Dr Kamal Mirawdeli is published by the Khani Academy in association with authorhouse, uk. The hard cover, soft cover, or the electronic edition of the book can be ordered from:


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