THE POEMS OF IRAJ MIRZA
Iraj Mirza ایرج میرزا, titled Jalal al-Mamalek جلالالممالک (October 1874 – 14 March 1926) was a Persian poet, government bureaucrat and minor member of the reigning Qajar dynasty. In his youth, he was not only a lover of boys, but wrote ghazals (love poems) about them:
“[His] work […] is one of the best-surviving accounts of male courtship rituals in twentieth-century Iranian society. [… He] was the last major Persian poet to write openly about pederasty. In his early poetry, the narrator speaks of his desire for adolescent boys and suggests the relative prevalence of such relations at the time.
In an amusing piece by Iraj Mirza called “Counsel and Advice,” an aristocrat expresses his love for a youth and asks him to become his beloved. He warns the young man that his days of remaining a good-looking, eligible adolescent are almost over, since the boy would soon grow a beard and become an adult. No poet would then compare his beautiful hair to silk or his rosy red lips to sugar. The aristocrat advises the boy to stop frequenting the hotels and clubs of downtown Tehran in search of one-night stands, to learn from the story of the “Ant and the Grasshopper,” and to start thinking about his future (Iraj Mirza had translated this folk tale by Jean de la Fontaine into Persian). The youth should select an older, established man as a lover, who could provide him with the basic necessities of life, an excellent education, and the possibility of a good government job or other secure position. He should focus on his studies, but if he wanted to be truly educated and refined, he should also find a mentor. The aristocrat offers himself as such a mentor/lover, promising the boy everything he could possibly imagine, including a good home, a loving relationship, the best tutors, and a wonderful wardrobe that would make him “the most fashionable man in town.” He also pledges to protect the boy’s reputation and keep the affair secret. The poet wants to be everyone and everything to the boy, “like a father and a mother.” He would stay up at night to make sure the boy completed his homework, take him on weekend rides and hunting expeditions, and play music for him in the house. The aristocrat also mentions the importance of learning to write poetry and good prose: “After a couple of years as a guest in my house you will be an accomplished young man. You will learn Arabic, foreign languages, history, jurisprudence.” Upon completion of this education, the aristocrat promises to use his connections to find the young man a good job, first as a clerk or a secretary in a government bureau, then as a manager, and maybe later as a government minister (Iraj Mirza[, Jalal al-Malek, Divan-e Iraj Mirza, Tehran: Mozaffari Press,] 1972, 39-47).
Here we find all the elements common to earlier Greek and Ottoman rituals of courtship: the use of customary gifts to court the boy, training in the arts of manhood, an introduction to literary conventions, and, most important, mentorship and social contacts that would advance the boy’s career. It is also evident that among members of the Iranian upper classes, the older partner felt obligated to maintain the reputation of the adolescent amrad and keep the affair secret, so he could later take his place as a respected member of the elite Iranian society.
However, after travelling in Europe and being influenced by the growing movements advocating political, social and cultural reform on “modern” or European lines in the Near East and Central Asia, he turned against pederasty as being regressive.
Two poems are presented here candidly expressing his hostility to Greek love in his last years. One is a short and simple reminder of the alleged consequences on an individual’s health, but the other much longer one, the Arefnama, is exceptionally revealing as to the sort of thinking that was bringing Greek love into disfavour in a part of the world where it had been flourishing before the infiltration of European ideas.
The translations from the Persian are by Paul Sprachman in his Suppressed Persian: An Anthology of Forbidden Literature, (Costa Mesa, California: Mazda, 1995) pp. 76-83.
“The apparent target of this poem was Dr. Abu al-Qasem Kamal al-Saltana, a skilled physician and the poet‘s close friend. In another suppressible poem, lraj refers to Dr. Kamal’s (whose title, Kamal al-Saltana, means “Perfection of the Kingdom”) inability to cure the poet’s swollen testicles.”
Kamal al-Saltana, despite his “perfections,”
Has been stymied in curing my own infections.
Say, Kamal how many times did you have to hear,
That you’d get piles if you kept taking it in the rear?
You ignored my advice as an adolescent;
So endure pain and piles now that you're senescent.
Those cocks brought on your piles—we all know this is true;
Just as too many dates can spell sore throats for you.
So, if too many dates equal laryngitis,
Should you be surprised if you’ve gotten colitis?
“The 515-line [...] Arefnama, ostensibly bloated hajv directed at the accomplished Constitutionalist poet and pederast Aref of Qazvin (b. 1882), is actually an epic satire of certain aspects of Iranian culture and society in 1921. It appears that Aref, who was also one of the most famous singers and lyricists of his time, visited Mashhad for a performance. Iraj, who had expected the singer to stay with him, was angered when he decided to stay with the governor of the province at his official residential park Bagh-e Khuni (Khooneebagh in translation). Aref also offended his old friend because he would often compose popular songs with anti-Qajar themes. […] The Arefnama was not composed as one piece, but grew in volume and scope as Iraj recited it to increasingly enthusiastic audiences in Mashhad.” Only the first 98 are of Greek love interest and presented here.
They told me Aref had arrived in town,
My pal of old was about and around.
My soul revived as I rejoiced in his visit,
The joy was infinite, the bliss exquisite.
I informed servants—I couldn’t say more:
If Aref comes, don't drive him from the door;
Don‘t inquire about his rank and name,
Don‘t play the “whom-shall-I-say’s-calling" game.
His room I furnished with a bed—in hope— 5
With an oil lamp, a washcloth, and some soap.
The wines I extracted with care myself,
I placed with my own two hands on his shelf.
I readied paper and a stylograph,
And supplied robes for visits to the bath.
I bought partridges, chickens by the brace,
And cut the heads of two off just in case.
I sat and sat expecting him to come,
Whose sight would delight me, Aref, my chum.
Little did I know, you son of a bitch,
‘Tis in Khooneebagh that your tent is pitched. 10
Do you look up friends while in that park?
No, you keep us all whistling in the dark.
And even if you do go out to town,
I never see your footprints on the ground.
You're like the birds that hover in the air;
Your footprints ﬂy with you that's why they're rare.
You‘re nothing, Aref, in reality;
Like lady luck you've turned your back on me.
You recall: thirty years have come and gone,
Since your soft cheeks showed neither beard nor down? 15
Has your own home caused you some grievous hurt,
That you're now dwelling on the city's skirt?
Or does that garden offer this delight:
A drunken-eyed narcissus for the night?
Perhaps a daffodil‘s in your embrace,
Who makes you forget our time face to face?
Has sleeping with a lofty cypress tree
Severed your affairs with the likes of me?
Why should I hold back and not speak out loud? 20
Why cloak a living being with a shroud?
I’II ask you straight out, gloves off, plainly fervent:
What frightens you about your humble servant?
I know you better than the self I've reared;
‘Twas I who brought you to this state of beard.
I’m privy to your deepest thought and view,
I know your very being through and through.
You’ve got a rounded kun from Lalehzari
To be with you while you're on safari.
You stalked your prey beside le restaurant, 25
From pederasts you snatched him in Tehran.
And now you think you‘ve pulled a dirty trick;
You showed them all who’s got the bigger prick.
You remind me of that ravenous cat
Who jumps down and devours the dinner fat.
Now paying me a visit‘s what you fear,
Our friendship will proceed like yesteryear;
I'll rip that tail fat from your teeth, you dread -
If this not be what frets you, strike me dead!
You’re telling me now that you’ve become shy? 30
You’re selling me what only suckers buy?
You think that I’m that gullible and naïve:
Just call some kun your “nephew,” and I’II believe!
Why, wherever there’s some beardless youth,
Is he at once “the son of auntie Ruth”?
Why are your kinsmen all devoid of hair?
Why are the straight ones among them so rare?
Get out of here, Aref, you are so wrong;
You’ve put the peg were it does not belong!
I’m Iraj, free and full, you knew this once; 35
I have no need of kids’ behinds or cunts.
And if I were a hunter, game abounds;
Indeed, to ban the hunt there are no grounds.
My prey is roaming mountains, on the loose,
Not little “Abdi,” his head inside a noose.
It’s true that kids are mixed up and confused;
They’re simple, soft, and easily used.
One smile and they will fall for what you say;
You give them money, sometimes you don’t pay.
But, Aref, I am not the kind of guy
Who needs to shit on friends, don’t ask me why.
You bring some kun from many miles away;
Am I the kind to bitch and moan? No WAY!
Dear man, I’ve no bad idea or intent;
You have the madness of an evil bent.
If mine were evil eyes with all that might,
May Creation’s Vision rob me of sight!
Were he to visit here, that little one,
I’II spoil and pamper him just like a son.
My guests have always been happy here;
You know full well my home’s no Mosque of Fear. 45
Yours truly coupled with Simón Legree;
How dare you question my hospitality?
You’re right to’ve seen the rage that came from me,
To’ve turned your eyes at first in fright from me.
But don’t you know that Iraj has grown old?
If once you felt his fire, it’s now grown cold.
Me, do a backside? Where’s the spirit? Where’re my joules?
Me, cleave a mountain? Where’re my miner’s tools?
Litter the ground with assholes, and, I swear,
This cock would not exit my underwear! 50
A chick that’s newly hatched, almost dead,
Winded by the effort to right its head,
Its neck collapses and leaves to its breast;
Its head flops over the wing and takes a rest.
Were it not for draining from time to time,
I’d lose all contact with this hose of mine.
After my taloned hawk has flown the dells,
It lies limp in my palm, a rope with two bells;
Stuck fast to my balls, grasping like a fiend -
On nurse’s breast, it’s a baby newly weaned. 55
A ruined well’s my asshole’s likely trope;
Here is the bucket, there’s the puny rope!
I’m fed up with this barren, fruitless life,
Spec ‘ally now its whiskers have arrived.
No head for love, no heart for whims. No please!
I even don’t have the strength to wheeze!
At times my teeth ache, sometimes it’s my eyes,
My stomach storms like angry winter skies.
The wrinkles in my cheeks increase by the minute;
My forelocks are not on my temple nor in it. 60
My youthful heart was torn and scarred for weeks;
I wondered: Why did this beard grow on my cheeks?
But now I always fret, bristle and shout:
The whiskers from my beard are falling out!
And if my hair continues to recede,
I’ll soon be bald as a mule or some old steed.
“If Death were on sale, I’d buy if I could,
Because this life is neither kind nor good.”
Enough, Iraj, of these oppressive Lieder, 65
You’ve saddened yourself and depressed your reader.
I could have sworn you’d died a day or two;
Why did the urge to write escape from you?
Name one bloke who‘s never died, who’s that clever
He makes you fear that you won’t live forever.
From Aref you expected human expression?
Fool, blame it on your state of depression.
Yours truly’s verses have now reached the point,
Where the thoughts are jumbled and out of joint.
O Lord, what thing is this pedomania 70
That plagues Aref and greater Tehrania?
Why is it only in this commonwealth
Does sodomy take place with little stealth?
The European with his lofty bearing
Knows not the ins and outs of garçon-tearing.
Since Iran’s haven to every donkey buck,
Who else are these asses going to fuck?
lf anyone with reason knew this score,
They‘d surely yowl a hearty cri de coeur.
Until our tribe is tied up in the veil, 75
This very queerness is bound to prevail.
The draping of the girl with her throat divine
Will make the little boy our concubine.
You see: A cute and cuddly little boy,
Who’s ready to become your fawning toy;
Not seen: His sister naked without her wimple,
So there’s no hope of doting on her dimple!
So long as girls are veiled and boys are not,
To blame Aref or common folk is rot!
If only Aref found it credible, 80
That maitresses in Iran’re bedible,
He‘d never entertain the thought of kun,
And never lose his heart to Abdi-Joon.
You‘ve never tasted what a cunt can be,
Or else you’d spit on kuns and sodomy!
Where there’s the rosy vagina, you twit,
Why even consider assholes, they shit?
The cunt‘s your home, the kun‘s too exotic—
So what‘s your problem, unpatriotic?
How can you have your motherland at heart; 85
You think the kun and kos one body part?
So tell Aref, that public spectacle:
He’s fishing in the wrong receptacle.
To bugger and pretend it’s normal screwage
Is like masturbating with stinking sewage.
O Lord, how long will menfolk sleep and snore;
How long will women have to wear the chador?
Why cover friendly faces with a muzzle?
O God, unveil the answer to this puzzle.
Women are human too, aren’t they, yar? 90
They're able to tell right from wrong, nicht wahr?
You think a chador‘s made of steel and brass,
Enough to stop a tart from selling her ass?
If any woman wants you in her bed,
Her veil won't stop her nor’ll what‘s on her head.
All gentlewomen must be chaste and pure;
Her leggings are extra, so’s her chador.
A scarf’s no guarantee of wit or good brains;
The theatre or cafe can’t ruin good names.
If women have a mind to be bewitchin’, 95
The theatre’s the same as any kitchen.
They can be bad in closets filled with shit,
Up the Eiffel tower or under it.
How well it was put by maestro Jami,
The greatest poet after Nezami:
“A beauty can't stay hidden under veil;
She'll always find an outlet to prevail.“
The rest of this very long poem is not concerned with Greek love, but is a sustained attack on the use of the chador by women (both practically and doctrinally) and their segregation, as well as a plea for their education.
 Janet Afary, Sexual Politics in Modern Iran (Cambridge, 2009) pp. 93-4.
 Introduction to the poem by the translator, p. 76, citing Iraj Mirza, Jalal al-Malek, Divan-e Iraj Mirza (Tehran: Mozaffari Press, 1972) p. 152.
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 Introduction to the poem by the translator, pp. 77-8.
 A fashionable avenue in Tehran [Translator, p. 78]
 “ ‘Little Abdi’ is a reference to Mehdi Khan, a boy whom Aref brought along for his pleasure. Iraj changed the name to protect the innocent.” [Translator, p.78]
 “The ‘Mosque of Fear’ (literally ‘Guest-killing Mosque’) is a reference to an anecdote [the influential 13th-century Persian poet] Rumi used as a parable about the true nature of the spirit (Masnavi, Book III; intermittently during lines 3922-4226). The Mosque of Fear would kill anyone who slept in it, except those brave souls who dared to deny their bodies.” [Translator, p. 78]
 “ ‘If Death...nor good’ (line 64) is an Arabic verse by Abu Mohammad Mohallabi (d. 963) the Sufi scholar and vizier of Moezz al-Dawla of Daylam (r. 945-67).” [Translator, p. 78]
 “Abdi-Joon” or “Dear Abdi” is another reference (see also line 37) to Mehdi Khan, the boy whom Aref brought along for his pleasure. [Translator, p. 78]