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The Era of the Constitutional Movement

This period in Persian prose extended from 1249-1337 or 1341 AH/1833-1921 or 1925 AD. The diplomatic relations between Iran and Europe began to expand with the reign of the Qājār king, Fath ‘Ali Shāh. Later on during the Qājār period, Mirzā Mohammad Taqi Khān Amir Kabir established the “Dār al-Fonun” school in the year 1268 AH as a result of which the grounds were paved for introducing the Iranians to modern sciences. It was between the years 1304 and 1307 AH/1887-1890 AD that Sayyid Jamāl al-Din Asadābādi strived to propagate against the existing internal despotism in his foreign trips. Personalities like Mirzā Malcolm Khān Nezām al-Dolah Esfahāni, by publishing the “Qānun” daily in London; Mirzā Fath ‘Ali Ākhundzādeh with his translations of foreign articles and plays; Mirzā Āqā Khān Kermāni with his writing of treaties and poems; Mirzā Abd al-Rahim Talbof with his writings on scientific and social principles in simple language; and Zayn al-Ābedin Marāghi with his writings of social novels, all played important roles in paving the path for the emergence of the Constitutional Movement. The writers and poets of the era of the Constitutional Movement presented new ideas and thoughts in their prose and poetry works expressing them in a simple and lucid language. The works of the writers and poets of this period were written in a colloquial form and were laced with infiltrated European and Turkish terms that had crept into the Persian language along with the new ideas and thoughts. Some scholars are of the opinion that the main themes of the literature of the Constitutional Movement Era were patriotism and social criticism and believe that the main contents of the poems of this period focused on such issues as freedom, nationalism, the status of women, Westernization, Western industrialization, and a neglect towards religion and spiritualism. According to these scholars, the main feature of the poetry of this period is the emergence of labor literature while as far as the language of these works are concerned, it is close to the spoken language of the masses, both, from the grammatical and the terminological viewpoints. The literature of the period of the Constitutional Movement comprised poetry, story-writing, article-writing, criticism, humor, translations, and play-writing. At the onset of the Constitutional Movement, the orators and writers had a lot to contribute although they did not always find the appropriate means to express themselves.

Poetry: The Persian-language poets of the period of the Constitutional Movement can be classified into two broad groups on the basis of their styles of composition. The first group includes poets like Adib Pishāvari, Adib al-Mamālek, and Mohammad Taqi Bahār who introduced new themes in the same earlier poetic forms, adhering to the established rules of classical poetry, and never stepping beyond the boundaries of traditional Persian poetry. The only innovative venture of this group of poets was the usage of terms and phrases belonging to the period of the freedom movement in their old poetical styles, indicating towards the unquestionable yearning on the part of these poets for the discovery of a new way of expressing themes like patriotism and struggle against despotism.

From among these poets, Mohammad Taqi Bahār (1265-1330 Solar Year/1886-1951 AD), excelled in composing odes in the style of his predecessors with madh (eulogies) and rasā (elegies) elements. Both prior to and following the Constitutional Movement, this poet composed his odes with revolutionary themes for the cause of freedom. The compositions of Bahār belonging to the freedom movement period, and especially his complementary poems, are interesting from the viewpoints of their poetic flow as well as the harmony existing between the short and long verses.

The second group comprised poets who came up with a lucid style that became famous as the “Ash’ār-e Matbu’āti” (lit. “Press Poems”). This group of poets played a significant role in the progress of the Constitutional Movement and in creating mass awareness by composing songs and complementary poems using simple language. However, their works never succeeded in replacing the precious age-old legacy of Persian literature.

The most famous composer of the “press poems” of this period was Ashraf al-Din Qazvini. With the onset of the Constitutional Movement, he single-handedly published the “Nasim-e Shomāl” (The Northern Zephyr) daily, which consisted of nothing but humorous and critical poems. It was because of these humorous poems that this poet came to be recognized as the most famous poet of the period of the Constitutional Movement. However, his fame in no way eclipsed the positions of poets like Āref Qazvini and Mohammad Taqi Bahār as the national poets of this period.

The greatest composer of ghazals of the Constitutional Movement period was Mohammad Farrokhi Yazdi, whose ghazals contained ironical themes and severe criticism of the existing monarchy of Iran. Abu al-Qāsem Āref Qaznavi was the other famous composer of ghazals and songs who was also a revolutionary poet of that period and who had, right from the onset of the Constitutional Movement, employed his talents and skills in the composition of songs with patriotic and revolutionary themes.

The Constitutional Movement breathed an innovative spirit into the poets of that period. The second half of that period witnessed the emergence of competent poets who had composed a wide range of works. The poet, Iraj Mirzā, with his witty language presented a unique example of the element of humor in the poetry of this period. The critical views of Iraj Mirzā focused more intently on social issues and the backwardness of the masses rather than catering to the existing political problems. 

Another poet of that period who had come up with his own style of poetry was Mohammad Rezā Mirzādeh Eshqi. Eshqi’s political poems were enthusiastic, ironical, cynical, and often immature and inconsistent. However, it is quite evident from his poems that the poet had endeavored to create something new while yet preserving the traditions of his predecessors and this is what has gained him recognition as one of the competent pioneers of the “Sabk-e Nau” (lit. the new style) in Persian poetry.

‘Ali Akbar Dehkhodā was a great poet and lexicologist of the Constitutional Movement period who often composed poetry as part of his hobby. Although his poems were full of strange and obsolete terms and difficult phrases, some of them are also considered as the outstanding prose poems of his times.

Yet another prominent poet of the period under discussion was Parvin E’tesāmi (1285-1320 SAH/1906-1941 AD). The main theme of E’tesāmi’s poems centered around such issues as defending the rights of the oppressed, diversity and newness of thought, and supporting women’s participation in social affairs. She had chosen a very simple and fluent language to express her ideas. By combining the style of the poets of the “Sabk-e Khorāsāni” – and particularly Nāser Khosrow – with that of the “Sabk-e Arāqi” poets, and most importantly Sa’di’s style of poetry, E’tesāmi had created an independent and exclusive style of her own.

Prose: The prose-writing of the period of the Constitutional Movement was quite varied. One of the important factors that impacted the trend of story-writing in Iran and paved the path for the Constitutional Revolution was the translation of European novels into Persian. From among the translators of the European literary works into the Persian language reference can be made of Mohammad Tāher Mirzā - who had translated the works of Alexander Dumas – as well as Mirzā Habib Esfahāni, and Mohammad Hosayn Forughi. The writing of historical novels in the Persian language, like the “Shams va Toghrā” of Mohammad Bāqer Mirzā Khosravi and the “Eshq va Saltanat” (lit. “Love and Rulership”) of Shaykh Musā Nasri are examples of the Iranian imitation of the Western styles of novel-writing in that period. Moreover, it is also worth mentioning Yusof E’tesāmi who had translated works like the “Les Miserables” into the Persian language. The trend of translating plays also began during the Constitutional Movement period and impacted the style of writing of the Iranians. The first of such works translated into Persian were the critical and humorous works of Moliere by E’temād al-Saltaneh. The other famous writers who had translated foreign plays into the Persian language were Mirzā Habib Esfahāni, Kamāl al-Vezārah, and Nāser al-Molk. Moreover, the play-works of Fath ‘Ali Ākhundzādeh, that have been translated into Persian by Mohammad Ja’far Qarācheh Dāghi are closely related to the social issues related to the Constitutional Movement period.

The other prose styles of that period included the article-writing and press works which became trendy all over the country following the announcement of the victory of the Constitutional Revolution.

The writing of novels related to social issues was yet another style of the prose-writing of the Constitutional Movement period which aimed at highlighting the corruption and failings related to life in that period. The most prominent writers of novels based upon social themes of that period were Moshfeq Kāzemi, the author of the “Tehran-e Makhuf” (lit. “Dreadful Tehran”); Abbās Khalili, the author of “Ruzegār-e Siyāh” (lit. Grim Days); Yahyā Dolatābādi, the author of “Shahrnāz”; and San’atizādeh, the author of the “Majma’-e Divānegān” (lit. “The Assembly of the Insane”). However, Iranian novel-writing did not flourish much in the wake of the translation of European works, and therefore, by the second part of this period writers like Jamālzādeh, Sa’id Nafisi, and Mohammad Hejāzi turned to writing short stories. Another feature of the Constitutional Movement period was the escalation of a sense of patriotism and nationalism among the Iranians following which the Iranian literati began paying special attention to the translations of the ancient Pahlavi texts, the commemoration of the national heritage, eliminating non-Persian terms from the Persian language, and researching on the Iranian culture and literature. Some of the most famous research scholars of the period of the Constitutional Movement included Mohammad Taqi Bahār, Mohammad ‘Ali Forughi, Seyyed Hasan Taqizādeh, Mohammad Qazvini Ebrāhim Purdāvud, and Sādeq Hedāyat. Generally speaking, the most outstanding features of the literature of that period were the focus on nationalistic sentiments, the influence of Western literature, innovativeness, focus on humanitarianism and social values, a concern for the weaker sections of society, and at times the presence of feelings of nihilism and despair.


* source: Ghamar, Aryan "Iran Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 ,pp.573 – 574

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