Sapling of Hope: Parvīn Iᶜtiṣāmī (1907-1941) and Her Poetry in the Literary, Religious and Cultural Context of Early 20th Century Iran

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


Summary My research centres on a twentieth-century female poet, Parvīn Iᶜtiṣāmī (1907-1941), whose poetry has a special place in both Persian literary culture, and daily lives of her audience in Iran. Parvīn Iᶜtiṣāmī is among the few women whose poetry has been used in school curricula both before and after the Iranian Revolution of 1979. After about a century, her poetry appears in almost all Persian school textbooks. Interestingly, Parvīn Iᶜtiṣāmī’s poetry provoked controversies when it was published. Prominent male literary scholars and critics were awed by her prowess in using the classical style, and by her mystic-didactic poetry, in particular. Decades later, it was still not believable that a woman could have written such fine poetry. It was difficult to believe that a young female poet composed the majority of her 5606-couplet Dīvān (‘collected poetry’) in the long-forgotten classical genre of munāẓara (‘debate poetry’). In this dissertation, I study Parvīn Iᶜtiṣāmī’s work both closely, and in its historical, cultural and religious context by addressing the following questions: why was Parvīn Iᶜtiṣāmī’s reception controversial? What was the role of her gender in the controversies about her identity as a poet? Why did Parvīn Iᶜtiṣāmī, a female poet, revive the long-forgotten genre of debate poetry in the early twentieth century Iran? How did this twentieth-century female poet engage in the socio-political issues of her times? I also examine why and how her popular work is currently used in textbooks in an education system that promotes patriarchal norms. I further analyse the predominant approval of Parvīn Iᶜtiṣāmī’s poetry by Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic and the most powerful patriarchal figure in present-day Iran. In my investigation, I demonstrated that Parvīn Iᶜtiṣāmī transgressed the gender norm that idealised femininity as silence in the Iranian-Muslim culture. She entered the male-dominated space of the Persian literary tradition. She pioneered in claiming a literary identity for herself as a female intellectual with mystical aspirations, and as a poet who was also socio-politically engaged. With my investigation of ‘God’s Weaver’, one of Parvīn Iᶜtiṣāmī’s well-known debate poems, I delved into her revival of the classical genre of munāẓara. I demonstrated that she transformed the genre into a multilayered medium of communication with her audience by incorporating new features into it. In her other debate poems, ‘Drunk and Sober’, she adopted Islamic terms and recurrent classical motifs in classical poetry, but she innovatively used them to express her mystical predilections while she criticised hypocrisy and corruption of Islamic ruling systems in the name of orthodox Islamic beliefs. With my examination of Parvīn Iᶜtiṣāmī’s inclusion in school curricula in Iran, and her approval by Ali Khamenei, I demonstrated that her work, particularly, her popular mystic-didactic poetry, is now vastly used by the Islamic Republic to gain legitimacy. Parvīn Iᶜtiṣāmī’s poetry, which broke with the patriarchal gender norm of silence, arouse harsh criticism and brought her popularity, is paradoxically approved of in the patriarchal society of Iran.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Seyed-Gohrab, Asghar, Primary supervisor
  • Warnar, G., Co-supervisor, External person
Award date7 Nov 2022
Place of PublicationUtrecht
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2022


  • Parvīn Iᶜtiṣāmī
  • Classical Persian Poetry
  • Persian debate poetry (munāẓara)
  • transgression
  • Iranian-Muslim gender norms
  • patriarchy
  • socio-political criticism
  • mystic-didactic poetry
  • politics and poetry
  • mysticism


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