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Of Door Knockers, Book Bindings, and Beehives: Material Culture in the Poetry of Sā’eb Tabrizi

The Program in World Philology

dateFebruary 12, 2024 timeMonday, 5:00pm EST location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University locationVirtual Event
  • Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
  • Heyman Center Fellows
  • Institute for Comparative Literature and Society
  • Middle East Institute
  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
email address [email protected]
  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required. See details.
drawing of a beehive

Scholars normally study the work of Sā’eb Tabrizi (d. 1676) as representative of the transregional school of poetry known as the Fresh or Indian Style, which swept the Persianate world in the early modern period. Although this approach has produced detailed inventories of his typical figures of speech and thought, it tends to downplay the substance of his poetry and its engagement with the poet’s life experience and his environment. This lecture shows how Sā’eb uses three objects from material culture—door knockers, book bindings, and beehives—to create meaning from the everyday. Through a complex play of metaphor, these objects become signs (‘ebrat) of ethical and psychological values that make sense of human existence and ground proper conduct. Style is not simply a manipulation of language but a way of being and acting in society and the world.


Paul Losensky (Ph.D. University of Chicago, 1993) is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Central Eurasian Studies and the Department of Comparative Literature at Indiana University, Bloomington. He has taught Persian language and literature, translation theory and practice, and comparative studies of Western and Middle Eastern literatures. His research focuses on Persian literary historiography, biographical writing, and Persian poetry of the early modern period. His publications include Welcoming Fighāni: Imitation and Poetic Individuality in the Safavid-Mughal Ghazal (1998), Farid ad-Din ‘‘Attār's Memorial of God's Friends: Lives and Sayings of Sufis (2009), and In the Bazaar of Love: Selected Poems of Amir Khusrau (2013, with Sunil Sharma). He has authored numerous articles on Persian literature for journals such as Iranian Studies and contributed to the Encyclopedia of Islam and Encyclopaedia Iranica. Professor Losensky is currently working on two book-length projects, one on the work of the seventeenth-century master-poet, Sā’eb Tabrizi, and one on representations of architecture in Persian literature. He is a former fellow at the National Humanities Center and has served as chair of the Department of Comparative Literature.