The Bowes Museum > Exhibitions > 2017 > Turkish Tulips > The Hoft Examiner > Persian poetic genius

Persian Poetic Genius


No other culture in the world reveres poetry and poets as much as the Iranians (or Persians). Poets were especially celebrated in Iran during the Islamic Golden Age (from the eighth to the 13th centuries), when every scholar was expected to write in verse. Tulips have appeared in the best-known verses by world-renowned poets like Omar Khayyam and the Sufi philosopher-poet Rumi. 

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, more popularly known as Rumi (1207–1273), was a 13th century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, jurist, Islamic scholar and Sufi mystic. He has transcended national boundaries and ethnic divisions; the Muslims of South Asia have greatly appreciated his literary-spiritual legacy for seven centuries.

His philosophical poetry has been translated into many of the world’s languages and he is now the most widely-read poet in America; his poems have also inspired western celebrities from Chris Martin to Madonna. And of course, Beyoncé and Jay-Z. But in translation by non-muslim scholars his poetry has often been deliberately manipulated to remove the Islamic references that peppered the original sonnets. As an Islamic scholar, Rumi would have known the Koran by heart.

Some fragments of Rumi’s poetry:

If your face has become saffron pale through death,
Become a dweller among tulip beds and Judas trees.

Maybe you are searching in the branches
for what only appears in the roots

Spring is Christ,
Raising martyred plants from their shrouds.
Their mouths open in gratitude, wanting to be kissed.
The glow of the rose and the tulip means a lamp is inside.
A leaf trembles. I tremble in the wind-beauty
like silk from Turkestan.

Raise your words, not voice.
It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.

December and January, gone.
Tulips coming up. It’s time to watch
How trees stagger in the wind
And roses never rest.

Very little grows on jagged rock.
Be grounded. Be crumbled so wildflowers
will come up where you are.



The Persian-born genius Ghiyath al-Din Abu’l-Fath Umar ibn Ibrahim Al-Nisaburi al-Khayyami, better known as Omar Khayyam, was studying, teaching and writing sophisticated and influential texts in the eleventh century.

He was a polymath, scholar, mathematician, astronomer, philosopher and poet who lived from 1048 to 1131. He wrote numerous treatises on maths, mechanics, geography, mineralogy and astronomy which have been read by intellectuals throughout the world.

He is widely considered to be one of the most influential thinkers of the Middle Ages. He was introduced, and made famous, to an English-speaking audience, by Edward FitzGerald’s free translations of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, first published in 1859.

From The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam:

In the flaming light of the morning sky
the wine in your cup looks like a tulip in spring.
Drink, and forget that the hammer of fate
can bring you down at any moment.

They said to me: ‘Stop drinking, Khayyam’
and I replied: ‘When I have been drinking I can
hear what roses, tulips, jasmine say to one another.

I even hear the things my loved one cannot say to me.