Hiding your Voice in Poetry

Persian literature, classic or contemporary, is rich in talk about secrets, whether it stresses the importance of the art of keeping a secret, writing about secrets, or even hiding the poet’s voice in a secretive language.

The secret of Hafez will remain untold from now on
Alas remembering you all faithful secret keepers


In Persian literature, Hafez is the “God of the secret.” His poetry is so paradoxical that centuries after his death every one of his ghazals offers different meanings and understandings to different readers of his poems. There is an untold secret in each line, to the extent that while some say the secret of his voice comes from the Quran, others believe the opposite—that Hafez is nothing but a total atheist.

Hafez himself said that no one among his friends or enemies deserved hearing his secrets and he insisted that secrets are better off kept from enemies!

Like Hafez, Khayam and Rumi also carry big secrets in their poetry, but their voices are different from the poets’ voices of our era. Social and political issues and the types of human suffering in the 21st century are different than they were 600 to 800 years ago, when those three giants of Persian literature lived. But one thing remains: as a poet, sometimes you need to hide your voice in your poetry. As Hafez used the language of secrecy to display the social and political injustice of his time, in Iran today poets use indirect or secretive language to speak their minds, too.

Omar Khayam, who lived 100 years before Rumi (Molana), believed that human life is a secret because with all our knowledge and human wisdom we have no clue what the afterlife is—although he himself denied life after death, since he believed human life is short and one needs to be smart and enjoy it while it lasts.

It is better to escape from lessons of science
It is better to hang on to lovers’ tresses
Before life drains your blood
It is better you drain the blood of a grape into the goblet


In Persian culture and literature, and specifically in Sufism, keeping a secret is very important. In Sufism, a high value is placed on being silent rather than talking, since sufis believe too much talking causes tension between people and divests people from honesty.

In his book The Book of Secrets, Attar, a sufi who was another important classical literary figure, mentions ten elements of truth, one of which is “talking less.” The other nine are “keeping secrets.”

For this FUSION issue, I have selected classical and contemporary poets who use secrets as a voice in their poems.

Author Photo of Mahnaz Badihian

About the Author

Mahnaz Badihian is a poet, painter, and translator whose work has been published in several languages worldwide. Her work has appeared in many literary magazines, including Exiled ink! in the UK, International Poetry Magazine, and Marin Poetry Center Anthology, among others. Currently she resides in northern California where she runs an online multilingual literary magazine, MahMag.org, in an effort to bring the poetry of the world together. Her most recent project is a translation titled Spaldings Arise.