By Joobin Bekhrad
In the 13th Century AD, during one of the most turbulent periods in Iranian history, the poet Sa’di left his native Shiraz to study in Baghdad. From there, he went on to travel far and wide, and it was around three decades before he returned home to his city of roses and nightingales, which, thanks to the diplomacy of Shiraz’s occupying Turkic rulers, had been spared the terror that the Mongols had unleashed elsewhere in Iran.
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Despite being an acclaimed poet in the region, Sa’di felt he’d wasted his life so far and had said nothing of consequence, and so resolved to spend the rest of it in silence. At the insistence of a friend, however, he broke his vow, and, it being springtime in Shiraz, the two went for a stroll in a paradise garden. Surprised that his friend should choose to gather flowers and herbs in his robes, Sa’di remarked in Khayyam-esque fashion on the ephemerality of such things, and promised his friend that, instead, he would write a book both enjoyable and educational called the Golestan (Flower Garden), whose pages would last forever.
In spite of the inhumanity and terror surrounding him, Sa’di had faith and hope in mankind
The poet kept his word – and was right. Together with the Bustan (Garden), his other best-known book, the Golestan remains one of the most beloved works of Persian literature many centuries on. “Created from one essence, people are members of a single body,” Sa’di wrote in what today is not only his most-quoted poem, but perhaps also the most famous poem in the Persian-speaking world. “Should one member suffer pain, the rest shall, too. You who feel no sorrow for the distress of others cannot be called a human being.”