To write an introduction to the poems, and to endeavour to give information about the life of an author of whom the only thing that can be said with perfect accuracy is that practically nothing is known of him, suggests the brick-making industry as practised by the Jews in Egypt. Though the rubā‘iyāt of Bābā Ṭāhir are chaunted and recited to the present day all over Persia, to the accompaniment of the three-stringed viol or lute, known as the Sih-tār (“Three-strings”), and few collections of poems have been published in that country (or indeed in the Persian language), since the introduction of the lithographic press, that do not contain some specimens of his quatrains, concerning the poet himself few precise details, biographical or otherwise, have yet come to light.

The only published attempt to lift the veil of mystery that shrouds the personality of Bābā Ṭāhir is to be found in the Majma‘u ’l-fuṣaḥā of Riẓā-Qulī Khān (Ṭihrān A.H. 1295, vol. i., p. 326), where, by way of introduction to ten rubā‘iyāt of Bābā Ṭāhir, the compiler expresses himself as follows:—

“Ṭāhir, ‘Uryān, Hamadānī. His name was Bābā Ṭāhir. He was one of the most eminent mystics of his era. The opinion expressed by some writers that he was contemporary with the Seljuq Sultans is erroneous. He was one of the earliest of the Shaikhs, and lived under the Daylemite dynasty. He flourished about A.H. 410 (<Arabic>), and died before ‘Unsurī, Firdawsī, or any of their contemporaries. He is the author of rubā­‘iyāt of great excellence in the ancient language (<Arabic>), which are still extant. It is also said that there are extant treatises by him, and that scholars have composed commentaries upon them.”

The same author in a later work, the Riyāẓu’l-‘Ārifīn (Ṭihrān A.H. 1305, p. 102), states that Bābā Ṭāhir died in the year A.H. 410 (i.e. A.D. 1019-20: <Arabic>), and that consequently he cannot have been a contemporary of ‘Aynu ’l-Quẓāt-i-Hamadānī (who died A.H. 525 or 526, according to Ḥājī Khalīfa, iii., p. 459, 536 [cf. also Jāmī’s Nafaḥāt, pp. 475-77]), or of Naṣīru ’d-dīn Ṭūsī (who died A.H. 672), as stated by some writers.* Unfortunately Riẓā-Qulī Khān does not state from whence he gathered this information, though in the later work he cites twenty-four of the rubā‘iyāt of Bābā Ṭāhir. This date (A.H. 410), if it could be relied upon (which, as would appear from the succeed­ing note, seems to be the case), would make our poet a contemporary of Firdawsī and an immediate precursor of ‘Omar Khayyām.

Mr. E. G. Browne, to whom I am indebted for most valuable assistance in the preparation of this volume, adds the following very important and hitherto unpublished information to the above:—

“I have come across mention of Bābā Ṭāhir in a unique history of the Seljuqs, of which the one known MS. is in the Schefer Collection in Paris (vide note, p. xii.). This history is called ‘Rāḥatu ’ṣ-Ṣudūr wa Āyatu ’s-Surūr’ (<Arabic> ‘The Comfort of Breasts and Signal of Gladness’), and is by Najmu ’d-Dīn Abū Bakr Muḥammad bin ‘Alī bin Sulaymān bin Muḥammad bin Aḥmad bin al-Ḥusayn bin Hamat ar-Rāwandī, who wrote it for the Seljuq ruler Abu ’l-Fatḥ Kay-Khusraw bin ‘Alā’u ’d-Dawla ‘Izzu ’d-Dīn Qilij Arslān bin Mas‘ūd bin Qilij Arslān bin Sulaymān. The book was written in A.H. 599 or 600 (A.D. 1202-1203), and the MS. itself is dated A.H. 635 (A.D. 1237-8), so its evidence is old and valuable. It is there stated that when Ṭughril Beg the Seljuq (who reigned A.D. 1037-1063) visited Hamadān, he saw Bābā Ṭāhir, who gave him good advice, his blessing, and the ring-like broken-off top of his <Arabic> (or jug for perform­ing ablutions), which the Sultan highly prized as the memento of a holy man, and used to wear as a ring on his finger on occasions of battle, &c. I regard this old and authentic evidence as proving conclusively that Bābā Ṭāhir flourished about the middle of the eleventh century of our era, and that he was a man of some notoriety as a <Arabic>, a crazy saint. It is satisfactory to find the early date given by Riẓā-Qulī Khān con­firmed in this way.”

This passage remains therefore, for the present, the most precise authority at our service for the chronology of the author under consideration.

Neither of the collections of poems lithographed at Bombay in A.H. 1297 (A.D. 1879-80) and A.H. 1308 (A.D. 1890-91), and at Ṭihrān in A.H. 1274 (A.D. 1857-8), nor the Munājāt of the Khwāja ‘Abdu ’llāh Anṣārī, lithographed at Bombay in A.H. 1301 (A.D. 1882-3), prefix any introduction to the specimens they give of Bābā Ṭāhir’s quatrains; but in the Ātash Kadah of Luṭf ‘Alī Beg Āzar [Bombay A.H. 1277 (A.D. 1860-61), p. 247] twenty-five rubā‘iyāt of Bābā Ṭāhir are intro­duced by the following note, under the rubric <Arabic> “Persian ‘Irāk,” i.e. Media:—

“‘Uryān, whose name is Bābā Ṭāhir, is a mad-man from Hamadān (<Arabic>); he is a learned man, knowing all things (<Arabic> hama dān). His history is recorded in some few writings, and his character is well known among adepts. He is a mad lover (in the Ṣūfī or spiritual sense), the ardour of whose soul is evident from his poems, and he has written many quatrains in the Rājī* dialect (<Arabic>), in a particular metre, most of which have a particular merit of their own. We have selected some of these and preserved them here.”

The particular two-beyt metre referred to is not the common rubā‘ī metre, though the Persians themselves always refer to the quatrains of Bābā Ṭāhir as rubā‘iyāt. The metre in which these quatrains are written might properly be described as a simple variety of hazaj <Arabic> “the curtailed hexameter Hazaj.” The metre is as follows:—

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