Emerson in Iran

The American Appropriation of Persian Poetry

By Roger Sedarat

Subjects: Literary Criticism, Sufism, Nineteenth-century Studies, American Literature, Religion
Hardcover : 9781438474854, 230 pages, June 2019
Paperback : 9781438474861, 230 pages, January 2020

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Table of contents


1. From Plato to Persia: Emerson’s Transnational Origins

2. Transparent Eyeball / Persian Mirror: The Renewal of American Vision

3. Imitation as Suicide: Islamic Fatalism and the Paradox of Self-Reliance

4. The Subversion of Equivalence: Emerson’s Translation Theory in Praxis

5. Americanizing Rumi and Hafez: The Return of Emerson’s Verse Translation

6. The Other Side of the Persian Mirror: Emerson’s Gaze as Necessary Corrective

Works Cited

Examines the impact of Persian poetry in the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson.


Emerson in Iran is the first full-length study of Persian influence in the work of the seminal American poet, philosopher, and translator, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Extending the current trend in transnational studies back to the figural origins of both the United States and Iran, Roger Sedarat's insightful comparative readings of Platonism and Sufi mysticism reveal how Emerson managed to reconcile through verse two countries so seemingly different in religion and philosophy. By tracking various rhetorical strategies through a close interrogation of Emerson's own writings on language and literary appropriation, Sedarat exposes the development of a latent but considerable translation theory in the American literary tradition. He further shows how generative Persian poetry becomes during Emerson's nineteenth century, and how such formative effects continue to influence contemporary American poetry and verse translation.

Roger Sedarat is Associate Professor of English at Queens College, City University of New York. His books include Haji as Puppet: An Orientalist Burlesque and Ghazal Games: Poems.


"…Emerson in Iran is a valuable contribution to Emerson scholarship and serves as an invitation for the reconsideration of this writer's engagement with world literature, particularly with Persian poetry." — Review of International American Studies

"…Emerson in Iran has much to offer the fields of translation studies, world literature, and American studies. Sedarat's ability to infuse the hermetic focus of the close reading method—his primary mode—with concepts from Sufi philosophy is particularly advantageous." — American Literary History

"This is the book, on this subject, I have been waiting for. Indeed, Sedarat goes further than satisfying curiosity about familiar but undertheorized figures, texts, and traditions, he also reveals ones that I didn't know I should know and care about. His prose is at once lucid and learned. He manages, with great tact and insight, to move from poet to poet, poem to poem, line to line, across time and tradition, so that the reader remains oriented to the idea at hand, and, moreover, capable of grasping its relevance to the project and its broader significance for our thinking about the legacy of Emerson's writing and thought." — David LaRocca, author of Emerson's English Traits and the Natural History of Metaphor