In this article, I describe a source which represents by far our earliest documentation of the career and poetry of Sa’ib Tabrizi (d. ca. 1087/1676), and which has gone largely unaddressed in scholarship. It occurs in a still-unpublished biographical dictionary (tazkirah) of poets titled Khayr al-bayan, written by Malik Shah Husayn Sistani and known to survive in several manuscripts. The oldest, and possibly the only complete copy, is MS Or. 3397 at the British Library. Shah Husayn wrote this tazkirah between 1017/1608–9 and 1036/1627; the section containing the notice on Sa’ib was added in 1035/1625–6. Significantly, Or. 3397 was copied in 1041/1631 by a scribe named Muhammad Mirak ibn Khwajah Mir Farahi. This means that the text of the passage on Sa’ib dates to shortly after his emigration to Kabul (thence to India) in 1034/1624–5, while our manuscript dates to shortly before he left Kashmir to return to Iran in 1042/1632. The source thus falls entirely within the period of young Sa’ib’s seven-year adventure on the Indian subcontinent, and represents a rare vignette of the beginning of an illustrious career.
This paper focuses on Vahshi Bafqi (d. 991/1583), especially on the sources for the study of his biography and works. The various editions of his collected poems are assessed. Next, all of the known early sources on Vahshi’s biography are presented, including a very important one that has not been published or cited before. Laying out all of these sources allows us to construct a more authoritative biography of the poet than has appeared to date. On a broader level, we learn that the careers and works of poets of Vahshi’s era are best understood in connection to one another. The tremendous growth of the tazkera genre in the Safavid-Mughal period makes possible this kind of research, focused on interconnectivity and cosmopolitanism in literary culture. In fact, the sources not only permit such an approach; they demand it. The paper ends with a series of recommendations for future research on Vahshi, his contemporaries, and the tazkeras themselves.