Thousand Splendid Suns Poem Analysis

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Thousand Splendid Suns Poem Analysis

A poet who was traveling between Persia and India wrote this poem in the 17th century. He wrote this poem when he returned to Persia because he wanted to create an expression of the beauty he saw in Kabul.

Questions to answer as you read the poem:

  1. Who and what is the rose jealous of? This line contains an example of what poetic device?

  2. Explain the significance of the love the speaker feels for Kabul and the fact that the city hurts the speaker.

  3. Why blush? What makes people blush? What kinds of praises might the speaker be singing (metaphorical, of course)?

  4. Find an example of where the poet mentions and extols something man-made. Think about this example. What is the example really referring to and how is it really used?

  5. What kind of woman is Kabul?
Kabul” by Saib-e-Tabrizi

Oh, the beautiful city of Kabul wears a rugged mountain skirt,

And the rose is jealous of its lash-like thorns.
The dust of Kabul's blowing soil smarts lightly in my eyes,
But I love her, for knowledge and love both come from her dust.

I sing bright praises to her colourful tulips,

The beauty of her trees makes me blush.
How sparkling the water flows from Pul-i-Mastaan!
May Allah protect such beauty from the evil eye of man!

Khizr chose Kabul to Paradise,

For her mountains brought him near to heaven's delights.
The fort's dragon-sprawling walls guard the city well,
Each brick is more precious than the treasure of Shayagan.

Every street in Kabul fascinates the eye.

In the bazaars, Egypt's caravans pass by.
No one can count the beauteous moons on her rooftops,
And hundreds of lovely suns1 hide behind her walls.

Her morning's laugh is as gay as flowers,

Her dark nights shine like beautiful hair.
Her tuneful nightingales sing with flame in their notes,
Fiery songs like burning leaves, fall from their throats.

I sing to the gardens, Jahanara and Sharbara.

Even the Tuba of Paradise is Jealous of their greenery.

From accessed on 18 August 2010.

Questions to answer after you’ve read the poem:

  1. What do you learn about Kabul from reading this poem?

  2. What is your favorite image in this poem?

  3. What is the poet’s purpose?

  4. How does the poet succeed in creating a sense of the beauty of Kabul?

Questions to connect the poem back to the novel:

  1. Hosseini states in an interview that a line from this poem inspired the title of his novel (see footnote). Connect the poem to the novel and explain whether the poet’s purpose and Hosseini’s purpose intersect.

  2. Explain how Hosseini’s novel is about the “evil eye of man.”

  3. Connect the description of Kabul in the poem to the descriptions of Maraim and Laila. Which woman is the city most like (or which woman is most like the city)? Explain your answers.

Backgrounder: Afghanistan's struggles have long history

October 23, 2001 Posted: 5:25 PM EDT (2125 GMT)

  • (CNN) -- Afghanistan -- a nation conquered by Alexander the Great in B.C. 329 and again trounced by Genghis Khan and his Mongol army in 1219 -- is again at the crossroads of history.

  • United States and British bombs pound the rocky Afghan terrain daily as international calls for the Taliban, the nation's ruling regime, to produce suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden go unheeded.

  • War and economic upheaval is nothing new to this ancient land.

  • Macedonian-born Alexander the Great led his armies through Persia and Afghanistan in B.C. 329. While Greek rule continued for the next two centuries, civil unrest and revolts were common.

  • In 962 the rise of the Ghaznavid Dynasty ushered in the Islamic era, and gave Afghans more of a political and cultural role in Islamic civilization. But the dynasty was short-lived, unraveling less than 100 years later.

  • Genghis Khan and his Mongol army embroiled Afghanistan in their epic and bloody march westward in 1219 as the famed warrior merged nomadic tribes into a unified Mongolia and extended his empire to the Adriatic Sea.

  • In 1273 explorer Marco Polo crossed northern Afghanistan on his voyage from Italy to China. Soon the nation became a critical, if dangerous, stop on the "Silk Route" -- an ancient trade route that linked Rome and China. Not only were silk, gold and silver exchanged using this road, but ideas behind Christianity and Buddhism were freely exchanged as well.

  • Hinduism was introduced into Afghanistan in 1504 when the founder of India's Moghul dynasty, Babur, took control of much of Afghanistan including the modern-day capital city of Kabul.

  • In 1836 the British, along with former Afghan king Shah Shuja, invaded Afghanistan. The invasion was in response to a growing Russian and Persian influence in the region, and Shuja regained the throne in 1839. He was killed three years later, and Afghan forces fought bitterly with British troops. By 1843, Afghanistan reasserted its independence.

  • In 1973, the Afghan Communist Party and its leader, Daoud Khan, overthrew the ruling Afghan government's long-time king Mohammad Zahir Shah. Daoud, the former king's cousin did away with the monarchy and instituted economic and social reforms. Daoud was killed and his government fell in a bloody Communist-backed coup. Mass killings, arrests and tortures ensued, and the Afghan guerrilla (Mujahedeen) movement was born.

  • The Soviets invaded the nation and installed a puppet regime in the capitol of Kabul after anti-Communist forces took control in 1979. A long, weary guerilla war between various Afghan resistance groups and Soviet forces ensued. In 1984, the United States and other nations began supporting the Mujahedeen, and in 1992 the resistance group successfully took over Kabul and declared Afghanistan liberated.

The liberation would be short-lived.

  • In 1996 the Taliban militia seized control of the capitol city and implemented fundamentalist Islamic law, barring women from work and education. Islamic punishment was introduced including amputation and death by stoning. The Taliban offered Saudi militant Osama bin Laden refuge in Afghanistan.

  • The United States suspected bin Laden was behind bombings in two of its embassies in Africa, and in 1998 launched missiles at suspected bin Laden bases. The United Nations froze Taliban assets in 1999 in hopes the Taliban would hand over bin Laden for trial.

  • On September 11, 2001 hijackers seized four commercial airliners in the United States and crashed them into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in rural Pennsylvania, killing thousands. The U.S. linked Osama bin Laden to the attacks.

From <> accessed on 30 August 2010>


abul circa 1960

Kabul circa 1994

Young women in Kabul, circa 1960 Women in Kabul circa 2009


abul during Afghanistan civil war circa 1985 Soviet Red Army tanks abandoned near Kabul

Mujahideen circa 1985 Taliban fighters 2009

Kabul 2010

What Everyone Should Know About Afghanistan

Jere Van Dyk , Journalist

Jere Van Dyk, who was imprisoned by the Taliban for 45 days, explains the historical and cultural facts that are crucial for understanding the war-torn country—and why our goals there are so difficult to achieve.

Question: What should everyone know about Afghanistan?

Jere Van Dyk:  Afghanistan, which is the size of Texas, is one of the poorest, most isolated countries on Earth.  Until recently, it only had one paved road around the country.  There has never been a railroad in the country.  When I was there in the early 1970s, it was impossible to make a phone call out of the country.  When I was there in the 1980s, the men I was with—the Mujahadeen—had no concept of an elevator, of an ocean, or of a high-rise.  Go from one mountain valley to the next, the dialect is different.

Also, in Afghanistan at that time there was, in the 1970s, no fundamentalism.  Kabul was a city of school girls dressed like Catholic school girls in the U.S. with short skirts and long socks laughing in the streets. There were discoteques, outdoor cafés, restaurants.  There was lightness.  There were movie theaters.  In the afternoon, long camel caravans came slowly through the streets.

But what happened in the 1970s was that the brother-in-law and the first cousin of the king of Afghanistan overthrew his first cousin, establishing a republic.  And a group of young men, twelve young men, influenced by the Islamic faculty, professors in Kabul University, fled to Pakistan.  The Pakistani government took them in, began to train them, and in 1975 they began to call themselves the Mujahadeen and launched attacks inside Afghanistan against the Afghan government backed by Pakistan.

What happened was then was the beginning of fundamentalism.  Today Afghanistan is, after 30 years of war, its soul has been destroyed.  Afghanistan is the only country in the world that I had visited, and I traveled quite a bit, where children did not beg.  Today they beg in the streets.  The soul of Afghanistan has been destroyed, but in the 1970's there was no fundamentalism.  Today fundamentalism is rampant, but at heart it is not a fundamentalist country. 

Next:  Blood is more important than faith.  Afghanistan is a tribal culture.  When I was captured by the Pashtuns the first question they asked me was, “What is your name?”  And the second question was, "Who was your father?" Tribal lineage, tribal culture, count for everything.  What they want is, what tribes want, is to hold onto Pashtunwali, ancient tribal law, the most prominent feature of which is that you protect to the death a guest in your home.  That is why I felt I would be protected, and that is perhaps one reason why I was not killed.  You talk to countless Pashtuns along the Afghan-Pakistani border, to a man, they will tell you: the reason that Mullah Omar did not give up Osama Bin Laden had nothing to do with anything but Pashtunwali, tribal law.  Bin Laden was a member, he was a guest in Afghanistan.  He was willing to destroy his family, his country, his government, in order to protect Bin Laden.  Therefore, blood counts more than faith.  Islam is important, but tribalism is more important. ...

As a result, tribal law, Pashtunwali, is more important than civil law.  The courts do not really count for much in Afghanistan, and today they count for nothing at all.  People... in Islam... people everywhere in the world, people seek justice.  The difference between Christianity and Islam is the essence of Christianity is love.  The essence of Islam is justice.  And in Afghan culture under Sharia, you can kill the – Sharia's more interested in – Tribal law is... there's a conflict in Afghanistan between tribal law, which ultimately takes precedence over Islam. 

But with the rise of the Taliban, and before them the rise of the Mujahadeen in the 1980s. As fundamentalism began to gain hold, a much stronger foothold in Afghanistan, tribal law went down and Sharia or Islamic law rose.  Today there is a battle going on between the two.  Civil law counts for little.  Tribal law counts for more, but there is a battle going on between the two.  Ultimately, fundamentally, at heart, tribal law counts more than Sharia.  The reason—one reason that I was allowed to go free was, and I learned later, that tribal leaders got involved in my case.  They had more power than the Taliban. The tribal laws took precedence over Sharia.

The Taliban have always been an integral part of Afghanistan.  Throughout history, the Taliban—Tali meaning 'student,' of course, a student who goes to a Madrassa—would live in or around a mosque in a village.  They were the poorest people on the social hierarchy.  They would receive in exchange for performing weddings, or officiating at funerals, or at a child's birth, or at a wedding... they would receive corn, or rice, or beef, or mutton.

However, what has changed is that through the influence of Pakistan, through the influence of the Mujahadeen, who became... who went from the lower echelons in society and rose against the tribal leaders.  So did the Taliban, the lowest members of society, backed by Pakistan in the 1990's, grew in power, and today they have political power that they did not have before, and they want to keep it.

But, fundamentally the reason President Karzai talks about, I want—he talks about the other day going and joining the Taliban... Why he calls them, the  Taliban, the sons of the soil of Afghanistan, because he knows.  Even though the West doesn't like this, he knows that every Afghan knows that the Taliban are part of the country.  And every tribal leader will tell you that they know when a man sends his son to a Madrassa, where he becomes a Talib, and perhaps will join the Taliban.  Until such time as we understand that the only way... one way you can stop the Taliban is to stop the father from sending the son.  You have to understand that fundamentally the Taliban are part of the culture, and they have to be kept a part of that culture.  I won't say they have to be kept a part of culture; they are an integral part of the culture.

Recorded June 29. 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller

From <> accessed on 25 August 2010

1 In an alternate translation, these words are translated as “a thousand splendid suns hide behind her walls;” it is this line that inspired Hosseini’s novel

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