Nowruz - A New Day: Contemplating the Arrival of Spring

David Turshyan, Librarian, International Languages Department,
poetry books on display


That come before the swallow dares, and take

The winds of March with beauty...

O, these I lack,

To make you garlands of… my sweet friend.

 - Perdita, Winter’s Tale (IV, 4)

There is so much springtime and poetry in Shakespearean writings, that it may not be easy to stand aside – untouched, uncharmed – unable to lose oneself now and then in these enchanting landscapes, as beautiful and magical as nature on her first day of spring. Yet, Shakespearean view of the first month of the spring in the Northern Hemisphere – March – is not an exalted one.  “Worse than the sun in March,” (Henry IV, Part I: IV, 1) and “Beware the ides of March.” (Julius Ceasar: I, 2) are perhaps the only other two expressions pertaining to this month.

Being an ever-inventive alchemist with words, the Knight of the English letters was certainly keenly attentive to their origins. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, March comes from Latin Mārtius, named for Mars – the divinity of war in Roman lore, hence the Shakespearean figurative attributes of warlike prowess to March.

Yet, in early Roman history, Mars was the divinity of spring, growth in nature, fertility, and the guardian of agriculture. It is in March that in our times we have such celebrations as the Sun-Earth Day, the World Water Day, the Day of Happiness, and the International Women’s Day.

One celebration, the roots of which go deep down into the earth, is Nowruz (in Persian: نوروز‎ ), meaning a “new day.” It is a compound of two words - the “now”, which relates to English new, German neu, Latin novus, Russian novyi, Sanskrit nava, Spanish nuevo, and the “ruz”, which means day. Literally meaning a “new day,” Nowruz marks the first day of a new year, when nature unveils herself and puts on her green enchanting dress at springtime.

A few years ago UNESCO recognized Nowruz as one of the Intangible Cultural Heritages of Humanity. A year later, the United Nations General Assembly marked March 21 as the International Day of Nowruz.

Tradition takes Nowruz as far back as fifteen millennia – that goes beyond the last ice age, when the population of our planet was about the size of the current population of the City of Los Angeles. According to the Indo-Iranian lore, King Jamshid (in Avestan: Yima - , in Sanskrit: Yama - ) celebrated the arrival of spring with great joy and abundance and this celebration became  a “New Year” festivity.

Over the centuries, this ancient festivity of spring has been celebrated in different ways in different parts of our plant – in accordance with local customs and traditions.  And yet, with all the colorful diversity, the central theme is one: Nowruz, the “new day,” invites us to contemplate one of the great mysteries of nature – her ability to renew herself each and every year through the lilting smile of spring. In the words of the Persian poet Hafiz:

Spring and all its flowers
now joyously break their vow of silence.
It is time for celebration, not for lying low;
You too – weed out those roots of sadness from your heart.

The Way of Truth, learn from the clarity of water,
Learn freedom from the spreading grass.

Spring is the ever-devoted Muse of poets, as it comes year after year and enchants the human heart anew. Bilingual books of Shakespeare and Hafiz in original English and Persian, as well as in Arabic, Armenian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Korean, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Pilipino, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Swedish, and Yiddish are available at the International Languages department.