Poets Under The Microscope: Censorship & The Rights Of Poets

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Censorship, particularly the censorship of written works, is a contentious and
controversial issue. While some may argue that censorship is a practise that stems from
powerful institutions and one that disregards many fundamental human rights, most notably
the right to free speech, others argue that censorship is justified by the ostensible
“protection” of the general public and that censorship acts as a “shield” for young
impressionable individuals, such as children and adolescents.

According to the First Amendment in the United States, censorship in other forms,
such as website or social media censorship, may be justified due to violations of community
guidelines, such as the use of inappropriate language or the promotion of illegal gambling
and goods. With the exception of that, when is censorship appropriate regarding literary

The amendment provides a clear response to this. In almost all cases, it protects
works against prior restraint, i.e., pre-publication censorship, and promotes freedom of
expression, as seen in the Free Press Clause, which protects the publication of
information/opinions, and the Petition Clause, which ensures the right to petition all branches
of government for action.

Many historic poets have used metaphors and similes as a form of concealment to
obscure the explicit interpretation of their poems before laws were established to protect
their written works, mainly in order to avoid the dangers of censorship, which restricts their
freedom, creativity, thoughts, and the way they are able to express themselves.

Nonetheless, the fundamental freedom of free expression in our modern culture has gained
in prominence, metaphors and similes are now largely used as stylistic elements.
However, that may not be true in all cases.

Poets and novelists alike have faced state-imposed censorship in post-revolutionary
Iran, and as the regime claims, religious grounds, including a ban on romance or obscenity,
many throughout the world have been astonished by these present practices. Iran’s censors
appear to be fascinated with the concept that romance may become a corrupting force in
society and they routinely prohibit such texts, whether modern or classical, with the amount
of license refusals for republication being up to 50 percent: that is to say, half of the books in
Iran does not have the right to re-publish its works unless censorship has been applied
according to the government’s wishes. Referring back to the 1st Amendment, which clearly
declares, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” Iran’s
censors have paid no heed to one of the most important documents for the protection of

Indeed, even the most acclaimed classics, such as the 831-year-old “Khosrow and
Shirin” by Nezami Ganjavi has not escaped the government’s heavy-handed censorship,
despite it being a critical part of Iranian literature for up to 9 centuries, shocking the public
immensely. Furthermore, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance “has given no official
the explanation for its decision to belatedly censor the topic”, RadioFreeEurope states.

Independent authors in Iran have reacted variously as a result of such restrictive
measures, with some fleeing the country and most forced into seclusion for fear of
punishment, incarceration, or future attacks. The rest have been forced to take a trip back to
the past, resorting to metaphors and similes, giving these expressive devices a bigger
purpose than they ought to have. Lastly, the ones that have chosen to fight back do so
confidently, criticizing the government and showing evident dissatisfaction openly, without
any form of hesitation. Whether it be through underground publishing, far away from the
eyes of the state, or as a form of illegal distribution through street vendors, these writers
have ensured that prohibition of their works is not an option.

What about our poets from the past, who are unable to react to this unjust
suppression? Some say that they will not care, as they are long gone from the world. Even
so, what about the people that come after? Will the works of these great poets be adjusted,
changed, or eliminated, until their words are, in essence, tragically missing texts, eradicated
from history forever, at no point ever to be perused in the future–– simply because objective
views and unreasonable political voices are too strong for us to control?

Our poets and authors should be protected from unfair repression and persecution at
all costs, as evidenced by our changing society. When do individuals, organizations, and
governments have the authority to censor and prevent the public from reading the works of
others without violating free speech, truth, or integrity?


  1. Recknagel, C. (2011, August 17). Iranian Censors’ Heavy Hand Falls On A Persian
  2. Censorship of Literature in Post-Revolutionary Iran. (2013).
  3. First Amendment. (2022).

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