These past two weeks, we’ve been as spellbound and horrified by events in Iran as the rest of the nation, paying special attention to the women often at its center. Tragically, we can add to that list Neda Agha-Soltan, whose killing apparently by security forces was seen on video by millions. (To see it yourself, click this link from the New York Times.) And NPR’s  Jacki Lyden has provided essential insight for WVFC.

Lyden pointed out, as have many others, that women have long been at the forefront of movement for change. Farzaneh Milani, Director of Studies in Women and Gender and Professor of Persian and Women Studies at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, wrote in her 1992 Veils and Words (The Emerging Voices of Iranian Women Writers):

A real revolution is, in fact, shaking the foundations of Iranian society, a revolution with women at its very center. Veiled or unveiled, Iranian women are reappraising traditional spaces, boundaries, and limits. They are renegotiating old sanctions and sanctuaries. They are challenging male allocations of power, space, and resources. Exercising increasing control over how reality is defined, they are redefining their own status.

It is in this context of the negotiation of boundaries that the veil is now worn by some women, not to segregate, but to desegregate. The genealogy of this revolution can be traced back more than a century. Women writers, at the forefront of this movement, have consistently spoken the previously unspoken, articulated the once unarticulated.

As an example, Milani points to Forugh Farrokhzad, who we’d already chosen for  our Poetry Friday.

Taken at Farrokzhad's gravesite by Bita Vakili: Zahir-al-Doleh, Winter 2002.

Poet, filmmaker and a national iconoclast until her death in 1967, Forugh Farrokhzād (Persian: فروغ فرخزاد)(also spelled as Forough) was arguably Iran’s most  significant female poet of the twentieth century. Born in Tehran to career military officer Colonel Mohammad Bagher Farrokhzad and his wife Touran Vaziri-Tabar, Farrokhzād attended school until the ninth grade, then learned painting and sewing at a girl’s school for the manual arts. At age sixteen or seventeen she was married to Parviz Shapour, an acclaimed satirist. Forugh continued her education with classes in painting and sewing and moved with her husband to  Ahvaz. A year later, she had her only child, a son named Kāmyār (subject of her A Poem for You).

That marriage lasted two years; Forugh then moved back to Tehran to write poetry, and published her first volume,  The Captive, in 1955. She published two more volumes, The Wall and The Rebellion, before going to Tabriz to make  The House is Black, an award-winning film about Iranians affected by leprosy.By 1963, when she published Another Birth, Farogh’s poetry was hailed as “mature and sophisticated” and as “a profound change from previous modern Iranian poetic conventions.” Her poem “Let us believe in the beginning of the cold season,” published posthumously after her 1967 death in a car accident,  and is considered by some the best-structured modern poem in Persian. (The video at the end of this post gives you an idea of her voice, and how some poems sound in Farsi.)

We offer the following with deep thanks  to Farrokzhed, and as a salute to  Zahra, Neda and Iranian women everywhere.

On Earth

I never wanted to be a star
in the sky’s mirage,
a select soul
or an unspeaking friend of angels.
I never left the earth
or took up with stars.

I stand on the earth
and my body like a plant
absorbs wind, sun and water
to stay alive.

I’m looking out the window.
I’m an echo,
not eternal,
and look for nothing but a song’s echo.
In the wailing chant is joy
and better than the plain silence of pain.
I look for no refuge
in the dew on the lily of my body.

People walking by have written memories
with a black line of love
on the walls of my life’s cottage.
Arrrows are in my heart,
the candle is upside down.
What are left are quiet dots of faded colors
in puzzling words of madness.

Every lip against my lips
conceived a star
and floated on the night river of my memories.
What good is a star?

translated by Girdhard Tikku (From: Women Poets From Antiquity to Now, ed. Aliki Barnstone (Schocken, 1992).

I’m Sad

I’m sad
I’m sad

I go to the veranda and feel with my fingers
The taut skin of the night

No one will introduce me
To the sun
No one will take me to the feast of the sparrows

Keep in mind the flight
The bird is to die

translated by Reza Baraheni

Why should I stop, why?
The birds have gone off to find water ways,
the horizon is vertical and moving is rocketing.
shining planets spin
at the edge of sight
why should I stop, why?

Translated by Farzanah Milani


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  • Elizabeth W. June 25, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    Stunning writing.
    The poems themselves floor me, and also the insights Jacki Lyden and Farzaneh Milani provide as context.