Read Farzaneh Milani's article on Farrokhzad
Listen to Bish
Az In Ha
Listen to An Kalaghi ke Parid
||Forugh Farrokhzad was born in 1935 Tehran into a middle class family of seven children. She attended public schools through the ninth grade, thereafter received some training in sewing and painting, and married when she was only seventeen. Her only child, the boy addressed in "A Poem for you," was born a year later. Within less than two years after that, her marriage failed, and Farrokhzad relinquished her son to her ex-husband's family in order to pursue her calling in poetry and independent life style. She clearly voices her feelings in the mid-1950s about conventional marriage, the plight of women in Iran, and her own situation as a wife and mother no longer able to live a conventional life in such poems as "The Captive," "The Wedding Band," "Call to Arms," and "To My Sister."|
As a divorcee poet in Tehran, Farrokhzad attracted much attention and considerable disapproval. She had several short lived relationships with men-"The Sin" describes one of them. She found some respite in a nine-month trip to Europe, and in 1958 met Ebrahim Golestan (b. 1922), a controversial film-maker and writer with whom she established a relationship that lasted until her death in an automobile accident at thirty-two years of age in February 1967.
I respect poetry
in the very same way that religious people respect religion
Farrokhzad's first collection, of forty-four poems including all those cited and quoted called (the) captive, was published in the early summer of 1955. The speaker throughout these poems is a serious, searching, loving, young woman. The poems contain no philosophizing themes, or full-blown descriptions of nature. Images drawn from nature appear in these poems as part of a world in which love and the giving it implies are all that matter or seem, to exist. The speaker reveals a spectrum of moods: anticipation, regret, joy, remorse, loneliness, abandon, repentance, doubt, and reverie. But the immediate issue is love, a woman's love for a man that makes the heart ache and that can satisfy all needs. Men appear in various stances, from proud, possessive, uncomprehending, faithless conquerors of the body to selfless lovers of whom the speaker feels unworthy. Men in the Captive poems are there with strong chests, embracing arms, heads to be held in one's lap, Lips to kiss. Lovemaking is often an end in itself, but has meaning as such. Some men do not comprehend this. Others, who see the speaker as a promiscuous object, are ignorant of love's magic and meaning and unprepared to commit themselves to love's giving. Although not joyous for the most part, The Captive poems radiate the vitality, sensuality, and hopefulness of a young woman emphatically portraying the significance of love. The poems as a whole lack an explicit Islamic environment or palpable Iranian settings, even though the reader can assume that the speakers' reiterated sense of captivity reflects a climate of traditional mores both Islamic and Iranian. Furthermore, the domestic setting seem both Iranian and reflective of conflicting emotions and doubts Forugh experienced as young wife, mother, and poet.
The immediacy and intensity of reader reaction to the personal, autobiographical voice in The Captive derived in large measure, of course, from their unprecedented feminine character. But even had Farrokhzad speakers, content, and perspectives been "masculine", the poems in The Captive and her subsequent collections would have provoked strong reader response because of a second, almost equally provocative feature: their "modernist" as opposed to "traditionalist" character.
I want you, yet I know that
can I embrace you to my heart's content.
you are that clear and bright sky.
I, in this corner of the cage, am a captive bird.
from behind the cold and dark bars
directing toward you my rueful look of astonishment,
I am thinking that a hand might come
and I might suddenly spread my wings in your direction.
I am thinking that in a moment of neglect
I might fly from this silent prison,
laugh in the eyes of the man who is my jailer
and beside you begin life anew.
I am thinking these things, yet I know
that I can not, dare not leave this prison.
even if the jailer would wish it,
no breath or breeze remains for my flight.
from behind the bars, every bright morning
the look of a child smile in my face;
when I begin a song of joy,
his lips come toward me with a kiss.
O sky, if I want one day
to fly from this silent prison,
what shall I say to the weeping child's eyes:
forget about me, for I am captive bird?
I am that candle which illumines a ruins
with the burning of her heart.
If I want to choose silent darkness,
I will bring a nest to ruin. Yes, this is I who in the heart
of night's silence
rip up love letters..
he is gone, yet affection for him
will not leave my heart.
o stars, what happened
that he did not want me?
A city on the shore of that roaring
with chaotic palms and nights full of light
....which for years
has opened its arms to him and me.
From my bright eyes snatch
the eagerness to run to another;
and teach my eyes
to shy away from the shining eyes of others
O lord, O lord
show your face and pluck from my heart
the zest for sin and selfishness.
do not tolerate an insignificant slave's
rebelliousness and refuge-seeking in others
hear my needful clamor,
O able, unique God.
Farrokhzad's second volume of
verse, containing twenty-five short lyrics, was published in mid-1956. Called (The) Wall,
it included poems composed through the spring of 1956 which for the most part, like The
Captive poems, do not present palpable Iranian settings or autobiographical details
amenable to verification on the basis on internal evidence. Love moments, wishful thinking
about love, lovers' complaints, and the like are the main subjects. But as a natural
continuation of the sorts of statements in The Captive, the poems in The Wall
seem very Iranian in their moods and reflective of emotional states natural for an Iranian woman in the poet's circumstances. In addition, at the risk of oversimplification, one can assert a difference between the two volumes in terms of what their titles emphasize. In The Captive, Farrokhzad depicts her plight as an individual, whereas in The Wall she treats her state and sense of captivity.
In several poems in The Wall, the female speaker refers to her own poetry and lack of a good name. In one poem, she addresses a "thou" and refers both to the Karun River and to a first love there, that is, in Ahvaz: "How will your memory die in my heart? / The memory of you is the memory of first love"
Divar (The Wall), was published dedicated to her former husband "in memory of our shared past, and with the hope that this worthless gift of mine can be a token of my gratitude to his boundless kindness."
I sinned a sin full of pleasure,
In an embrace which was warm and fiery.
I sinned surrounded by arms
that were hot and avenging and iron.
In that dark and silent seclusion
I looked into his secret-full eyes.
my heart impatiently shook in my breast
In response to the request of his needful eyes.
In that dark and silent seclusion,
I sat disheveled at his side.
his lips poured passion on my lips,
I escaped from the sorrow of my crazed heart.
I whispered in his ear the tale of love:
I want you, o life of mine,
I want you, O life-giving embrace,
O crazed lover of mine, you.
desire sparked a flame in his eyes;
the red wine danced in the cup.
In the soft bed, my body
drunkenly quivered on his chest.
I sinned a sin full of pleasure,
next to a shaking, stupefied form.
o God, who knows what I did
In that dark and quiet seclusion
"Return" and "A poem
for you " were among the seventeen poems composed in Rome, Munich and Tehran between
August 1956 and the spring of 1958 that appeared together in Farrokhzad third collection
called Rebellion. These poems exhibit significant differences from those in the earlier
Captive and Wall collections. First, in several of them old testament, Koranic, and
traditional Persian literary imagery not so evident in earlier poems creates a poetic
texture new to Farrokhzad. Second, the female speaker occasionally expresses concerns
about her own death. Third, the collection as a whole embodies a mood and anger
reminiscent of Khayyam's in Edward FitzGerald's Rubayat Of Omar Khayyam. For example, in
"Divine Rebellion," the speaker declares what she would do if she were God. She
would let the sun loose in darkness, throw mountains into the sea, set forests on fire,
join souls to bodies brought from the grave, "drive out / the flock of ascetics from
the green unholy pastures of heaven," and, finally:
weary of divine asceticism,
at midnight in Satan's bed
I would seek refuge in the downward slopes
of a fresh sin.
I would choose at the price of
the golden crown of godhood,
the dark and painful pleasure
of sin's embrace.
In Rebellion, she reveals that she has moved to that state from her sense of being a captive and facing walls. Farrokhzad herself later referred to Rebellion as "the hopeless thrashing of arms and legs between two stages of life the final gasps for breath before a sort of release.
On the wall once again the old ivy
rose in waves like a quivering spring,
on the body of its throng of leaves
an old green and the dust of time.
my searching look asked:
where is there a trace of him?
but I saw that my little room
was empty of his childlike clamor..
I rested against the wall,
I said slowly: is that you, kami?
but I saw that nothing remained
of that bitter past but a name.
at last the line of the highway ended,
dusty I arrived from the road,
thirsty at the wellspring of the path of attack and regret.
my city was the grave of my desires.
This poem was composed in late July 1957 and dedicated "to my son Kamyar, with hopes for the future"
I am composing this poem for you
on a parched summer dusk
halfway down this road of ominous beginning
In the old grave of this endless sorrow.
this is the final lullaby
at the foot of the cradle where you sleep.
may the wild sounds of my screaming
echo in the sky of your youth.
let the shadow of me the wanderer
be separate and far from your shadow.
when one day we reach one another,
standing between us will be none other than God.
against a dark door I have rested
my forehead tight with pain;
I rub my thin, cold fingers
against this door in hope.
that person branded with shame who used to laugh
at foolish taunts was I.
I said I would be the cry of my own existence;
but O, alas that I was a "woman".
when your innocent eyes glance
at this confused, beginningless book,
you will see a deep-rooted, lasting rebellion
blooming in the heart of every song.
here the stars are all dim,
the angels here all weep.
the blooms of the tuberose here
have less value than desert thorns.
here, seated along every road
Is the demon of duplicity, disgrace and deceit.
In the dark sky I do not see
a light from the bright morning of wakefulness.
wait until once again my eyes
overflow with drops of dew.
I have taken it upon myself to unveil
the "pure" faces of the holy Marys.
I have cast away from the shore of good name;
In my heart lies a storm star.
the place of my anger's flame,
alas, is the prison's dark space.
against a dark door I have rested
my forehead tight with pain.
I rub my thin, cold fingers
against this door in hope.
against these ascetic hypocrites
I know this fight is not easy.
my city and yours, my sweet child,
has long been Satan's nest.
a day will come when your eyes
will sadly quiver at this painful song.
you will search for me in my words
and tell yourself: My mother, that is who she was.
||In the spring of 1964,
Farrokhzad's fourth collection of verse appeared. Called Another Birth, it
contained thirty-five poems which the poet had composed over a period of nearly six years.
Many of them had first appeared in Andisheh va Honar, Arash, and Ketab(Kayhan)-e Hafteh,
In other words, in the most substantial modernist journals of the day. Another Birth
exploded on the literary scene, modernist critics immediately hailing it as a milestone in
the short history of modernist Persian poetry, rivaling the publication of Shamlu's Fresh
Air (1967) and Akhavan-e Sales winter (1956) and The Ending of the Shahnameh (1956).
The most favorable reactions included a perhaps begrudging admission that readers could no
longer think of Farrokhzad as a remarkable poetess, but rather Another Birth showed her to
be a remarkable poet. They likewise agreed that she could not have chosen a more suitable
name for the collection. For Farrokhzad herself, the contents of the volume represented 'a
new birth' as a poet. She felt that the volume revealed first signs of poetic maturity.
For the critics, the new birth lay in the redirection of poetic focus which Another Birth
embodies, that is, a broadening of poetic concerns, vision, imagery, and diction. Such
dimensions of this growth are evident in such poems as "To Ali His Mother Said One
Day," "Earthly Verses," and "O Jewel-studded Land."
An interview Farrokhzad gave on modernist Persian poetry about a year and a half before her death highlights in a most telling way further subtle dimensions of this never-ending struggle that poet faced throughout her adult life. During the interview she makes important observations. She expresses regret at having published the Captive, Wall, and Rebellion volumes and asserts that only with the Another Birth poems does she begin to believe in poetry and feel that what she is composing are truly poems. At one points, she argues that expect for some of Hafez's ghazals most of what passed for poetry in Persian for a thousand years before Nima was really only verse. In addition, she expresses her disbelief in the immortality of the human soul and life after death.
has an unavoidable, frank meaning.
In conquering me, he
the candid law of power.
he is savagely free
like a healthy instinct
deep in an uninhabited island.
he cleans the dust of the street
from his shoes
with pieces torn from Majnun's tent
like a joyous folk song,
he is rough and passionate.
is a simple person,
in this ominous strange land
have hidden like the last trace
of a great religion
in the thicket of my breasts.
and after night, darkness
and after darkness
and breathing and more breathing
and the sound of water
which drips drips drips
from the faucet.
then two red points
from two lighted cigarettes
the clock's tick-tock
and two heads
and two lonelinesses
In 1974, a final collection of
Farrokhzad's verse called Let Us Believe in the Beginning of the Cold Season was
published. It included the title poem, "Window", " I feel Sorry for the
Garden, " Someone Who Is like No One," "It Is Only Sound that
Remains," and "I 'm Depressed." This volume completed the Farrokhzad canon,
totaling some 127 poems in five collections, together with a handful of poems published in
magazines but not anthologized, and a small, but unknown number of unpublished poems. All
of her verse could thus be comfortably published in a single, moderately sized volume,
which means that Farrokhzad's remarkable impact is far in excess of the amount of her
published poetry. Of course, that is because her life of thirty-two years was as much a
part of her impact as her poetry. If her poetry drew directory and distinctively from her
life, in turn, was part of the total, dramatic, and inspiring poetic statement that is
Farrokhzad herself must have felt that did not involve grand expectation or ambitions, as she reveals in an early 1965 poem first published in Arash called "Window." The poem's opening of "One Window for seeing / One window for hearing / one window is enough for me" becomes a refrain. The speaker relates that:
When my faith was hanging
by the weak thread of justice
and in the whole city
the hearts of my lamps were
being torn to pieces,
when the childlike eyes of my love
were being blindfolded by law's black kerchief,
and fountains of blood were gushing forth
from the distressed temples of my desire,
when my life was no longer anything,
nothing but the tick tock of a wall clock,
I discovered that I must,
that I absolutely had to
one window is enough for me,
one window to the moment of consciousness
and looking and silence.
the walnut sapling
Is now tall enough to explain
the meaning of the wall
to its young leaves.
ask the mirror
the name of your savior.
Is not the earth that trembles under your feet
lonelier than you?
Then after evoking images of atomic explosions and the exploration of the moon, the speaker observes that:
dreams always fall from the height
of their naivete', and die.
I am smelling a four-leafed clover
that has grown on top of the grave of ancient concepts.
was not the woman who turned to dust
In the shroud of her waiting and chastity
will I again climb the stairs of my curiosity
to greet the good god pacing
on the roof of my house?
I feel that time has passed me by.
I feel that the 'moment' is my share
of the leaves of history.
I feel that the table is an unwanted barrier
between my hair and the hands
of this sad stranger.
say something to me.
does the person giving you
the tenderness of a warm body
possibly want anything else from you
besides the sense of being alive?
say something to me.
In the refuge of my window
I am linked to the sun.
"Let Us Believe in the
Beginning of the Cold Season " was first published in a fall 1965 issue of Arash. One
of Farrokhzad's longest and most pensive poems, it begins with a speaker's personal and
individual declaration that implies a whole life behind it:
And this is I
a woman alone
at the threshold of a cold season
at the beginning of understanding
the polluted existence of the earth
and the simple and sad pessimism of the sky
and the incapacity of these concrete hands.
In "Let Us Believe in the Beginning of the Cold Season," Farrokhzad looks into both the past and the future:
time passed and the clock stuck four,
struck four times.
today is the winter solstice.
I know the season's secrets
the wind is blowing through the street,
the beginning of ruination.
I am cold,
I am cold, and it would appear
that I will never be warm again
I am cold and I know
that nothing will be left
of all the red dreams of one wild poppy
but a few drops of blood.
I shall give up lines
and give up counting syllables too.
and I will seek refuge from the mob
of finite measured forms
In the sensitive planes of expanse.
I am naked, naked, naked,
I am naked as silence between words of love,
and all my wounds come form love,
from loving .
will I once again
comb my hair with wind?
will I ever again plant pansies in the garden
and set geraniums in the sky
outside the window?
will I ever again dance on wine glasses
will the doorbell call me again
toward a voice's expectation?
I said to Mother, It's all over now.
I said, Things always happen before one thinks;
we have to send condolences
to the obituary page .
It Is Only Sound That Remains (Tanha sedas'st Keh Mimanad)
Why should I stop, why?
the birds have gone in search
of the blue direction.
the horizon is vertical, vertical
and movement fountain-like;
and at the limits of vision
shining planets spin.
the earth in elevation reaches repetition,
and air wells
changes into tunnels of connection;
and day is a vastness,
which does not fit into narrow mind
of newspaper worms.
why should I stop?
the road passes through the capillaries of life,
the quality of the environment
in the ship of the uterus of the moon
will kill the corrupt cells.
and in the chemical space after sunrise
there is only sound,
sound that will attract the particles of time.
why should I stop?
what can a swamp be?
what can a swamp be but the spawning ground
of corrupt insects?
swollen corpses scrawl the morgue's thoughts,
the unmanly one has hidden
his lack of manliness in blackness,
and the bug ah,
when the bug talks,
why should I stop?
cooperation of lead letters is futile,
it will not save the lowly thought.
I am a descendant of the house of trees.
breathing stale air depresses me.
a bird which died advised me to
commit flight to memory.
the ultimate extent of powers is union,
joining with the bright principle of the sun
and pouring into the understanding of light.
it is natural for windmills to fall apart.
why should I stop?
I clasp to my breast
the unripe bunches of wheat
and breastfeed them
sound, sound, only sound,
the sound of the limpid wishes
of water to flow,
the sound of the falling of star light
on the wall of earth's femininity
the sound of the binding of meaning's sperm
and the expansion of the shared mind of love.
sound, sound, sound,
only sound remains.
in the land of dwarfs,
the criteria of comparison
have always traveled in the orbit of zero.
why should I stop?
I obey the four elements;
and the job of drawing up
the constitution of my heart
is not the business
of the local government of the blind.
what is the lengthy whimpering wildness
in animals sexual organs to me?
what to me is the worm's humble movement
In its fleshy vacuum?
the bleeding ancestry of flowers
has committed me to life.
are you familiar with the bleeding
ancestry of the flowers?
Unveiling the Other
The following selection is from Veils and Words written by Professor Farzaneh Milani.
Toward the middle of the present century, a new tradition of women' s poetry came into being in Iran; a tradition of women intensely involved in self-reflection and self-revelation, not sheltered or restrained by the anonymity or opacity of a veil; a tradition of women who not only revealed themselves but also unveiled men in their writings. The list includes, among others, Zand-Dokht Shirazi (1911-1952), Jaleh Esfahani (b. 1921), Parvin Dowlatabadi (b. 1922), Simin Behbahani (b. 1927), lo'bat Vala Sheybani (b. 1930), Mahin Sekandari (b. 1940), Forugh Farrokhzad (1935-1967), and Tahereh Saffarzadeh (b. 1936).
These women wrote about hitherto private, autobiographical ideas and feelings, "facts." With body unveiled and pen in hand, they led the reader behind walls and veils to the domain of the private. They strove to reconcile the emotional, sensual, and social aspects of a female self. In their works, the authorial voice is neither subordinated to stereotypes nor hidden according to prescribed rules of psychological and social distance. Feelings are not rationalized, passions are not diluted, emotions are not flattened, details are not evaded, men are not absent. These writers created, to varying degrees, a sense of self divorced from the conventional definition of womanhood in Iran, a self that is all the more vulnerable in a society where walls and veils have been customary and censored communication the order of the day, where, in the words of the novelist Shahrnush Parsipur, "people whisper even behind tall walls."
Most of these pioneering poets reject the silent whispers of a woman in the privacy of the home. Sharing their personal experiences with their readers, confiding to paper rather than to Sang-e Sabur [the patient stone], they speak the unspoken.'They attempt to surrender neither to outside censorship nor to the self-censorship that develops in conjunction with it. Spontaneous and distinctive, they also refuse to submerge their voices in collective visions or aspirations.
Society's response to this new female voice and self has varied. To the Muslim fundamentalists, the rupture of tradition has consistently been more visible and least tolerable in the area of women's emancipation. Their stand has all along been unfailingly clear and uncompromising. They have reacted toward women's emancipation and desegregation, especially toward women's physical unveiling, with anger and hostility. To them, any deviation in traditional male/female relations implies debauchery and destroys cultural authenticity. It alienates the people from "true" Islam.
The modernized, educated elite, who claimed to support change, also could not reconcile themselves to the changes affecting women's status. Changes of behavior were felt to be threatening, especially with regard to sexual mores and conduct. The old ways retained the upper hand even for the liberated elite, who championed women's rights. 'Ali Shari'ati, a Western-educated ideologue/writer, especially popular among the educated elite, rejected women's oppressive condition and passionately condemned men for the subjugation of the female sex. In his view, "men have treated women as a savage animal which cannot be tamed, educated, or controlled. They have tried to control her by caging her... Woman was like a prisoner who had no access to schools, libraries, or to the public domain." But Westernized women appalled Shari'ati:
These western-made dolls, empty inside, Made-up and disguised, neither have the feelings of our own women of yesterday nor the intelligence of western women of today. They are mechanical dolls which are neither Adam nor Eve! Neither wife nor the beloved; neither housewife nor worker. They feel responsibility neither towards their children nor towards people. No. No. No. And no. They are like ostriches [ShotorMorghl who neither carry any load on the pretext that they are birds [Morghl nor fly because they claim to be large like camels [Shotor]. These are a hodgepodge kind of a woman, assembled in local industries with a "made in Europe" sticker.
Shari'ati's nostalgia for a past when authentic feminine identity and values were not compromised, when women were women, exemplifies the sense of loss and decline that permeates the works of many mid-twentieth-century writers-men and women alike. This mutant character, this bad imitation from the West, this unauthentic replica of traditional Iranian women - this hybrid - not only subverted male authority and control but personified the painful losses of cultural identity. Allegedly, according to many writers, the degeneracy of Iranian culture was brought about by this new "Westernized," "half-naked, that is, unveiled, and "corrupt" woman. Her "Westoxication" challenged all beliefs in fixed sexual differences: she disturbed "natural" sexuality and cultural stability; she threatened legitimate order; she challenged the very identity and integrity of the privileged term masculine, defined traditionally in its opposition to feminine. Hard to control, categorize, define, and spatially fix, this generic female didn't seem feminine at all.
The new order of things in which women made their presence felt seemed to be an absence of any order at all. Many people found themselves overwhelmed by the discrepancies between the reality of their lives or of the lives of those around them and their traditional ideals. Filled with nostalgia for a more coherent world and worldview and attracted to change, modernity, and democracy, they showed signs of contradictory and mutually exclusive aspirations. 'Ali Shari'ati, for instance, who rejected women's
oppressive condition, had nothing but contempt for these mongrel women, the "ostriches." He called them "Zilch-women," that is, worthless, useless, senseless slaves of commercialism and consumerism, concerned only with appearances and gratification of their limitless desires. All their achievements, in his view, were like a string of zeros without another number preceding them. They amounted to nothing-zilch.
Clearly, Shari'ati was attracted neither to the traditional nor to the modernized Iranian woman. What gets blurred, however, is his portrayal of the ideal woman. On the one hand, he blames the media for not showing Iranian women portraits of liberated, educated, and intelligent women, such as Angela Davis, or of prominent women intellectuals and scientific figures of the West, such as Madame Curie. On the other hand, he offers Hazrat-e Fatemeh, the daughter of the Prophet Mohammad, as the role model to be emulated. His portrayal of Hazrat-e Fatemeh, however, is quite limited and limiting. He assigns to her beneficent and instrumental roles, but mainly devotion and sacrifice toward the male members of her family: her father, husband, and two sons. The traditional ideal of woman as daughter-wife-mother remains the cornerstone of Shari'ati's value system. He can be, and indeed is, attracted to women's independence, autonomy, and intellectual growth; but he cannot resign himself to abandoning the traditional domestic virtues expected of a woman. Accordingly, he attributes the escalating loneliness in Iran to women's independence and to their involvement outside the family unit.
Shari'ati was not alone in his diagnosis. In a much acclaimed and controversial book, Gharbzadegi [Westomanial, Jalal Al-e Ahmad considers women's emancipation as one of the "necessary conditions" for Westomania. In his view, "we [Iranians] have contented ourselves with tearing the veil from their faces and opening a number of schools to them. But then what? Nothing.... So we really have given women only the right to parade themselves in public. We have drawn women, the preservers of tradition, family, and future generations, into vacuity, into the street. We have forced them into ostentation and frivolity, every day to freshen up and try a new style and wander around. What of work, duty, social responsibility, and character? There are very few women concerned with such things any more."
Implicitly, and at times quite explicitly, all the ills of the society were blamed onwomen's sexual promiscuity, which was soon to become synonymous with women's liberation. A passage from an article published in Kar, organ of the leftist Fadaiyan-e Khalq (minority) claims that "the toiling women of our homeland are well aware that the liberation promised by these supporters of the bourgeoisie, these lackeys of imperialism and the antipeople regime of the Shah, is nothing but the freedom to exploit more, and the liberty to sell the luxury imperialist goods at the expense of plundering the toilers; it is nothing but spreading the penetration of degenerate imperialist culture. Their defense of women's liberation means defending prostitution, drug addiction, setting up houses of lust and a thousand other manifestations of capitalist culture."
It is no mere accident that, when prominent contemporary writers want to portray the plundering of their country by outside forces, they resort to metaphors of woman's virginity, its loss made to represent the loss of honor and national resources. Sadeq Hedayat's Parvin, Dokhtar-e Sassan [Parvin, the Daughter of Sassan] and Siedi's Dandil are two such examples. The focal theme of the first book is the revival of the Iranians' heroic struggle against Arabs and the invocation of their last moments of resistance. The Iranians' firm stand, although doomed to failure, is panegyrized and their battleground - this presumably last bastion of opposition against an invading culture -is highly revered. The ultimate moment of downfall, however, is when Parvin, the heroine of the drama, is raped by an Arab.
Dandil, a controversial short story by Saedi, the eminent playwright, published in 1968 and banned upon publication, has a simple plot. A fifteen-year-old virgin is taken to a brothel in the red-light district of a small town named Dandil. When the owner of the brothel searches for a prosperous client for her newly acquired merchandise, the local policeman suggests an American sergeant who "can spend money like crazy, provided he can have some fun." The rich, fun-seeking, client is agreeable to all; and on the day of his arrival the Dandilians, filled with awe and anticipation, pour into the street. But delight soon turns to disgust, fascination to terror. To the amazement of everyone, the American soon leaves without even paying the customary fee. The cheated Dandilians, powerless and disillusioned, have to face a nightmare: gone is the girl's virginity; and gone with it, too, is their honor.
Women's claims to personal rights and independence created unprecedented problems in a society where the age-old male-centered values, especially in the sexual domain, had remained intact. Blurred now was the boundary between masculine and feminine realms, and blurred with it was any sense of stability. The clear distinction between maleness/ femaleness, permitted/forbidden, purity/pollution, honor/shame had blunted. Women became the real challenge to men's sense of Mardanegi [manliness]. They called it into question, forced it constantly to prove itself, its bearing, its power, its control. Actually, upon women were projected the whole society's doubts about itself, about modernity, and about change.
Subject to their own mixed feelings, women also became subjected to mixed signals. Immersed in discontinuities, safeguarding many traditional ideals, yet fascinated by change, they shuttled back and forth between the old and the new: "Here would be ladies, dressed up in Parisian clothes, made up, playing bridge," says the American ambassador to Iran, Richard Helms, "but before they went on trips abroad, they would ship up to [the shrine city of] Mashhad in Chadors to ask for protection."
This ambivalent state of mind at the crossroads of continuity and change -shared by men and women alike -is epitomized in the literary life of Forugh Farrokhzad. Not only is her work the locus classicus of incompatible aspirations but criticism it elicited is also fascinating in its ambivalence. Whatever the forum, before her death or after, the main drift of criticism seems to revolve around the sensual-erotic nature of her work. Many translated and still translate her search for autonomy, growth, and love into predominantly sexual terms. They disregard her struggle to change her world and her role in it in favor of the erotic themes in her poems.
It is true that love themes consistently form the core of Farrokhzad's poetry. But its treatment is not strictly sensuous. It entails a radical reordering of values, acknowledges the limitations and failure of conventional love to satisfy the poet, and appropriates new communicative and personal terrain denied women previously. Farrokhzad explores the self both within and beyond heterosexual love relationships. This neither demands nor brings about a denial of her passionate relationships with men. On the contrary, it expands her loving potential. Indeed, the needs of friendship, communication, and growth are as satisfied as those of the body in some of her poems. Before Farrokhzad, this intellectual reciprocity, this commitment to the expansion of relational possibilities, was rarely described in modern Persian literature. In her own words, "modern Persian poetry rarely has known what it is to love truly. In it, love is so magnified, so plaintive, and so anguished that it does not match the nervous and hasty lines of today's life. Or else, it is so primitive and so full of the pain of celibacy that it automatically reminds one of male cats in season on sunny roofs. Love is not commemorated as the most beautiful and purest feeling of humankind. The union and mingling of two bodies, with its beauty resembling praise and prayer, is debased to the level of a mere primitive necessity."
To limit critical analysis of Farrokhzad's poetry to an exclusive preoccupation with the aspect of love, mainly the erotic, is to trivialize or neglect its many other merits. One subtle consequence of this excessive eroticization has been a dismissal of her poetry by some as "sentimental," "sensuous," and hence "unimportant." When in the mid-seventies I chose for my dissertation topic a feminist study of her poetry, I was totally surprised by people's reactions. The argument against that choice ranged from the purely paternalistic to the hard-core sexist. Some were genuinely concerned about my professional future. Others, amazed and amused, wanted to know if a Ph.D. could be granted for a dissertation written on a woman poet who herself could not even earn a high school diploma and who only talked about her carnal desires and adventures. The Indian scholar Girdhari Tikku was also "jokingly" challenged for his choice of Farrokhzad's poetry as a serious topic of inquiry:
Back in the States that fall (of 1965), 1 read a paper on Farrokhzad's poetry at the American Oriental Society Meeting in Philadelphia. I claimed her as one of the most important poets of Iran in the twentieth century. The late Joseph Schacht of Columbia University, then the editor of Studia Islamica, expressed interest in my presentation and invited me to write an article on her for his journal. This was in total contrast to the remarks, albeit joking, of an Iranian colleague and friend, who will remain unnamed, who asked why I had selected a Judas among the Prophets. Traditional critics, of whom the unnamed Iranian colleague is one, did not hold Farrokhzad's poetry in high esteem.
Searching for independence yet attached to traditional ideals of femininity ,Farrokhzad worked with conflicts from within and sociocultural contradictions from without. She wrote in an atmosphere of encouragement and admiration mingled with bitter criticism and even contempt. Indeed, her poetry has seldom left its Iranian readers impartial, evoking either strong attraction or intense aversion. Denounced by some for its immorality and its advocacy of promiscuity, it has been celebrated by others for its distinctively female voice that challenges the dominant value systems of her culture. On the whole, however, a large number of avid and enthusiastic readers have consistently offered their faithful support to this poetry. With numerous reprints, her work has been among the most popular in modern Persian literature. The enormous appeal of Farrokhzad's books has baffled critics for several decades now.
Forugh Farrokhzad was born on January 5, 1935, into a large family, the third of seven children. After graduating from junior high school, she transferred to a technical school to study painting and sewing. She never finished high school. She was sixteen when she married Parviz Shapur, a distant relative, the grandson of her mother's Maternal aunt. Unlike her predecessors Tahereh Qorratol'Ayn and Parvin E'tesami with their arranged marriages, Forugh Farrokhzad married a man with whom she had fallen in love. A year later, their first and only child was born, a boy named Kamyar. Farrokhzad's first collection, titled Asir [The Captive], appeared in 1955. It contains forty-four poems and tells the story of a frustrated woman and her sense of the limitations of her life. The very title of the collection indicates her feeling of entrapment and despair. The poetic persona of Captive is a confused young woman who has a hard time forging an identity for herself. She is caught between the seemingly irreconcilable demands Of a woman-wife-mother and an autonomous poet.
think about it and yet I know
I'll never be able to leave this cage
even I if the warden should let me go
I've lost the strength to fly away.
Every morning from behind the bars
my child's eyes smile at me
as I start to sing
his kissing lips near mine.
God, if I need to fly one day
from behind these silent bars,
how will I answer this child's wet eyes?
Let me be, I am a captive bird!
After three years of marriage,
Farrokhzad decided to leave her husband despite the numerous social, psychological, and
financial hardships that would result. With much pain and grief, she lost the permanent
custody of her only child and was even denied visiting rights. In September 1955, she
suffered a nervous breakdown and was taken to a psychiatric clinic, where she remained a
patient for a month. A year later, in 1956, her second poetry collection, Divar [The
Wall], was published, dedicated to her former husband "in memory of our shared past,
and with the hope that this worthless gift of mine can be a token of my gratitude to his
boundless kindness." In less than a year, her third book, Esian [Rebellion], appeared
and securely established her as a promising yet notorious, poet. Throughout the poems of
these two collections, totaling forty-two, one notices a much stronger and more sustained
sense of the poet's autonomy. She bitterly criticizes her society, especially its
injustice against women. A sense of outrage and anger provides the impetus for the writing
of many of the poems from this period.
Farrokhzad had many claims on her talent and energy. Barely twenty four, with three poetry collections to her credit, she developed new interests in cinematography, acting,
and producing. In 1962, she made a documentary movie about a leper's colony, titled
The House is Black." The movie was acclaimed internationally and won several prizes. Meanwhile, her fourth poetry collection, Tavallodi Digar [Another Birth], was published in 1964. With the intimate and the personal as an ever-present background, Another Birth celebrates the birth of a female character who rejoices in her new options, a warrior who has fought for every step in her path to freedom. She becomes her own model and gives birth to a self in the image of her own likings and aspirations. Her rebirth is indeed a self-birth.
know a sad little nymph
who lives in the sea
and plays the wooden flute of her heart
sad little nymph
dying at night of a kiss
and by a kiss reborn each day.
At the height of her
creativity and barely thirty-two, Farrokhzad died of head injuries in a car accident on
February 14, 1967. Trying to avoid an oncoming vehicle, she struck a wall and was thrown
from her car. Ironically, this woman who escaped and avoided walls for a lifetime was
eventually killed by one, killed at a time when she claimed to have finally found herself.
She was buried beneath the falling snow:
the truth was those young pair of hands
those young pair of hands buried beneath the falling snow
and next year, when Spring
mates with the sky beyond the window
and stems thrust from her body
fountains of fragile green stems
will blossom, o my love, o my dearest only love.
Farrokhzad had produced four poetry collections, had won fame and awards, and had
"grey hair and two large wrinkles in her forefront in between the eyebrows." But
above all, and in her own words, she "had found herself "- only to lose herself
forever. This incompleteness strikes one in the life of Farrokhzad. Like a dream cut short
by wakefulness, her life and her art, characterized by a breathtaking dynamism and
mobility, are stamped with the finality of a premature death. She never saw the
publication of her fifth collection, Iman Biavarim be Aghaz-e Fasl-e Sard [Let Us Believe
in the Dawning of a Cold Season], which was published posthumously.
The whole canon of Farrokhzad's poetry can be considered, with modifications, as a kind of Bildungsroman. Though a genre of novel, and though its tradition is almost exclusively associated with young male characters, Bildungsroman best embodies Farrokhzad's emergence from cultural conditioning and her struggle to come to self-realization, warranting its adaptation to her journey and to her awakening. Her five books constitute the account of an apprenticeship to life, a personal history of growth and change. Farrokhzad explores and ultimately defies the traditional limits for a woman's life that seem to make Bildungsroman more suited to a male protagonist. For this literary genre, even in the West, has been an almost exclusively male affair. Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, Flaubert's Education Sentimentale, Dickens's David Copjperfield, joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, are all typical apprenticeship novels with sensitive protagonists who attempt to acquire a philosophy of life and to activate their powers and their potentialities. Dorothy Richardsoes Pilgrimage, Virginia Woolf 's Orlando, and June Arnold's Applesauce, among a few others, are rare exceptions to this general rule.
Men have found
themselves an ever-changing, dynamic reality. Mobility, in its literal and metaphorical
sense, has been their prerogative. Religion, philosophy, and literature have provided them
with numerous role models. Women, on the other hand, have been assigned traditionally
static rather than dynamic roles. Farrokhzad rejects this immobility. Her poetry is the
chronicle of an evolving consciousness, the testament a growing awareness. it enriches the
heritage of Persian poetry with the portrayal of a dynamic woman character whose
definition of self cannot be restricted to relationships or to love plots, a character who
transcends sex roles by discovering and defining herself, freed from pre-conceived
suppositions and expectations.
Farrokhzad also presents the voice of the Other in modern Persian literature. By speaking as a woman, she literally creates an-other voice. If E'tessami inscribes women's stories in public, Farrokhzad goes through the stories to the storyteller herself. If E'tessami tries to include women's everyday concerns in poetry, Farrokhzad attempts to reconcile the sensuous, emotional, and physical dimensions of a female self with her literary presentation. If E'tessami literally effaces men, Farrokhzad uncovers them. Indeed, throughout her poetry, she puts herself as well as her vision of men into the text and contradicts prevailing notions of the feminine and the masculine. She is neither silent nor concealed, neither chaste nor immobile. She refuses to suffer and not complain. She does not endure restrictions and prohibitions with fortitude. She does not condemn self-gratification. She does not consider it improper to talk publicly even about men. She plays out her story, including her relations with men, on the literary scene. She laughs and cries in public and shares her many pains and pleasures with total strangers-her readers.
From the beginning of her career, Farrokhzad refused to evade her feelings. Her poetry reveals the problems of a modern Iranian woman with all her conflicts, painful oscillations, and contradictions. It enriches the world of Persian poetry with its depiction of the tension and frequent paralysis touching the lives of those women who seek self-expression and social options in a culture not entirely accustomed to them. It explores the vulnerability of a woman who rejects unreflective conformity with the past and yet suffers from uncertainties about the future. Quite simply, it embraces the daily reality of the emergent Persian woman.
Farrokhzad's poetry is an oasis of the conventionally forbidden: textual and sexual. from first to last, her poems, in spite of their varying content and form, have a certain
rebelliousness in common. They portray an iconoclast making her self, not all made and finished by men; an uncompromising, unaccommodating sort of a woman; the kind that would rather break than sway with the breeze.
But it is not only the woman portrayed in Farrokhzad's poetry who is unconventional. Her men, too, break their conventional molds. They are no longer determined or confined by roles traditionally assigned to their gender. They are not so tightly wrapped in their masculinity as to be forced to hide their own needs and desires. No other Persian woman has offered a more detailed, individualized portrayal of men.
Virginia Woolf believed that "women have served all these centuries as looking lasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size." Perhaps in the West it is so but not in Iran, at least certainly not in Iranian literature. Before Farrokhzad's poetry, reflections of men, let alone "delicious" and enlarged ones, barely exist in women's writing in Iran. Wrapped in their cloaks of obscurity or reduced to abstract representations, the men whom women have traditionally written about lack uniqueness or characterological complexity. They are deprived of real emotions or expressions of unmanly pleasures or pains. They are captives of a cultural canon of masculine image and archetype. They are cardboard characters lacking depth, replaceable with each other in their flatness. They are, in effect, veiled. The only man who makes his individualized appearance in E'tessami's poetry, for instance, is her father, to whom she dedicates a eulogy.
father, death's axe struck Its grave blow.
By that same axe my life's tree was felled.
Your name was Yussef; they delivered him up to the wolf.
Death was your wolf, 0 my Joseph of Canaan.
Moon you were in the firmament of letters; earth
now is your abode,
the grave your prison, O my imprisoned moon.
Thievish Fate took me unawares.
It stole you away, and grins now impishly at my ignorance.
He who bedded you down in the earth,
would that he could settle my unsettled life.
Your grave I visit and see that blessed epitaph.
Woe is me! That inscription tells my destiny.
You departed and left my days blacker than night.
Without you I grope in darkness, 0 my shining eyes!
Without you tears, sorrow, regret are my guests.
Take pity, father, honor me at my banquet.
My face I hide from all eyes,
lest they read on it the lines of my distress.
I was your singing bird, what happened
That you no longer listen to my song?
You called me your treasure. Why did you desert me and go?
O I wonder, who after you will be my protector?
But although Iranian men
have traditionally been denied a glimpse of themselves in female literary looking glasses,
mirrors have been in their own hands. For several centuries, they had the virtual monopoly
of literary representation, including self-representation. The pulpit, the pen, the brush,
the chisel, the camera-all were under their control. Furthermore, in a sexually segregated
society, a woman's knowledge of men is partial and somehow hampered. Charlotte Bronte,
oppressed by the Victorian mentality, complained of her handicap in portraying men.
"In delineating male character," she wrote in a letter, "I labor under
disadvantages; intuition and theory will not adequately supply the place of observation
and experience. When I write about women, I am sure of my ground- in the other case I am
not so sure."
Although men's power was partially based on their social visibility, their symbolic power derived, it seems, from their physical inaccessibility to female representation. And although they were burdened by the heavy load of their masculinity, they did not encourage female representation of themselves; they were unwilling to be stripped of their empowering veil of masculinity. After all, woman having been readily considered the inferior sex, the Za'efeh [the weak one], it remained for the superior party to tenaciously prove and safeguard his superiority.
"A man is he who keeps his mouth shut and flexes his muscles," says an age-old Iranian proverb, capturing with breathtaking accuracy both the privileges and the restrictions brought about by man's self-imposed silence and image. Through the centuries, the Iranian man has been imprisoned in and empowered by patterns of Mardanegi [manliness]. He has not been encouraged to communicate or disclose his inner thoughts and feelings nor to see his reflection in the Other's eye. Traditionally, his silence has been the voice of authority, one that speaks all the more powerfully because it does not necessarily have to speak. Others, especially women, have to decipher his muted messages, respect them, honor them, and acquire the skills to decode them.
Such a cultural scene, with its various forms of physical and symbolic barriers between the two sexes, does not seem to be a proper place for the development of realistic portrayal of men by women or for that matter of realistic women by men. And indeed few women, and those only recently, have opted for breaking the ancestral silence.
In Farrokhzad's poetry man is stripped of this veil of mystery. He is presented in his all-too-human frailties and contradictions. At times, he is represented in exaggerated conformity to his own codes of masculinity. He is mystified, terrorized by signs of emotion, softness, and nurturing. He tries so hard to be a man that he becomes a caricature of masculinity. Full of pretences, he is addicted to approval. Intense anxiety and vulnerability lurk behind his facade of strength. He is "un-faithful," egotistical," an "oppressor," and a "warden." A physical creature, he follows erotic instincts and he treats from intimacy. His capacity to shift his affections according to the moment disappoints the woman who asks for an emotional commitment to match her own. Farrokhzad writes:
was taught nothing but desire
interested in nothing but appearances
wherever he went, they whispered in his ears
woman is created for your desire.
failed love affairs, and disintegrating unions fill page after page of Farrokhzad's
poetry- The lover and the beloved, the oppressor and the oppressed, the bird and the bird
jailer, to borrow Forugh's own metaphor in the title poem of the Captive, both prove to
suffer from their internalizations of prescribed roles. Master or slave, victor or victim,
predator or prey, man or woman, each experiences his or her own brand of disillusionment
At other times, the poet represents man as freed from masculine stereotypes and cliches. She portrays him with a distinctive individuality and physical presence. No longer a phantom personality, a dream, a figment of imagination, no longer a Prince Charming of the wildest fantasies, a prisoner of silence or invisibility, constricted in his emotional expression, no longer compromised in his capacity for intimacy, Farrokhzad gives this man new life by giving him clearer focus. After centuries of posing as the lover, man finally becomes the beloved. In the following poem, entitled "The One I Love," an interesting reversal of gender bound representation occurs.
is wildly free
like a healthy instinct
in the heart of a deserted island
he wipes the street-dust
off his shoes
with strips torn from Majnu's tent
like the god of a Nepalese shrine
has been innocent from the start
he is a man of bygone centuries
a reminder of beauty's truth
He always awakens
like a baby's smell
innocent memories around him
he is like a happy, popular song
brimming with feelings and nakedness
He sincerely loves
specks of dust
He sincerely loves
a country garden-lane
a dish of ice-cream
is a simple man
a simple man
I have hidden
In between my breasts
like the last relic of a wondrous religion
in this ominous land of wonders
in this poem transcends sexual roles ascribed by literary tradition. Majnun, the most
stereotyped hero of classical literature, represents the perpetuation of a destructive
romantic idealism. He can no longer serve as a role model. The beloved wipes the dust of
his shoes with rags of Majnun's tent. If Majnun had to remain the lover, he would become
the beloved. If Majnun went mad from his frustrated love, he would grow in his love. He
stretches himself and breaks down barriers. He does not need to be self-contained, in
charge of himself and his surroundings. Neither remote nor given solely to thoughts rather
than emotions, he can show pain and pleasure. He can love a "dish of ice-cream,"
be "full of feelings," be "free." To borrow one of Farrokhzad's own
metaphors, he can be "brimming with nakedness." He can be the
Traditionally, Ma'shuq [the beloved], which is a word not linguistically gender marked, has been uniformly a woman or an effeminized lover. Accordingly, all verbs referring to sexual relationships are transitive and have a female object. The emphasis is so much on male-centered action that the Persian word for lovemaking can be translated as "doing" [Kardan] for men and "giving" [Dadan] for women. Eslami-ye Nadushan, in his fascinating memoir of childhood, Ruzha [Days], focuses on the- many restrictions placed upon the full burgeoning of heterosexual relationships:
Man/woman relations were either based on barter and settlement or on domination. There was no equality between the two sexes to generate love. Generally speaking, with the view a man held of a woman, he considered it below his dignity to feel himself obligated to satisfy her. In other words, he could not debase himself to the level of gratifying her. His fulfillment was bound with domination and possession, that is, taking by force and preponderance. This was called "enjoyment."
Rarely a spectator of his own desirability, man is finally desired in a female-authored text. The poem titled "I Sinned," one of Farrokhzad's best-known and most widely anthologized early poems, epitomizes one such unprecedented expression of female desire. In this passionately sensual love poem, a passion both painful and delightful, a radical change occurs not only in the traditional notion of the boundaries of poetic content for a woman but also in the conventional heterosexual relationship.
a body, tremulous and dazed
I sinned, I voluptuously sinned.
O God! How could I know what I did
in that dark retreat of silence?
In that dark retreat of silence
I looked into his mysterious eyes
my heart trembled restlessly
at the pleading in his eyes.
In that dark retreat of silence
I sat, disheveled, beside him
passion poured from his lips into mine
saved I was from the a agony of a foolish heart.
I whispered the tale of love in his ears:
I want you, 0 sweetheart of mine
I want you, 0 life-giving bosom
I want you, 0 mad lover of mine.
Passion struck a flame in his eyes
the red wine danced in the glass
in the soft bed, my body
shivered drunk on his breast.
I sinned, I voluptuously Sinned
in arms hot and fiery
I sinned in his arms
iron-strong, hot, and avenging.
There are violations of
many codes in this poem, subversions of power and propriety. Linguistically, the poem
violates norms that define proper language for a woman. Woman- the respectable kind -
would not openly address such sexual issues. "To express passion for one of us
women," complains one of Tahereh Saffarzadeh's heroines, "is considered so
repulsive and hideous that our desires suffocate under the bell jar of pointless
prohibitions." Even if a woman treats sensual themes at all, she would do it
allusively, through metaphors or under the cover of symbols, games, song. But Farrokhzad's
poem is intense and to the point. Its sexuality is not camouflaged by formulas, allusions,
metaphors, symbols. It thrills in its directness and intensity. Its explicit imagery
discourages multiple readings. This poem is not an allegory in which erotic love signifies
love of God. Love here is human, not divine. Unlike most traditional love poems, it does
not make extratextual pronouncements. Its very title, "I Sinned," suggests
rejection of euphemism. It represents a self-assertiveness quite different from the
self-effacing virtuousness of the ideal woman. "I Sinned" is the abandonment not
only of body to passion but also of pen to tabooed expression. If this poet's sexual
impulses cannot be contained within traditional boundaries, neither can her poetry. The
adventurer in life becomes the adventurer in language.
I spoke of subversions, and this poem is noteworthy for the way in which it subverts cultural codes. Farrokhzad, like other women, was taught that to succumb to the desires of her body is to condemn herself to everlasting notoriety in this world and to hellfire in the other. The novelist Mahshid Amirshahi explains with her own customary perceptiveness how a burgeoning love relationship can be murdered in its infancy by bitter restrictions, internalized and metamorphosed into fear. The narrator of the short story "There and Then" recalls the story of her first love with a boy and their escapade in a movie theater- a tale of frustrated desires piled upon frustrated needs:
then fear sought me again. it came upon me because of love....
Fear lingered on -fear that I had done something wrong, something dirty,
and it took away all the love. The only memory of love that remained was
the film that I did not see and the ice cream that had melted in a cup. It all
started with the eagerness of two shadows walking side by side to school
and it ended in the union of two gazes and the touching of two hands. It
never reached the warmth of two breaths and the softness of two bodies.
When mingling of breaths and bodies came, it came without love-with the
Molla [religious cleric] and Arabic marriage VOWS.
Farrokhzad does not
eventually surrender to fear or shame. She breaks through the cultural barrier of
experiencing and expressing, even if with much awe and confusion feminine lust. Caught
between two equally imperative and irreconcilable drives -fear and feelings of guilt on
the one hand and the demands of a passionate body on the other-she chooses less and less
to be ruled by the first. Her poetic persona indulges in what women were not allowed to do
or express in public. She also subverts the sexual act. It is, for instance, only the
prerogative of the man to choose his partner and to display his desire.
He is neither chosen nor can he expect much display of- sexual enjoyment from a woman who knows too well that to show interest in a man is improper behavior. Interestingly enough, whereas there is no acceptable and proper open admission of a woman's physical desire for a man, there is a commonly used term and even legal terminology for her sexual rejection of him: Adam-e Tamkin, which literally means to disobey, has come to mean a woman's noncompliance with her husband's sexual wishes. Uninterested she is taught to be, and uninterested she pretends to be. It would not be exaggerating to say there are many Iranian women, including Farrokhzad herself in some of her early poems, who truly believe that once they prove their total interest in and desire for a. man they have lost him for good.
with a sincere heart, woman
don't seek loyalty in a man
he does not know the meaning of love
don't ever tell him your heart's secrets.
Sexual misconduct for a
woman has been traditionally synonymous with total ethical lapse. Even male honor depends,
to a large extent, on the chastity of his womenfolk. The worst accusation brought against
a woman and, by extension, against her. male kin is to associate her with illicit sexual
behavior. But in this poem a woman publicly announces both her sexual misconduct and,
worse yet, her enjoyment of it. Freed from false pretenses or strategic maneuvering, she
allows her feelings to express themselves freely. She gives voice to her passion. She
initiates it, enjoys it, even basks in it. She refuses to be only the object of desire.
She feels triumphant in her ability to transform the "dark retreat of silence"
to a flame of passion. She generates desire and takes pride in it. She further dramatizes
her own desire by her persistent use of the first person singular throughout the poem.
Indeed, the poem's autobiographical tone makes it exceptionally forthcoming in its
expression of forbidden experiences and feelings of lust.
A curious poem this is, firm in its depiction of pleasure, daring in its revelation, yet confused in its feeling. It conveys delight mingled with guilt and doubt. Conventions
struggle with passion. It is the tale of a woman frightened by the flowering of her passion
but also fascinated by it. She may talk freely about her unconventional sexual experiences, but she considers them "sins" and herself a "sinner." The dominant standards and values of her society, although somehow disregarded, are absorbed by her in a subtle and inescapable way. Contradictory aspirations make her an intriguing blend of certainties and doubts. On the one hand, there are the burning flames of a body and a mind. On the other hand, there are the limiting social norms and sanctions, internalized. She can neither deny herself the privilege of listening to her adventuresome mind and heart nor can she free herself from what she has been taught in regard to self-respect and morality. She vacillates between two sets of values and aspirations, the old and the new, unable to relinquish either or to integrate the two.
my feet in chains again
so that tricks and deceits won't make me fall
so that colorful temptations
won't bind me with yet another chain
Throughout the first three collections, Farrokhzad calls herself a "sinner" "notorious" " a foolish woman," and "undependable." Public opinion and her own internalized value system don't paralyze her, but they afflict her nonetheless. She becomes bitter and alienated, overcome by a need for seclusion.
shun these people
who seem so sincere and friendly
and yet, in an excess of contempt
charge me with countless accusations.
I shun these people who listen to my poems
and bloom like sweet-smelling flowers
but in their own privacy
call me notorious fool.
Not only duplicitous
readers condone and condemn Farrokhzad, her supporters also show ambivalence. If she
believes herself to be a "sinner," even her most staunch advocate considers her
a sinner, too. In the introduction to Farrokhzad's own poetry collection,
Shafa apologetically reminds the reader: "The artistic confession of a woman and her
ability to candidly portray her feelings are, I believe, what is truly new and interesting
in this lady's poetry. Otherwise, the subject matter of these poems is nothing new per se
to deserve commotion. it is a tale as old as man himself and shall remain with him till
his very end. And let's face it, which one of us can deny having felt these unspeakable
desires in our own hearts? In the words of Jesus, 'let he who has no sin cast the first
stone at the sinner."
What is truly new and interesting in Farrokhzad's poetry is actually much more than her ability to candidly portray her unspeakable desires. Perhaps what commands both attention and admiration among so many readers has something to do with the emergence of a significant poetic female character whose complexities defy easy categorization. What sets her apart from her predecessors and even from her contemporary women writers is her rendering of quotidian experience with no intention to guide, to educate, to lead. Hers was the subversive, the innovative text, not only in its language, technique, or point of view but also In its subject manner. The candor of these poems might allure readers unaccustomed to such frank self-revelation. The continuously rewoven webs of passion and love depicted in them might provide a cathartic release for what voluptuousness offers and puritanical morality withholds from many of her readers. Her simultaneous portrayal of the thrill of being free and fetterless and the anxiety and uncertainties attached to it might eloquently speak of a confusion that in many of her readers remains unarticulated. Indeed, far from being a personal history, this poetry is an accurate portrayal of the pain and pleasure of a whole generation undergoing radical change.
Liberated from conventional sex-stereotyped modes of thoughts and emotions, committed to the expansion of their possibilities and potentials, man and woman celebrate reciprocity in this poetry. Aware of the many limitations imposed upon them in the name of masculinity or femininity, they seek, and to a certain extent achieve, liberation.
Farrokhzad learns and reveals more about herself through her attempt to mirror the therer. Her act of unveiling man is far more of a violation of feminine norms than the hackneyed image of gratified desire. Her curiosity about the real that lies behind the veil, whether it expresses itself in sexual imagery or not (and isn't it instead a reflection of those very checks and curbs placed upon her by society that censor and restrict and judge her in whispers and smiles and acknowledged notoriety, isn't it because of these impediments that she is compelled to express her act of unveiling the Other in sexual terms?), this thirst for and courageous desire for the naked truth leads her, finally, to a place of infinite loneliness and honesty: the homeland of all good poets. No wonder she needs to create, through poetry, her own utopic space.
The poem entitled Fath-e Bagh [Garden Conquered] is perhaps Farrokhzad's most elegant and engaging reappraisal of some of the deeply held norms of her society. It attempts radical reformulation of ideas, relationships, and norms. It is the mythopoeic. enterprise of a woman who does not find an appealing paradise in the accessible mythology of her own culture. It creatively rewrites and subverts the Fall story, while using the familiar context recorded in the biblical/Qor'anic text.
that flew over us
and dove into the troubled thoughts of a vagrant cloud
whose cry, like a short spear, streaked across the horizon
will carry our news to town.
that you and I gazed at the garden
and picked the apple
from that coy and distant branch.
yet you and I joined the water, the mirror, and the lamp
and did not fear.
It is not a matter of a weak bond between two names
on the old pages of a registry
it is a matter of my charmed hair
and the burning peonies of your kisses
and the mutinous intimacy of our bodies
and our nakedness glittering
like fish scales in water
it is a matter of the little fountain's silver song
sung at dawn.
In the green, flowing forest
in the anxious, cold-blooded sea
in the strange, haughty mountain
we asked, one night
of the wild hares, the pearl-filled shells, the eagles
"What is to be done?"
we found our way into the cold and silent repose
we found truth in the little garden
in the bashful look of a nameless flower
and eternity in the never-ending moment
when two suns gaze at each other.
It is not a matter of fearful whispers in the dark
it is a matter of daylight, open windows, and fresh air
and an oven where useless things are burnt
and an earth pregnant with new crop
it is a matter of birth, and completion, and pride
it is a matter of our amorous hands
connecting the nights
with perfume's messages of breeze and light.
Come to the meadow
come to the large meadow
and call me from behind the breath of Acacia blossoms
like a deer calling his mate.
The curtains are overflowing with a hidden spite
and innocent white doves
from the heights of their white towers
gaze at the earth below.36
In "Garden Conquered," Farrokhzad clearly subverts the nature of the man/woman relationship projected by the myth in its religious or secular version. Here, in this garden, woman neither speaks for the devil nor assists Satan. Undeceiving and undeceived, she is neither gullible nor weak in nature. If Eve seems to be a captive of the identity imposed upon her, if in her sins as in her virtues she proves to be unchanging and unchangeable, the woman in this poem is on a journey of her own. Her body, stretched to new experiences, refuses to return to its original dimension. Her mind, exposed to new horizons, refuses confinement. She is fluid like water, protean, changing and challenging ceaselessly, moving, growing, and learning.
Her companion, the man, is also far from being a conventional character. Not rightened of intimacy, he does not try to protect or preserve a false innocence. He does not find it necessary to blame the woman for deceiving him. He voluntarily picks from the forbidden tree and enters a Garden where he can choose and be chosen, desire and be desired, gratify and be gratified. He does not need to invade, to penetrate, or to attack. He knows how to love and be loved.
In this Garden, there is no Satan to lead either the man or the woman to their Fall. without a scapegoat to mediate between innocence lost and sin accomplished, both voluntarily pick the apple and assume responsibility for their needs and deeds. This freedom explains why the pronouns "you" and "I" rather than "we" are carefully used every time a decision is to be made or a step taken. In this utopia, the man and the woman console, delight, and strengthen one another. Love is neither bought nor sold in the name of power, possession, or protection. Sex is not exchanged for loyalty or security. Pleasure is reciprocated in kind, and sexuality is not tossed on the bargaining table. This Garden is a place of trust where both partners can lower their defenses, revel in the nonutilitarian quality of their partnership, receive the full force of love, and welcome intimacy and dialogue. With their love-locked hands, they can even "bridge the nights." In this Garden, nakedness "glows." Walls are demolished, artificial boundaries destroyed, curtains pulled, veils cast aside. Transparency rather than secrecy is sought and valued. Here, feelings, like bodies, don't need a cover. But this Paradise is surrounded by hell. It is a Garden enclosed in a hostile land, its paradisiacal aspect tempered by anger and anxiety. Even if it is a landscape of bliss, the site is not blessed. This Garden offers no privacy or repose. Ears and eyes grow on its
trees, and birds tattletale with cries that cut the horizon like daggers. Gossip invades this utopic space. Uncalled-for visitors barge in. Intruders - real or imagined - haunt it. Crows, those ill-omened gossip mongers, visit it. This oasis of harmony between two lovers and nature offers no place of real comfort. Feelings of dislocation and vulnerability lurk behind the festive mood of this poem. From the very first line, and at the ecstatic moment when the two lovers enter their paradise, the poet describes the crow flying over their heads, the crow that eventually will spread the news of their unconventional relationship. Anxiety breaks through from the outset. Guilt and suspicion set in. The couple, it seems, remain isolated, expelled as it were. This Paradise eventually turns into an exile - a willful self-exile at best. No wonder its inhabitants have to ask the hares, the shells, and the eagles, "What is to be done?" Some of the submerged or implied feelings of "Garden Conquered" achieve explicit expression in other poems and especially in poems published posthumously. The bliss enjoyed in the Garden proves to be short-lived. Nakedness, however much valued, seems to cause agony, misunderstanding, and isolation. Passionate love proves to be a transient illusion. Images of Thanatos stalking Eros, of death of love and lust, of the sucking mouth of the grave, and, above all, of loneliness emerge.
carried the whole innocence of a heart
to the castle of fairy tales
how could one ever dance again?
and toss her childhood tresses
upon flowing waters?
How could one crush
the plucked and smelled apple?
O Darling, O my dearest Darling
what black clouds await
the sun's festive day.
Yet, crush the apple and leave her fairy-tale castle she must. Living on the fringes of her society, alone and lonely, a rebel conscious and perhaps tired of her rebellion, Farrokhzad foresees the coming of black clouds. An exile in her native land, she is "a lonely woman" suspended in the pace of transition from one cultural pattern to another. Uprooted, she is certain only of her uncertainty. Deracinated, she personifies the pleasures of hybridization, of mingling the old and the new, but also of their pains and problems.
here I am
a lonely woman
at the threshold of a cold season
coming to understand the earth's contamination
and the elemental, sad despair of the sky
and the impotence of these concrete hand