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Kiss marks on our shoulder
The poetry of Forough Farrkhozad

By Mammad Aidani
January 14, 2003
The Iranian

My lover
with his unashamed naked body...
... seems to have passed
through forgotten generations.

-- Forough Farrokhzad (1933-1967)

In her very short life Forough Farrokhzad left us a great treasure of poetic works that changed us forever. By expressing her deep desires without hesitation or fear, she became a great example of a liberated woman. We can say without a doubt that her poems surpassed any we could imagine in Middle Eastern societies.

Forough was the product of a repressive society, which had closed all doors to voices of moderation, inclusion, and freedom. She was the child of war, foreign occupation and the Phalavi's blind subjugation to the worst values of Western culture.

Out of fear from the people, the regime created a garrison in which for decades bright minds were isolated, imprisoned or simply murdered, while millions lived in abject poverty. As a result, Iran became fertile ground for extremist ideologies from Marxists to Islamic fundamentalists, two forces that did not have a clear understating of democracy, collective inclusion and respect for differences in a complex society such as Iran.

Modernity and Westernization were imposed on an ancient culture and people, at the expense of freedom. Massive industrialization during the oil boom of the 70's backfired in a stagnant, patriarchal environment. Young people were drawn to Western ways, but without enjoying the right to examine their condition. The Pahlavi version of modernity did not improve life for the poor or for marginalized groups such as intellectuals, artists, or the educated middle class.

Many artists and thinkers involved themselves with the extreme left or fundamentalist views of liberation. They propagated their views from either from underground cells, prisons, or exile Some took refuge in their opium houses where they could hide and say nothing. There were some voices who spoke of inclusion of all -- and writing was the medium for their message.

It is a common Iranian tradition that when authentic poets speak, ordinary people believe angles are heralding freedom -- or at least they are voices that soothe collective hearts in hard times. In our modern poetry, the instigator of this poetic hope was Nima Yushij (1895-1960).

Nima's voice was unique for he changed Persian poetry from the romantic and nostalgic voices of centuries-old traditional poets. When he established the modernist movement, Yushij knew there was a great need for a distinctive way of releasing the voice of the poet. There was the urge to challenge the fantastic and convoluted language of traditional poetry and bring poets into today's world.

The occupation of Iran during World War II and the beginning of the Cold War created an absolutist regime which blindly ruled through fear and paranoia. It subjected itself unconditionally to the West's interests by systematically ignoring the Iranian people's rights and branded progressive voices as ungrateful traitors or communist mercenaries.

Children of privileged, educated families wore a mask of modernity; one that did not allow any challenge to government policies. And this was a recipe for the disaster which later took place.

Middle class youth began to question the social structures they were living in. They needed more democracy and freedom of expression in that closed society. They were told they were free to follow the golden age of prosperity, but in homes and a society dominated by strict, feudal, patriarchal attitudes.

Some of these individuals realized that this modernity was just a tragic joke. They wanted to find space to truly live as they wished. They did not want to have anything to do with the hypocrisy of traditionalists who hid under the cloak of religion, or absolutists who advocated various modern isms that were alien to the Iranian people. They wanted a new space where they could communicate with all people through art, without fear. They dreamt of a pluralistic and open society for all.

In that climate, Forough Farrokhzad's voice stood out. She captured repression with words, without resorting to slogans. Her politics was her body, her experience was being a woman, and her message was to challenge a traditional society which was in a macabre dance with false modernity. Her struggle was to expose all forms of hypocrisy.

Before the tragic accident that took her young life, Forough changed herself and the world around her. Under a desperate environment, her voice, along with a few others, brought hope. But what would have happened if she had lived to see the 1979's revolution? That is the question we must ask ourselves.

Forough's poignant yet simple poems are forceful examples of a woman who knows what she has to do to express her personal desires as well as society's need for freedom. The expressions in her poetry are the uncompromising cry of a woman who seeks an identity in a repressive world.

Her struggle was initially against a society which forced her to inherit centuries of neglect and denial of woman's rights and individuality -- a society that frowned on her freedom to have an intimate relationship with the man she chose to be with, rather than one chosen for her.

I want you, and I know
I can never take you in my arms:
you are like that clear, bright sky,
and I am a captive bird in this cage

Her poetic journey began when she was 19. In the course of three years, she published three of her major works: The Captive (Asir, 1955), The Wall (Divaar, 1957) and Rebellion (Osyaan, 1958). The Captive was published when she was only 20, and very unhappy. She knew she had to find her freedom.

I must say something
I must say something
In the shivering moment at daybreak
When space blends with something strange
Like the portents of puberty
I want to surrender to a revolt
I want to pour down from that vast cloud
I want to say, No, no no.

She dared to leave an unhappy marriage when she was only 21 -- after tree years of life with a man she no longer loved. In The Captive, she boldly expressed her needs as a young woman and poured her heart out about the lover she wished to be with. This kind of poetry by women was unheard of. It was always men who had the freedom to express feelings of longing for the lover. But Forough uninhibited and fearless, made a conscious decision to let her feelings loose.

The publication of The Captive was a real shock to the tyrannical family structure in Iran's authoritarian and patriarchal society. She raised painful and open questions regarding her sensuality and need for love. And in today's far more closed society, Forough's works have become the only voice for young women.

I don't know where I want to go
I don't know what I'm searching for
night and day...

They have said a woman is mad
if she gives kisses freely from her lips:
Yes, but kisses from her lips
bestow life on my dead lips.

May thoughts about reputation
never come to my head.
This is me, seeking you for satisfaction.

I crave solitude and your embrace,
I carve solitude and the lips of the cup.

She persisted on making herself clear by often using "I" and communicating honestly to her readers. At this stage, she was a captive in her domestic life. She searched to find freedom for her body and soul. "I know," she bemoaned, "that I will never be able to help myself be free from this prison kept by men."

She is 19 when she confronted herself with these issues. She knew she needed time to answer them by taking action -- and she did.

In the silence of the temple of desire
I am lying beside your passionate body
My kisses have left their marks on your shoulders
Like fiery bites of a snake.
(The song of beauty)

My cold lips of the morning breeze
Write a melody for you;
I'm that shinning star
Which journeys the sky for you.

You are in me and you are separate from me
You are with me and your gaze is elsewhere.

There is something we have to take note about the historical context surrounding Forough. The Pahlavi regime's power was at its peek. The decadence of false modernity and fear of any opposing views are intense. In this situation people looked for a new language to feel their sense of dignity, which was crushed by the dictatorial policies of the regime.

I ponder, but I know
I will never escape this cage
For even if the jailer let me go
I have no strength to fly.

Alongside great modern poets such as Yushij, Shamloo, Sepehri and others, Forough seemed to be the only one who spoke directly and rebelled against traditions. She tackled subjects which were -- and are -- impossible to talk about. Her courageous language directly expressed the desires of Iranian women for physical needs as well as civil and human rights.

She eventually came to say, Yes now I know I'm an individual and my poetry is for all humankind. She felt she matured as a woman and a poet with Born Again.

The cloak flew away
The curtain blew with the wind
I had squeezed him
In the halo of fire
I wanted to speak
But, oh! His dense shady eyelashes
Like the fringes of a silk curtain
Flowed from the depth of darkness
Along the quiver, that deadly quiver,
Down the lost end of mine

I felt I was being freed,
I felt I was being freed,

I felt my skin burst in the expansion of love
I felt my fiery mass slowly melt,
And then it trickled
Down into the moon, the sunken, agitated dark moon

Forough freed Persian poetry from male domination, and her body form historical imprisonment. Mohammad Hoghooghi described her life and work such:

Forough Farrokhzad has one face with two profiles. The first is the mirror of the poet who wrote The Captive, The Wall and Rebellion. The second profile is the face of the poet who wrote the Born Again and let us believe in the beginning of The Cold Season, published posthumously 1975.

Both represent the originality and authentically of her two stages as a poet. The first mirror represents a woman captive within the walls of home, struggling with tradition as well as her emotions as a woman and her desire for a lover. And the second mirror is representative of an infinite world where the woman is lonely in the universe but free to express her new birth.

Now more than ever It must be stressed that Forough's compelling poetic and personal voice needs greater attention in order to better understand the modernity, gender relations, Western ignorance about the complexities of the Iranian people and the path for greater democracy in Iran and other Middle Eastern countries.

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Forough Farrokhzad
Compiled by Mani Farhoomand

The last part
Documentary on Forough Farrokhzad
By Dorna Khazeni

- Aaftaab meeshavad
- Tavalodi digar
- Esyaan-e Khodaa
- Aasheqaaneh
- She'ri bara-ye to

Man hastam
Interview with Forough

in iranian.com

By Mammad Aidani

A little flashback
Short story

Book of the day

Veils and Words
The Emerging Voices of Iranian Women Writers
By Farzaneh Milani

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