Kiss marks on our shoulder
The poetry of Forough Farrkhozad
By Mammad Aidani
January 14, 2003
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
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
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
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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