Favorite persian art forms – The Written word

Iran is a closed society, but our poets still write some of the most beautiful lines about love and passion, and even scandal. Rumi, whose followers founded the Malawi (Sufi) order, believed that you could reach God through art, music, love, and beauty. He said, “The lovers’ cause is separate from all other causes.” When people think about the Persian attitude toward love, this is what I wish they would remember, instead of what goes on today- that this man managed to write about such a topic in the 13th century.

Forough Farrokhzad is a very famous Persian woman who wrote in the 60’s and died at 32 in a car crash. Because she was a divorcee writing about sex, she was openly scorned. Her poetry became extremely controversial because it was personal and detailed, and this was a time in Iranian history when people, especially women, just didn’t talk about that kind of thing. Many considered her work a scandal and it was banned after the revolution. Her most famous poem, “The Sin”, is a good example of why they got so worked up. It starts with the line, “I sinned, a sin all filled with pleasure… I sinned in a pair of arms that were vibrant, virile, violent.” This, in 1960’s Iran was a big deal. I’ve posted the poem that touched me the most, and one that I find eerie considering her early death… it’s as if she saw it coming.

Later On

My death will come someday to me
One day in spring, bright and lovely
One winter day, dusty, distant
One empty autumn day, devoid of joy.

My death will come someday to me
One bittersweet day, like all my days
One hollow day like the one past
Shadow of today or of tomorrow.

My eyes tune to half dark hallways
My cheeks resemble cold, pale marble
Suddenly sleep creeps over me
I become empty of all painful cries.

Slowly my hands slide o’er my notes
Delivered from poetry’s spell,
I recall that once in my hands
I held the flaming blood of poetry.

The earth invites me into its arms,
Folks gather to entomb me there
Perhaps at midnight my lovers
Place above me wreaths of many roses.

— Forough Farrokhzad

Saladin’s Begging Bowl

Of these two thousand “I” and “We” people,
which am I?

Don’t try to keep me from asking!
Listen, when I’m this out of control!
But don’t put anything breakable in my way!

There is an original inside me.
What’s here is a mirror for that, for you.

If you are joyful, I am.
If you grieve, or if you’re bitter, or graceful,
I take on those qualities.

Like the shadow of a cypress tree in the meadow,
like the shadow of a rose, I live
close to the rose.

If I separated myself from you,
I would turn entirely to thorn.

Every second, I drink another cup of my own blood-wine.
Every instant, I break an empty cup against your door.

I reach out, wanting you to tear me open.

Saladin’s generosity lights a candle in my chest.
Who am I then?

His empty begging bowl.

— Rumi

This one is Mine

Someone put
You on a slave block
And the unreal bought

Now I keep coming to your owner
‘This one is mine.’
You often overhear us talking
And this can make your heart leap
With excitement.

Don’t worry,
I will not let sadness
Possess you.

I will gladly borrow all the gold
I need

To get you


A modern anthology of Iranian writing, Strange Times my Dear. The poem excerpt below is by Ahmad Shamlu.

Strange times, My Dear

They smell your breath
Lest you have said: I love you,
They smell your heart:

These are strange times, my dear.

In this crooked blind alley, as the chill descends,

They feed fires

With logs of song and poetry.
Hazard not a thought:

These are strange times, my dear.

—Ahmad Shamlu