The 'idol-breaker' of Iran: poet Forough Farrokhzad
"when my life was nothing-
but the regular chant of a Grandfather clock,
I realized that I had to love,
I had to love madly."
A young woman of 17 years of age walked up to the door of a publishing house with ink-stained fingers and handed a couple of papers to the editor. She would be the first woman in the history of Persian literature to publish poems that spoke openly of women, sexuality, longings, and equality. In 1955 Tehran, at a time when women were expected to be seen in public only with their patriarch figures, the poem she had just handed over to the editor would read—"I sinned a sin full of pleasure/In an embrace which was warm and fiery…".
The poem, titled "The Sin", would be her first ever literary work that was printed and also one that would lead her to ending her marriage, and losing custody of her two-year-old child. It caused controversy, and people were stirred up on the emerging icon of modern Persian literature. This would be the poem to bring her renown, because for the first time, it was not a man giving an account of his intimate relations with a woman, but a married woman declaring loud and clear that she has transgressed and she is not repenting for it.
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 dishevelled 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.
Born in a middle-class family in 1937, Forough Farrokhzad had no literary background or influences. What she wrote was pure self-expression in its originality and she believed "one must be a poet at all times, not just during poetry." One particular theme that dominates most of her poems is that of loneliness and gloom. It is often thought that this may be because of her separation from her child.
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 ruin
with the burning of her heart.
If I want to choose silent darkness,
I will bring a nest to ruin.
-Excerpt from "The Captive."
It is important to understand that at that time in Iran, motherhood was believed to be earned. It was not enough to have carried the child and given birth to be acknowledged as a proud mother, but to achieve motherhood, the individual had to stay put and sacrifice everything else to nurture and raise the child, unlike fatherhood, in which only the biological act of making a child was believed to be sufficient. Forough reflects her deepest sadness into her poems as she lost the right to motherhood because of her desire to create poetry. "Only you, O Iranian woman, have remained/In bonds of wretchedness, misfortune, and cruelty; If you want these bonds broken, grasp the skirt of obstinacy"
Although Forough scrambled to the top of her literary accomplishment, she suffered immensely from societal pressures, for living as an unattached woman and writing willingly what many had considered as a taboo for that time. This led to a couple of failed suicide attempts and eventually getting treated with Electroconvulsive therapy at the local psychiatric hospital.
Everybody knows that you and I,
reached for the trembling branch of The Tree-
and picked the apple.
Everybody is scared.
Everybody is scared but you and I,
together joined lights,
mirrors and water-
and feared never.
-Excerpt from "Conquest of the Garden."
Amidst all this, Forough entered the world of cinema and would direct her one and only short film on the leper colony in Iran. The House is Black would win the Best Documentary Award at the Oberhausen Film Festival, Germany in 1963. Her poetry collections, Asir (The Captive), Divar (Walls), Esian (Rebellion) and Tavalodi Digar (Rebirth) would gain huge admiration among Iranians.
Many critics have compared Forough to the American poet Sylvia Plath. Both possess the feminist themes of wanting to highlight who they are as something different in a male dominated society. Later, both poets suffered mental illnesses and attempted suicide. This phenomenon, known as the Sylvia Plath Effect, was a term coined by psychologist Kauffman in 2001 for the tendency of female poets to suffer from mental breakdowns and slip into suicidal thoughts.
Forough Farrokhzad died at the age of 32, at the height of her artistic career, in a car accident in Iran. Her works as one of Iran's greatest poets have since been translated into various languages including English, French, Turkish, Chinese, Spanish, German, Hebrew, and Japanese.