Iconic female poet of Modern Iran: Forough Farrokhzad

Forough Farrokhzad, Iran’s most significant and controversial female poet of the 20th century, was born on 5 January 1935 in Tehran into a middle class family of seven children.

Forough Farrokhzad was an iconic figure in her own way and came to represent the spirit of revolt against patriarchal and cultural norms in 1960s Iran. Five decades after her tragic death at the age of 32, modernist poet Forough Farrokhzad’s ground-breaking work is brought into new focus.

In 1951, at the age of 16, Forough married her cousin Parviz Shaper despite the objections of their families – mainly because of Shapour’s age. A year later, Forough’s first and only son Kamyar was born. Forough divorced Parviz Shapour in 1954. She relinquished her son to her ex-husband’s family in order to pursue her calling in poetry and an ‘independent life style’.

Forough’s first collection, titled Asir (The Captive), contains 45 poems and was published in 1955. In September that year, she suffered a nervous breakdown and was taken to a psychiatric clinic.

The Captive 

I want you, yet I know that never
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.

Three years later, Forough’s third collection Esian (Rebellion) appeared and securely established her as a promising yet notorious poet. Forough’s relationship with the controversial writer and cinematographer Ebrahim Golestan began and remained important in the poet’s personal life until her death.

She made a documentary film about a leper’s colony, titled “The House Is Black” in 1962. The movie gained success internationally and won several prizes. Bernardo Bertolucci came to Iran to interview her and decided to produce a fifteen minutes movie about the poet’s life.

In 1964, Forough’s fourth poetry collection Tavallodi Digar (Another Birth) contained 35 poems, which the poet had composed over a period of nearly six years, was published.

In 1965, Forough wrote her fifth collection of verse called “Let Us Believe In The Beginning Of The Cold Season” which was published after her death.

Let Us Believe in the Beginning of the Cold Season

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,
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…

On 14 February 1967, Forough had a car accident and lost her life. She was buried beneath the falling snow in the Zahiro-Doleh cemetery in Tehran. During the 1950s and 60s, her poems were considered unconventional and scandalous, and they might very well have been considered so by Western readers of that era.

Today, she is an icon and one of the most beloved and respected poets of twentieth-century Iran.