A Persian Plath?

Image              Like Cher or Madonna, Forough goes by one name in Iran. But she’s not your average pop star—she’s a poet. In Iran of the 20th century, poets often enjoyed a status something similar to that of pop stars. Pop star or not, more than one author has noted the uncanny resemblance that some of her themes bear to the work of Slvia Plath. Similar to Plath, Forough’s career was defined by three things: its brevity, its originality, and its unlikely success. Few can claim an artistic impact as resounding as hers in the Persian-speaking world, let alone in just 32 years. An iconoclast by nature, Forough Farrokhzad (1935-1967) wrote from a place of unprecedented authenticity in a distinctly female voice. She was unwilling to conform to norms of any kind for her time, be they social or artistic. Her divorce and torrid affair with a married man, director Ebrahim Golestan, as well as her departure from the traditional Persian poetic forms, show her disdain for the typical. Despite denouncements from conservative elements in Iranian society, Forough’s works become extremely popular and were widely memorized. After her tragic death in a car accident, her funeral was attended by thousands of devoted readers, seen here on YouTube while Forough recites some of her work. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEMed5-8QL0 The subject of numerous articles and books, Forough has also earned a strong following in the academy. For more information on her life, check out Dr. Farzaneh Milani’s thorough and informative article in Encyclpaedia Iranica: http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/farrokzad-forug-zaman

In the following poem, “Wind-up Doll,” Forough bitterly criticizes society’s traditional view of feminine roles, but more than that, she holds up an indictment of women who allow themselves to be put in such roles. She couches her poem in the impersonal voice and emphasizes the choice involved in every decision a woman makes in order to send a message to her fellow woman: wake up. The impersonal structure is repeated in each semantic unit, which I have chose to translate as “you could.” The true meaning of the phrase is “one could,” so there is no direct address happening in the original poem. However because this structure is so rarely used in English, I opted for the general English “you” to avoid making it much more stilted than the Persian. The final line rests on a double entendre, impossible to recreate in English. The first meaning is the more obvious one and the one rendered here – that is, a reference to groping or unwanted touching, to which the woman responds with feigned (?) pleasure, the response society dictates but that Forough rejects. The second meaning could refer to any time a woman meets someone, “lustful squeeze of the hand” being the handshake of course, and “How lucky I am!” being the equivalent of “Nice to meet you” in Persian. Her poem is devoid of punctuation, which I have retained here to the extent possible.

Wind-Up Doll

Forough Farrokhzad


More silent than these, ah, yes

You could remain more silent than these


You could stare

For long hours

At the smoke of a cigarette

With a gaze like the gaze of the dead, fixed

You could stare

At the curve of a glass

A colorless flower on a carpet

An imaginary line on the wall

You could draw the curtain aside

With dried-up claws and see

A hard rain falling in the alley

A child standing beneath an arch

With his colorful kite

An old cart abandoning an empty square

In a chaotic rush


You could stay somewhere

Beside the curtain

Though blind

Though deaf


You could cry out

With a false voice, with an estranged voice

“I love”

You could be

A beautiful and healthy female specimen

In a man’s dominating arms


With a body like a leather floor mat

With two huge, firm breasts

You could pollute a love’s innocence

In the bed of a drunkard

A madman

A drifter

You could cleverly humiliate

Every surprising riddle

You could busy yourself only with the crossword puzzle

You could be content to discover only a useless response

A useless response

Yes, five or six letters


You could kneel for a lifetime

Head hung low, at the foot of a cold shrine

You could see God in a nameless grave

You could find faith

With one of worthless machismo


You could rot in mosque chambers

Like an old reader of pilgrimage permits

You could always have the same result

Like zero in addition, subtraction, multiplication

You could suppose your eye, in its cocoon of wrath

Were an old shoe’s colorless button

You could dry up

Like water in its ditch


You could hide one moment’s beauty

Shamefully, in the bottom of a chest,

Like a funny instant photo

You could hang portraits one day

Of someone condemned, conquered, or crucified

In an empty, leftover frame

You could cover the cracks on the wall with pictures

You could mix in more absurd drawings


You could be just like the wind-up dolls

Seeing your own world with two glass eyes

You could sleep

For years and years

Wrapped in mesh and sequins

With a body stuffed with straw

In a broadcloth box

You could cry out for no reason

With every lustful squeeze of the hand

“Oh, how lucky I am!”


Translation by: Michelle Quay 



3 thoughts on “A Persian Plath?

  1. Pingback: Just Another Brick « Persian is Sugar

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