Coming Down from the Ivory Tower

A Painting by Sohrāb Sepehrī

A Painting by Sohrāb Sepehrī

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not the biggest fan of abstract art. There’s a reason I study classical and not modern literature. There’s meter. There’s rhyme. There’s convention. With the ancients, we are on firm ground. We (generally) know what they’re talking about.

But there’s something enchanting about the admittedly more abstract work of this month’s modern Iranian poet, Sohrāb Sepehrī (1928-1980), which verges on Surrealism at times. His writing is minimalist in terms of diction, but jarring in his choice of images to juxtapose. Writing in 1960s Iran, Sepehrī was simultaneously lauded as the best poet of the year (1967) and torn apart by contemporaries who thought him too disengaged from the existing political and social situation. Mocked for his wide knowledge of Eastern religions and perceived retreat to the Ivory Tower, he was denounced as “an aristocratic Buddha-boy” (bačča Budā-ye ašrāfi) sitting high in his holly “ivory tower of sanctity and peace” (borj-e ʿāj-e taqaddos o ṣafā) [Reżā Barāhani, “Yek bačča budā-ye ašrāfi,” Ṭalā dar mess]. Such a critique is not surprising given the era’s preoccupation with “ta’ahhod,” or “social commitment” on the part of artists. Sepehrī was more interested in universal themes and reflection on the inner self, which means his poems still resonate today.

Sepehrī was a contemporary of another pre-revolutionary poet I’ve discussed on this blog, Forūgh Farrokhzād, as well as one of her close friends. It was in Forough’s anthology of her favorite works of modern Persian poetry that I came across his poem, “Rūzī,” or “One Day,” alternatively entitled “va payāmī dar rāh,”  “And a Message on the Way” from his 1967 collection Hajm-e Sabz (The Green Expanse). I felt this poem was appropriate for the coming of the New Year because of Sepehrī’s calm insistence on his vision of the future. Would that we were all so confident that our vision would come to pass.

One Day

by Sohrāb Sepehrī

One day

I will come, and I will spread a message

I will pour light into veins

I will cry out, “O you whose baskets are full of dreams!

I have brought apples,

The sun’s crimson apple.”

I will come

I will give jasmine flowers to beggars

I will give the beautiful leprous woman another earring.

To the blind I will say, “What a beautiful view there is from the garden!”

I will peddle goods

I will wander through alleyways

I will yell to the neighbors, “Dew for sale! Dew! Dew for sale!”

A passerby will say, “My goodness, it’s a dark night.”

I will give him the Milky Way

A legless little girl will be on the bridge

I will hang the Big Dipper around her neck

I will wipe every curse from their lips

I will rip out every wall

I will tell the bandits, “There’s a caravan on the way, carrying laughter.”

I will shred the clouds

I will fasten eyes to the sun, hearts to love, shadows to the water, branches to the wind

I will meld a child’s dream with crickets’ humming

I will fly kites in the air

I will fill flowerpots with water

I will come to the horses’ stable, and the cows

I will give them hay

I will bring a thirsty mare a bucket of dew

I will shoo flies off a decrepit donkey on the road

I will plant a carnation beside every wall

I will recite a poem beneath every window

I will give each crow a pine tree

I will tell the snake, “How majestic the frog is!”

I will make peace

I will make acquaintances

I will walk

I will consume light

I will love

Translation by: Michelle Quay 


روزی خواهم آمد و پیامی خواهم آورد
در رگ ها نور خواهم ریخت
و صدا خواهم در داد ای سبدهاتان پر خواب! سیب آوردم سیب سرخ خورشید
خواهم آمد گل یاسی به گدا خواهم داد
زن زیبای جذامی را گوشواری دیگر خواهم بخشید
کور را خواهم گفتم : چه تماشا دارد باغ
دوره گردی خواهم شد کوچه ها را خواهم گشت جار خواهم زد : ای شبنم شبنم شبنم
رهگذاری خواهد گفت : راستی را شب تاریکی است کهکشانی خواهم دادش
روی پل دخترکی بی پاست دب اکبر را بر گردن او خواهم آویخت
هر چه دشنام از لب خواهم برچید
هر چه دیوار از جا خواهم برکند
رهزنان را خواهم گفت : کاروانی آمد بارش لبخند
ابر را پاره خواهم کرد
من گره خواهم زد چشمان را با خورشید ‚ دل ها را با عشق سایه ها را با آب شاخه ها را با باد
و به هم خواهم پیوست خواب کودک را با زمزمه زنجره ها
بادبادک ها به هوا خواهم برد
گلدان ها آب خواهم داد
خواهم آمد پیش اسبان ‚ گاوان ‚ علف سبز نوازش خواهم ریخت
مادیانی تشنه سطل شبنم را خواهم آورد
خر فرتوتی در راه من مگس هایش را خواهم زد
خواهم آمد سر هر دیواری میخکی خواهم کاشت
پای هر پنجره ای شعری خواهم خواند
هر کلاغی را کاجی خواهم داد
مار را خواهم گفت : چه شکوهی دارد غوک
آشتی خواهم داد
آشنا خواهم کرد
راه خواهم رفت
نور خواهم خورد
دوست خواهم داشت


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