This lesson is an introduction to one of Iran's most lauded modern poets, Forough Farrokhzad. An extremely influential voice in a time of great change in Iran, she wrote about the nature of being an artist and an independent woman in a society that often did not make these pursuits easy. Here we learn more details about this extraordinary woman's life, and analyze one of my favorite poems of hers, Conquest of the Garden (fathé bāgh) with dear friend and musician Fared Shafinury.
how are you?
Note: In Persian, as in many other languages, there is a formal and an informal way of speaking. We will be covering this in more detail in later lessons. For now, however, chetor-ee is the informal way of asking someone how they are, so it should only be used with people that you are familiar with. hālé shomā chetor-é is the formal expression for ‘how are you.’
Spelling note: In written Persian, words are not capitalized. For this reason, we do not capitalize Persian words written in phonetic English in the guides.
Pronunciation tip: kh is one of two unique sounds in the Persian language that is not used in the English language. It should be repeated daily until mastered, as it is essential to successfully speak Persian. Listen to the podcast for more information on how to make the sound.
|chetor-ee||how are you?|
|khayli khoobam||I’m very well|
|khoob neestam||I’m not well|
|bad neestam||I’m not bad|
|chetor-een?||how are you? (formal)|
|hālé shomā chetor-é?||how are you? (formal)|
|hālet chetor-é?||how are you? (informal)|
|khoob-ee?||are you well? (informal)|
|chetor peesh meeré?||how’s it going?|
|ché khabar?||what’s the news? (what’s up?)|
Leyla: Hello and welcome to lesson 69 of Learn Persian with Chai and Conversation. So we’re here today with our dear friend and musician and resident poet Fared Shafinury. Salam Fared
Fared: Good afternoon
Leyla: So today we’ll be covering Fourough Farokhzad’s poem Fathe Bagh. And I’m very excited bcasue this is one of the first poems, we studied this with our professor Hillman, he’s actually an expert in Forough Farokhzad, he knew her, he wrote a book about her called a Lonely Woman, if you’re interested it has a lot of information about her and her poems. I remember this poem was so exciting to me when we first read it and I’ve reread it throughout the years and I’m really excited to talk about it today with Fared. And before we started, we wanted to talk about the inspiration of doing the poem right now and that was that we just got back from the Marfa film festival, which I’ll let Fared take over because he’s an expert Marfa film festival goer.
Fared: This is true, this must have been the third of fourth one I’ve attended. It was dedicated to women, and in particular we had a highlighting and showcasing of Iranian women, that either had films enrolled, or art installations that they painstaikingly spent time putting together, like the Tehran Teepee project that was imagined and hosted by Chai and Conversation and myself, so Leyla tell us what is the Tehran Teepee.
Well first let’s go back to what is Marfa- it’s a small little town in West west Texas, it’s in the desert, and it’s a beautiful town, and we have been going there for the past twenty years actually, Fared and I. There’s this draw of the desert, there are a lot of artists that live out there.
Fared: It’s an intersection out in the middle of no where West Texas where the sky becomes so ever present and I feel many artists such as Donald Judd which was one of the pioneering voices and founders of contemporary art and
Fared: minimalism, but this festival occurs out there with our dear friend Robin Lombardia and she beautifully dedicated the tenth year of this wonderful festival to women empowerment, especially in the time and age we live in right now.
Leyla: So Fared has become involved in this festival and he asked Chai and Conversation to become a sponsor of the event, which we were very excited to do, so the very first night we sponsored a part out there in the desert. There’s a bar over there, an open bar, a very beautiful space, and there’s a teepee in the middle of there. And it was Fared’s suggestion that we do a Tehran teepee in there, and our idea was to have the sights, smells, and tastes of Tehran. And we played the movie Gav on the projector there.
Fared: Yes, the cow, which is one of the most important art films that came out of Iran.
Fared: And it was quite trippy to see an Iranian man weeping and crouching through the deserts in search of his cow. And these Marfans, and these intellectuals and artists from New York, they would fly in, and I would watch them stare up at the ceiling of the teepee as they sipped on their relative beverage, is this movie about a cow?
Leyla: And it is!
Fared: And then me and Chris
Leyla: My husband
Fared: We would go up to them and say it is about a cow
Leyla: And we had some Persian dancers from the dance company Ravaan go out there and they did a beautiful Persian dance, and we also had cocktails inspired by Persian flavors like sour cherry and orange blossom.
Fared: Pretty much it was a very Persianophile event. We cooked a meal that fed practically all the attendees, a Persian jeweled rice.
Leyla: And after all the preparation for this party and becoming a sponsor of the event, there is a bit of a punch line for the actual Tehran teepee itself.
Fared: Leyla fell asleep. Leyla not only fell asleep, but we saw her the next morning.
Leyla: That’s right, I slept through the entire party I helped throw, because I have a two year old at home and the thing that I want to do when I escape is just sleep.
Fared: And sleeping in the desert is a powerful.
Leyla: Oh another thing we did for this party is we printed the two poems we’ve learned so far, both the Persian version and the translation, and this was the first night of the festival so we had each person draw a poem and have that be their mantra for the festival and people loved it. They kept coming up to us the rest of the festival and telling us this poem was incredible.
Fared: I saw several weeping in the corner. They really were.
Leyla: I did not, because I was asleep.
Fared: I think Leyla what’s interesting about the poem that we’re about to analyze today by Forough Farokhzad is that again we find the need to have nature be the antithesis to all of society’s regulations and judgments on how a woman should be loved or how a woman should love another.
Leyla: Right, and that’s a good point, that’s a good transition, because Marfa, one of the reasons we love it is it’s going out into nature, going out to the desert from a place like Austin where it’s so busy.
Leyla: And we talked about Sohrab Sepehri, he really found solace in nature.
Fared: Right, and here we have this woman that’s very free and open with her sexuality and belief system and not to be compromised, which here she’s expressing her love for a man. But what’s a loose translation of this poem, fathe bagh, Conquest of the Garden.
Leyla: Exactly so we have the translation of this poem, Hillmans’ translation
Fared: And he was fairly literal in his translations.
Leyla: So what we’re going to with this poem, we’re going to read a large section of the poem, because we felt like there’s no other way to get to the heart and meat of it.
Fared: And the flow and musicality of it
Fared: Because as we’ve been asking all of our lovely listeners to come back and recite the poem. The flow of a modern poem that breaks from traditional form, there is an inherent flow even though it doesn’t have a tranditional rhythmic cycle as you would find in Rumi or Hafez. So if we jump right into it, how about we go section by section here.
Leyla: Sure, but the general gist of it which you asked me to say, is that Forough Farokhzad was a poet, the first feminist poet they say. And she was married off at a very early age to someone that she was actually love with, but she was in her teens and he was 30 at a time, so a big age discrepancy, so she was thrown into this role of being a mother early on a wife, but she was an artist, so she left that life. Tragically, in the process, she lost access to her son, she was not allowed to see him again, which was a big part of her, but she fell in love with the director Ebrahmi Golestaneh who already had a wife. And it was a big scandal- they had an open relationship, but he stayed married to his wife, and he and Forough never got married, which as you know in Iran at the time you could have more than one wife.
Fared: She was an unapologetic mistress.
Fared: And the key word here is unapologetic. Which I think as we go through Fatheh bagh, we see that she has no problem through symbolism, through nature, expressing her love and devotion to Ebrahim Golestaneh.
Leyla: So in this poem she’s saying we don’t need society, we don’t need approval of society, we can find all the answers in the garden, in nature.
Fared: As Sohrab Sephri also alluded to.
Leyla: Right, so if you could read Forough’s writing, and I’ll read Hillman’s translation of it, and then we can discuss.
Fared: Right, let’s discuss and see how much we are in congruence.
An kalaghy keh pareed
as farazeh sareh ma
va foroo raft dar andeesheyeh ashofteyeh abry velgard
va sedayash hamchon neezeh kootahy pahnayee ofogh ra paymood
khabareh ma ra ba khod khahad bord ba shahr
That crow which flew over our heads
and descended into the disturbed thought
of a vagabond cloud
and the sound of which traversed
he breadth of the horizon
like a short spear
will carry the news of us to the city.
Fared: Beautiful. She’s somehow saying here in my opinion, that as much as we may think others do not know, but everyone knows- we can’t really hide our love for one another in this society. Because even if we’re in the garden, this crow is flying above our heads and will tell everyone in the city. An kalaghee keh pareed. Kalagh, the word for crow.
Leyla: Right and there’s a lot of bird imagery in this poem too. Kalagh comes up and we’ll see other bird come up, each of which carries a lot of symbolism. But it is showing that they’ve already disconnected from society, they’ve already left, they’re in the garden.
Fared: They’re in the garden. Next section.
keh man o to az an rozaneyeh sardeh haboos
bagh ra deedeem
va az an shakheyeh bazeegar door az dast
see bra cheedeem
that you and I have seen the garden
from that cold sullen window
and that we have plucked the apple
from that playful, hard-to-reach branch.
Leyla: There we have our apple imagery again.
Fared: Right, Adam and Eve, taking a bite out of that apple together. And the third line here after hameh meedanand, everyone knows, and we see that repetition there that creates a flow and creates a rhythm. Hameh meedanand hameh meedanand keh man o to a zoon rozaneyeh sard o aboos. Here Hillman translated rozaneh as window, but here it could quite literally mean a small peeking hole. I’m sure everyone here is somewhat familiar with the Secret Garden, and I remember the first time the child found the secret garden was through a small peeping hole in the garden. Keh man o to az oon rozaneyeh sardeh aboos bagh ra deedeyeem. We saw that garden through the small tiny hole. Va a zoon shakheyeh bazeegar. And we saw through those playful puppeteering branches, as if those branches were playing through their hearts and pulling on their strings to come and outside and take a bite out of the apple.
Leyla: And what happens when you take a bite out of the apple is
Fared: you no longer are innocent
Leyla: And you also gain knowledge yourself. You have a direct line to knowledge- you’re no longer dependent on this figure to give you knowledge.
Fared: Right. Or there is some fundamental release of fear.
Fared: Society has always branded the scarlet letter would have been hanging around her neck if she’d allowed it in her mind. Hameh meetarsand. And it goes on here from another repetition. And now you have
ama man o to
ba cheragh o ab o ayeeneh payvasteem
Everyone is afraid
everyone is afraid, but you and I
joined with the lamp
and water and mirror and we were not afraid.
Fared: So, I love this section Leyla because even though Fourough is breaking from traditional form and poetry writing and so to speak that vazn, which is that weight, the rhythm that you find in traditional Persian poetry, you see how she’s subtly brought it in through repetition of some vowels. How has Hillman translated them
Leyla: Lamp and water and mirror
Fared: And what do those symbolize- I’m sure we’ve talked about them in Chai and Conversation
Leyla: Yeah, so those are the traditional symbols that you put on a wedding table, a wedding altar. Iranians have altars for everything, and they’re symbols of the altar of the wedding ceremony.
Fared: How pagan of us
Leyla: Right, so basically here, it sounds like she’s saying everyone is afraid, but we have tied ourselves to the tradition.
Fared: These symbols. So here our professor Hillman, lamp would be a literal translation, but my cheragh she’s talking about light. So to be able to reflect yourself in the purity of light and mirror, it’s to have no wrong, to be able to have nothing but light. But the rhythm there with the three vowels, cheragh, ab, ayeeneh, and the three of those together with the vowel of the alef, beh cheragh o ab o ayeeneh payvasteem.
Leyla: Beautiful. It reminds me a lot of rooz o shab rooz o shab, falling into a rhythm
Leyla: With the hameh meetarsand, hameh meetarsand, and you’re right, I hadn’t even noticed with the a, a, a, it’s like flowing on water
Fared: And this happens throughout the poem, where you see how things flow into one another. A word we have in English is alliteration. So to go on to the next section.
sokhan az payvandeh sosteh do nam
va hamaghdooshee dar oragheh kohneyeh yek daftar neest
sokhan az geesooyeh khoshvakhteh manast
ba shaghayeghhayeh sookhteyeh booseyeh to
I am not talking about the flimsy linking
of two names
and embracing in the old pages of a ledger.
I'm talking about my fortunate tresses
with the burnt anemone of your kiss
Fared: Wow, so imagine how groundbreaking it must be for a woman of that time to say, I’m not talking about going to get married in some office
Leyla: Which is, the embracing in the old pages of a ledger is basically the next step- so you make this altar, you put your lamp and your mirror and your water on there, and then an old man comes and sits down, and as soon as the ceremony is over he signs your name in a ledger- so she’s saying, I’m not talking about that ledger, I’m not talking about that old man, so she kind of tricked us. In the beginning, it sounded like she was saying
Fared: We got married
Leyla: Exactly, we tied ourselves to this tradition
Fared: But actually we got married with passion and lust and love and by biting that apple. I mean, here, she’s talking in the third line, here she says ‘sokhan az geesooyeh ghoshbakhteh man ast’- I’m actually talking about how happy my hair has been, since you’ve been kissing it with those burnt opium laced lips. The flower here, the poppy, shaghayegh is actually the flower that you make opium with, so she is now high and drunk and completely in heaven
Leyla: And you know, this also reminds me, this whole garden of eden thing, the cutting of the fruit, they’ve become their own gods, right? They don’t need a middle man in there to reach enlightenment, and they don’t need the traditions, all they need is love.
Fared: Oh the blasphemy. So to continue here, she goes even further- you’d think she’d stop there with her luscious locks of hair, but no, she continues. And here we have in the sixth line- I’ll continue by reading the first five lines so you can feel the flow
sokhan az payvandeh sosteh do nam
va hamaghdooshee dar oragheh kohneyeh yek daftar neest
sokhan az geesooyeh khoshvakhteh manast
ba shaghayeghhayeh sookhteyeh booseyeh to
va sameemeeyateh tanhaman dar tararee
va derakhsheedaneh oryaneeman
mesleh falseh maheeha dar ab
sokhan az zendegeeyeh noghreyeeyeh avazeest
keh sahar gahan favareyeh koochak meekhanad
and the intimacy of our bodies,
and the glow of our nakedness
like fish scales in the water.
I am talking about the silvery life of a song
which a small fountain sings at dawn.
Fared: Wow, so that is pretty self explanatory, that now she’s straight up talking about something that would be taboo at the time, and even now would be taboo in Iran. But even now I picked up on something, the singing of a fountain, and to me that’s orgasm- she’s actually talking about going all the way to climax of love with Ebrahim Golestaneh, which you are related to
Leyla: Yes, interestingly, I’m distantly related- my husband’s uncle married an Iranian woman, they are since divorced and have two children together, but her mother for a long time dated and eventually married, recently Ebrahim Golestaneh, they live in a castle in London
Fared: Six degrees of separation
Leyla: Yes, cousin Cyrus always goes out to the castle, I’m like, do you know who your grandmother married, he has no idea.
Fared: No idea, so cute. Yeah, so Forough here is a Frida Kahlo without any doubt. And if we continue, so now she’s made it clear that this is not about marriage, this is about true love, it’s about purity, it’s going back to nature.
ma dar an jangaleh sabz seeyal
shaby az khargooshan vahshy
va dar an drayayeh moztareb khoonsard
az sadafhayeh por az morvareed
va dar an kooheh ghareeb fath
az oghaban javab porseedeem
keh cheh bayad kard
we asked wild rabbits one night
in that green flowing forest
and shells full of pearls
in that turbulent cold blooded sea
and the young eagles
on that strange overwhelming mountain
what should be done.
Fared: So it’s beautiful that again she’s not looking for someone in nature, or someone in society to make her feel ok, to make her feel not judged, I’m going to the Eagles
Leyla: That’s right- so there’s our second bird in there
Fared: Second bird, the crow and the eagle. And what’s beautiful is that the crow is actually being the tattle tale, saying haha, I’m going to tell everyone in the city what you two have done, and she’s saying, well, we’re going to go to the wise eagles up there who are above judgment.
Fared: They’re above this pettiness of whatever you may think we may or may not have done. When Rumi said it it was ok. Rumi probably talked about his own lover Shams but when Forough says it everyone got their panties twisted.
Leyla: Definitely. That’s a good point, here too, we can take this idea of love- when Rumi said it people said well, could it have been love for him and Shams- it could have been this physical sensual love, but it could have also been his love for God and the divine, and in the same sense this poem could be taken literally about her love for Ebrahim Golestaneh, or it could be taken as love for divinity, and the heart of Sufism is God is within you, that you don’t need this religious text, it could be her saying, ok, I took a bite of the apple myself, I know God now. And I love how it ends with this cheh bayad kard. To me, it’s such a grave sentence, she’s desperately looking to nature and saying, what should we do, we’ve taken a bite out of this apple, there’s no turning back, cheh bayad kard.
Fared: And then she continues further on here
Fared: So you can see how the rhythm is pushing you and moving you through and keeping note is what’s going to keep the integrity of the poem alive and its beautfy.
ma dar khabeh sard o saketeh seemorghan, rah yafte-eem
ma oghaban ra dar baghcheh payda kardeem
dar negaheh sharmageen goly gomnam
va bagha ra dar yek lahzeh namahdood
ke do khorsheed beh ham kheereh shodand
we have found our way
Into the cold, quiet dream of phoenixes:
we found truth in the garden
In the embarrassed look of a nameless flower,
and we found permanence
In an endless moment
when two suns stared at each other.
Fared: Can I just say wow- this is so beautiful- now the third elevated bird here, we have seemorghan, the phoenix here, and I think later in one of our Chai and Conversation lessons we’ll do a piece from Shahnameh where we can further expand on this mythology of this beautiful, actually first seemorgh, the phoenix was considered a maternal figure, it was a heroine that had a role in the Shahnameh, and the phoenix was this mythological figure that protected and was righteous and created space that was nurturing for those in need. And for her to say that we have gone beyond, I believe there’s another book called Conference of the Birds
Leyla: Conference of the Birds by Attar
Fared: That’s another piece where you see the symbolism of the progression of knowledge, and to reach the height of the phoenix is- that’s it, you’ve reached the height of your enlightenment. The seven skies as they say- haft aseman. So cosmically, here, she’s saying me and my lover, we’re two suns, two stars orbiting and staring at each other.
Leyla: Which I love, because from a feminist perspective, they’re both suns, they’re equal
Fared: Right, one is not the little moon.
Fared: We’re these two massive orbiting suns, staring at each other. She rocked the boat as we could say, and historically just to break away from the poem a little bit, the context of strong Persian female characters, even today, in the fight for human rights, it’s the women in the forefront.
Leyla: That’s right, that’s very true. Today, you can really see that the top writers, filmmakers, it’s really incredible how far women have come. Not even in the west , I feel like we don’t have that many- like in Iran, everyone can name so many female directors, and it’s getting a little bit better here, but I’d say up to even ten years ago, I’d say I know more Iranian filmmakers that are female than American
Fared: I think 65% of college graduates in Iran are women.
Leyla: That’s right, but at the time, she really was alone. I mean, there are centuries of Iranian history that don’t even mention women at all. You’ve mentioned Taegheh Ghoratolayne.
Fared: Prior to the current female poets, we had Taegheh Goratolayne, who was supposedly beheaded for revealing her face to the world.
Leyla: Right, so we have this one name, but other than that, when Forough Farokhzad was writing poetry, she was the most famous Iranian woman
Fared: Yes, and I think during her time, there was a generation of writers, beatnik Iranian writers in Iran like Sadegh Hedayat and Shamlou
Leyla: And they’d get together
Fared: Right, they’d get together and they’d smoke cigarettes, and drink dark coffee and discuss, they were all Marxist leaning, and there was a movement prior to 1979, with ideas being championed from the liberals in the West. And Forough as we see in this poem has no problems expressing her sexuality as a woman, and I feel that even now in Iran, that her books are being censored. So if you find a book by Forough in a library, you’d probably see parts of this poem censored.
Leyla: She’s still incredibly well read in Iran though and incredibly well respected but at the time there were a lot of rumors around her- it was no easy being Forough Farrokhzad.
Fared: Yes it was scandalous.
Leyla: I watched an interview recently with Ebrahim Golestaneh on the BBC, we’ll link to it, but he talked about how much he really loved his wife, he really loved Fourough, he loves his current wife, he said you can love a number of people and love is infinite. He’s still a really sharp guy, I think he was 93 in this interview, super sharp.
Fared: Reminds me of your yoga teacher, may he rest in peace, he said
Leyla: There are four chambers in the heart, put bunk beds in there, and you can fill up to 8 people.
Fared: Forough was relatively dark, and this is one of the lighter pieces she had, relieving us of her agony. She is the Iranian Frida Kahlo, that’s one way I think of her. I would love to see now more of our female listeners recite this poem.
Leyla: I actually haven’t decided which section we are going to learn. I like that we studied so much of the poem because I think a smaller section would not have done it justice.We’re going to link to Fared’s piece Skies within your eyes, a Forough Farrokhzad piece. Thank you all for listening, see you all in Marfa next year.
Fared: Yes, see you all in Marfa- we’ll do another Tehran Teepee, and hopefully we’ll have Leyla stay awake in this one.