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Seda: Voices of Iran

Parvin E'tesami

Parvin E'tesami was born in 1907 in Tabriz, Iran. Her formative years were spent in Tehran where her family had moved and where she lived an extraordinarily simple and tranquil life close to her father, Yusif E'tesami (E'tesam al-Mulk). Here she gained her knowledge of the Arabic language and a solid grounding in Arabic and Persian literatures. Reportedly, she started composing poetry when she was eight years old. 

Within the second decade of her life (1920), E'tesam al-Mulk founded a literary magazine called "Bahar" to which Parvin contributed regularly. In fact, in the long run, this magazine became a main vehicle for the promotion of her literary talent in a male-dominated society. Parvin's themes of humanism and liberalism struck a special cord with her audiences.

E'tesam al-Mulk, however, was not satisfied with the amount of knowledge that his daughter had gained from his personal instruction. Neither was he satisfied with the traditional curricula offered at the public and private schools in Tehran. Eventually, he entered Parvin in the American College for Girls where she learned English and became familiar, first-hand, with the cultures of the West. Parvin graduated from the American College for Girls in 1925. Then, after a short stint as instructor at the College, she decided to return to her family and devote her entire time to composing poetry.

Parvin was an unassuming young woman; some argue, correctly, that she was an exemplary Muslim woman. But that distinction, in no way, meant an easy young woman to deal with, especially when such germane principles as justice and fair play were involved. Parvin declined to tutor the queen in 1926 because of the high degree of blame that she attributed to the person of the sovereign, the queen's husband; and, in 1936, she refused to accept a third-rate medal offered her for contribution to Persian literature by the Ministry of Culture. That medal, she said, was motivated by the exploitative interests of those offering it rather than by a genuine appreciation of her poetry.

Iranian Women

Formerly a woman in Iran was almost non-Iranian. 
All she did was struggle through dark and distressing days.

Her life she spent in isolation; she died in isolation. 
What was she then if not a prisoner?

None ever lived centuries in darkness like her. 
None was sacrificed on the altar of hypocrisy like her.

In the courts of justice no witness defended her. 
To the school of learning she was not admitted.

All her life her cries for justice remained unheeded. 
This oppression occurred publicly; it was no secret.

Many men appeared disguised as her shepherd. 
Within each a wolf was hiding instead.

In life's vast arena such was woman's destiny: 
to be pushed and shoved into a corner.

The light of knowledge was kept from her eyes. 
Her ignorance could not be laid to inferiority or sluggishness.

Could a woman weave with no spindle or thread? 
Can anyone be a farmer with nothing to sow or to reap?

The field of knowledge yielded abundant fruit, 
but women never had any share in this abundance.

A woman lived in a cage and died in a cage. 
The name of this bird in the rose garden was never mentioned.

Imitation is the desert of women's perdition, the pitfall causing her troubles.

Clever is that woman who never treads that murky road

Beauty depends on knowledge; bracelets of emerald 
or Badakhshan rubies do not indicate superiority.

All glamour of painted silks cannot match the simple beauty of a tunic. 
Honor depends on merit, not on indulgence in vanities.

Shoes and clothes are made worthy by the person who wears them. 
One's value does not rise and fall with high and low prices.

Simplicity, purity, and abstinence are the true gems. 
Mined gems are not the only brilliant jewels.

What is the use of gold land ornaments of the woman is ignorant? 
Gold and jewels will not cover up that blemish.

Only the robe of abstinence can mask one's faults. 
The robe of conceit and passion is no better than nakedness.

A woman who is pure and dignified can never be humiliated. 
That which is pure cannot be affected by the impurities of incontinence.

Chastity is a treasure, the woman its guard, greed the wolf. 
Woe if she knows not the rules of guarding the treasure.

The Devil never attends the table of piety as guest. 
He knows that that is no place of feasting.

Walk on the straight path, because on crooked lanes 
you find no provision or guidance, only remorse.

Hearts and eyes do need a veil, the veil of chastity. 
A worn-out chador is not the basis of faith in Islam.


A Woman's Place

A home without a woman lacks amity and affection. 
When one's heart is cold, the soul is dead.

Providence has nowhere decreed in book or discourse. 
that excellence is man's, defect woman's share.

In creation's edifice woman has always been the pillar. 
Who can build a house without a foundation?

If woman hadn't shone like the sun above life's mountain. 
love's jeweler in vain would seek for gems in the mine.

Woman was an angel the moment she showed her face. 
How ironic, then, that Satan slanders the angel!

Plato and Socrates were great because the mothers 
who nurtured them were themselves great.

Loghman was succored by his mother in the cradle 
long before attendance at school made him a philosopher.

Whether heroes or mystics, ascetics or jurists, 
they all were first pupils in her school.

How can a child with no mother learn to love? 
A kingdom with no ruler offers no safety and order.

Do you want to know the duties of man and woman? 
The wife is the ship, the husband the sailor.

When the captain is wise and the ship solidly built. 
why should there be fear of maelstroms and tempests?

If disaster strikes on this sea of troubles. 
both can rely on each other's diligence and effort.

Today's girls are tomorrow's mothers. 
On the mothers rests the greatness of the sons.

The clothes of good men would be all tattered, 
if good women's hands didn't mend their holes.

Wherein lie man's strength and sustenance? In his wife's support. 
What are woman's riches? Love of her children.

A good wife is more than the lady of the house. 
She is its physician and nurse, guardian and protector.

In times of felicity she is comrade and tender friend. 
In times of adversity she shares the trouble and is helpmate.

An understanding wife frowns not in times of paucity. 
A gentle husband fouls not his mouth with ugly words.

If life becomes restive like an unruly horse, 
husband and wife assist each other in drawing the reins.

That man or woman succeeds to greatness 
who gathers in fruits from the garden of knowledge.

In the world of arts and science are proffered attractive goods. 
Let's trade in that market.

A woman who neglects to buy the gems of education and learning 
has sold the jewel of her precious life too cheaply.

Alive are only those who wear a robe of excellence; 
dead are those whose worth is measured by their nakedness.

Providence provides us with countless books of ideas. 
We tear them all apart in search of a title or slogan.

When schools were wisely opened, we behaved foolishly. 
When the arts flourished, we hid ourselves.

If the Devil's booth of selfishness and langor 
is torn down, we are all lost.

Our time is spent in things like finding out 
how much this one's dress cost, how much that one's shoes.

For our bodies we buy fanciful ornaments. 
For our souls we tailor only coats of contempt.

We undermine the foundation of our spiritual building with conceit. 
but build up new shops everywhere for our body's sake.

This attitude betrays corruption, nor dignity. 
This conduct represents abjection, not glory.

We do not grow wild like weeds on plains and river banks. 
We are not little birds content with some seeds.

If we stick to wearing our own homespun, what matter to us 
Whether others' brocade has gone up in price or down.

Worn out cloth of our own manufacture is comelier 
Than the silk produced by foreigners.

Is there any robe more precious than that of knowledge? 
What brocade is prettier than that of learning?

Any clew spun by the spindle of wisdom 
in the workshop of ambition turns into linen and silk.

Not by wearing earrings, necklaces, and coral bracelets 
can a woman count herself a great lady.

What are colorful gold brocades and glittering ornaments good for, 
if the face lacks the beauty of excellence?

The hands and neck of a good woman, O Parvin, 
deserve the jewels of learning, not of color.

Translations by Heshmat Maoyyed


chador a veil worn by Persian women covering the entire body and dress from head to toe. 
Loghman a legendary philosopher recognized in Islamic tradition as a symbol of wisdom.

Source:  Iraj Bashiri;


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