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Seda: Voices of Iran

Simin Behbahani

(1927-    )

Simin Behbahani (Khalili) was born in 1927 in Tehran, Iran, of literary parents. Her father, Abbas Khalili, writer and newspaper editor, had tens of publications to his credit. Her mother, Fakhr Ozma Arghoon (Fakhr Adel Khalatbari), was a noted feminist, teacher, writer, newspaper editor, and a poet. 

Simin began writing poetry at the age of fourteen and published her first poem at same age. She used the "Char Pareh" style of Nima, a renowned poet of Persian history, and subsequently, turns to "Ghazal", a free flowing, and poetry style similar to the Western "Sonnet". She contributed to a historic development in the form of the "Ghazal", as she added theatrical subjects, and daily events and conversations into this style of poetry. 

The Ghazals of Simin Behbahani are a unique style, which defines her as a one and only, and well distinguished in her style of poetry. Simin Behbahani has expanded the range of traditional Persian verse forms and produced some of the most significant works of Persian literature in the twentieth century. 

She was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1997, She was also awarded a Human Rights Watch-Hellman/Hammet grant in 1998, and similarly, in 1999, the Carl von Ossietzky Medal, for her struggle for freedom of expression in Iran.

Gracefully she approached

Gracefully she approached,
in a dress of bright blue silk;
With an olive branch in her hand,
and many tales of sorrows in her eyes.
Running to her, I greeted her,
and took her hand in mine:
Pulses could still be felt in her veins;
warm was still her body with life.

"But you are dead, mother", I said;
"Oh, many years ago you died!"
Neither of embalmment she smelled,
Nor in a shroud was she wrapped.

I gave a glance at the olive branch;
she held it out to me,
And said with a smile,
"It is the sign of peace; take it."

I took it from her and said,
"Yes, it is the sign of...", when
My voice and peace were broken
by the violent arrival of a horseman.
He carried a dagger under his tunic
with which he shaped the olive branch
Into a rod and looking at it
he said to himself:
"Not too bad a cane
for punishing the sinners!"
A real image of a hellish pain!
Then, to hide the rod,
He opened his saddlebag.
in there, O God!
I saw a dead dove, with a string tied
round its broken neck.

My mother walked away with anger and sorrow;
my eyes followed her;
Like the mourners she wore
a dress of black silk.

Stop Throwing My Country To The Wind

If the flames of anger rise any higher in this land Your name on your tombstone will be covered with dirt.

You have become a babbling loudmouth. Your insolent ranting, something to joke about.

The lies you have found, you have woven together. The rope you have crafted, you will find around your neck.

Pride has swollen your head, your faith has grown blind. The elephant that falls will not rise.

Stop this extravagance, this reckless throwing of my country to the wind. The grim-faced rising cloud, will grovel at the swamp's feet.

Stop this screaming, mayhem, and blood shed. Stop doing what makes God's creatures mourn with tears.

My curses will not be upon you, as in their fulfillment. My enemies' afflictions also cause me pain.

You may wish to have me burned , or decide to stone me. But in your hand match or stone will lose their power to harm me.

Translated by Kaveh Safa and Farzaneh Milani

For Neda Agha-Soltan

You are neither dead, nor will you die.

You will always remain alive.

You have an eternal existence.

You are the voice of the people of Iran.


Remembering July 8, 1999

On Thursday evening, July 8, 1999, soldiers and vigilantes invaded a dormitory at the University of Tehran. This had been the first day of student protests against the new censorship laws and the forced closing of the newspaper Salam. The invaders attacked the students, beating many and throwing some out of the windows. The poem “Banu, Our Lady” is an expression of outrage by Simin Behbahani, author of over a dozen books of poetry in Persian and recipient of the Human Rights Watch/Hellman-Hammet grant, for her struggle for freedom of expression in Iran. It focuses on a scene of this rampage: an attacker invoking the name of Fatemeh Zahra, the beloved daughter of the Prophet, while pushing a student to his death.

Banu, Our Lady

Banu, Our Lady,

this is my gift to you. Accept it.

This said, he raised his offering

and threw it down the stairs.

On the ground, the sacrificial victim

twisted with pain.

A stream of blood followed his fall.

Silence followed his screams.

A demon had made an offering,

and a person had ceased to exist.

Oh . . . for the child lost so young!

A hundred times Oh . . . for the old mother.

Banu, Our Lady, I dreamt I saw you

in the halo of the moon,

your face pale, your eyes red with sorrow.

In your arms you held two sons,

one perfect like the full moon,

the other radiant like the sun.

You sat beside the corpse,

with the road-dust still on your face,

your soul scalded by sorrow,

your heart tired of arrows.

You complained: O Justice! O Faith!

O, the shamelessness of the brute –

offering me a corpse

and asking me to accept it!

Banu, Our Lady, you shed a deluge of tears

over the man murdered by such ignorance.

You turned your silken coat to a shroud

to cover his body.

O, Banu, our guide! O, Banu, our savior,

O, Banu, unblemished! O, Banu, full of light!

Translated by Kaveh Safa and Farzaneh Milani

Banu is a term of respectful address for women, here applied to one of the most beloved and respected women in Islam: Fatemeh, the Radiant, embodiment of many virtues, including selflessness, purity of heart and compassion. She is the daughter of the Prophet, wife of Ali, mother of the martyred Imams Hossein and Hassan (the children in her arms in the poem), and maternal ancestor of the other Shi’a Imams. [Trs.]

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