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Poetry

Elegy

By Ahmad Shamlou
Translated from Farsi by Zara Houshmand
Ahmad Shamlou mourns the early death of one of Iran's most famous poets.

On the death of the poet Forugh Farrokhzad

Searching for you
on foothills of mountains,
on thresholds of oceans and meadows,
I cry.

Searching for you
in windy passes
I cry at the crossroads of seasons
in the weathered wood
of a broken window frame
that contains a cloud-stained sky.

Looking for your portrait
in this empty book—
how long
how long
will pages keep turning?

To embrace the flow of wind,
and love
who is sister to death—

eternity
has shared with you
this secret.

And so you have taken the shape of a treasure:
earned and enviable
another kind of treasure
which, claiming the earth, these lands
in this way
has made the heart embrace them.

Your name is a white dawn that passes over the sky’s brow
blessed be your name!—
And so we repeat the round
of night and day
in this way
even
now . . .


© Ahmad Shamlou. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2003 by Zara Houshmand. All rights reserved.

Read Context Explore Teaching Ideas

On the death of the poet Forugh Farrokhzad

Searching for you
on foothills of mountains,
on thresholds of oceans and meadows,
I cry.

Searching for you
in windy passes
I cry at the crossroads of seasons
in the weathered wood
of a broken window frame
that contains a cloud-stained sky.

Looking for your portrait
in this empty book—
how long
how long
will pages keep turning?

To embrace the flow of wind,
and love
who is sister to death—

eternity
has shared with you
this secret.

And so you have taken the shape of a treasure:
earned and enviable
another kind of treasure
which, claiming the earth, these lands
in this way
has made the heart embrace them.

Your name is a white dawn that passes over the sky’s brow
blessed be your name!—
And so we repeat the round
of night and day
in this way
even
now . . .


© Ahmad Shamlou. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2003 by Zara Houshmand. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Iranian poet Ahmad Shamlou

Find out why Shamlou never finished high school in his obituary, published in The Guardian newspaper. Scroll to the bottom for another Shamlou poem.

On Shamlou’s personal website, you can find a timeline of “His Life at a Glance,” written by the poet himself.

Meet the Translator

Author and translator Zara Houshmand

Find out what it was like for Zara Houshmand to grow up “as a third culture kid” in this interview with Interalia magazine.

Meet the Subject

“Forugh Farrokhzad was a poet who dared defy stupid attitudes towards women . . .” Watch translator Sholeh Wolpé and others discuss Farrozkhad’s short, rebellious life, during which, “with each ‘no’ she encountered, she responded with an even more furious ‘yes.'”

(Watch on YouTube.)

Or, read about the poet in “Forough Farrokhzad, Iranian Poet Who Broke Barriers of Sex and Society,”
one of a series of contemporary obituaries of “remarkable people whose deaths went unreported,” currently being published in the New York Times. 

You can see more photographs of Farrokhzad, along with translations of her poems, on a website created by Daniel Shams.

Hear the Names

Listen to pronunciations of the names of this poem’s author and translator, and then of the subject of the elegy, all read aloud by Mandana Naviafar.

A Scholar's Notes

Iranian writer Amir Ahmadi Arian

Read what scholar Amir Arian writes about Shamlou, Farrokhzad, and their era in his introduction to Iranian literature:

The next period of opening up began in the 1960s and continued until the 1979 revolution. In this era, the Iranian economy boomed, and the middle class grew, wafting fresh air into the literary culture. This happened despite the heavy censorship of the time, which drove authors towards symbolism and allegory. . . . Ahmad Shamlou, one of the most important poets from the generation that published poetry after Neema, looked to the past for answers. He carefully studied the historiography of the eleventh-century historian Abu Al-Hassan Bayhaqi and the poetry of Hafiz, the fourteenth-century poet whose collection of ghazals has gained the status of a holy book in Iran . . .

[T]he poetry scene continued to be dominated by men, with the outstanding exception of Forugh Farrokhzad. In her short life, Farrokhzad published five collections and introduced the strongest female voice in Persian poetry in the twentieth century . . . she had a way of engaging all senses with words, creating an intense, sensuous experience that sometimes bypassed the mind and talked straight to her reader’s body. Her death in a car accident at thirty-two was traumatic for the literary community of Iran, and elicited a welter of eulogies and memorials. Ahmad Shamlou’s “Elegy on the Death of Forugh Farrokhzad,” translated in this collection, is one of them.

From Hafez to Shamlou

Visitors at the Tomb of Hafez, a famous destination in Shiraz, Iran. By LM TP, 2016.

Listen to a five-minute radio story about the fourteenth-century poet Hafez (also called “Hafiz” in English), one of Shamlou’s major influences: “In Iran, a Poet’s 700-Year-Old Verses Still Set Hearts Aflame.”

Then, read the Hafez poem “For years my heart inquired of me.” (You can also find more work from Hafez on Poets.org.)

Background on Iran
Two Iranian women walking down an alleyway with old buildings and parked motorbikes.

Alleyway in Hamoomchaal, by Kamyar Adl. License: CC BY 2.0.

New to learning about Iran? Take a look at the country profile on encyclopedia.com and click on the topics that interest you.

More from the Author

Iranian poet Ahmad Shamlou

Read Shamlou’s “The Fish,” a poem of love and longing, also translated by Zara Houshmand and published on this site. For others, visit the translator Sholeh Wolpé’s website.

Shamlou’s obituary in The Guardian newspaper noted the poet’s “beautiful voice.” If you’re a Persian speaker, or want to hear how Shamlou sounded, you can browse a playlist of videos compiled by the Persian Circle of Friends of Metro DC.

More from the Translator

Read Zara Houshmand’s essays and other translations in the magazine Words Without Borders.

Then, take a look at the virtual reality project she co-created, about being “caught in the middle” between a homeland and an adopted country. The project helps tell the story of the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. To learn more about Japanese culture, visit the collection of literature on WWB Campus.

More from the Subject

You can find several other poems by Forugh Farrokhzad on WWB Campus. The first is “I Pity the Garden.” Below, watch a 6-minute video in which translator Sholeh Wolpé introduces us to Farrokhzad and reads “I Pity the Garden” in English.

Then, read Forugh Farrokhzad’s love poem “Connection,” also translated by Sholeh Wolpé.

For more poetry, explore Wolpé’s website farrokhzadpoems.com, or read a collection of Wolpé’s translations of Farrokhzad, entitled Sin.

More about the Subject

Forugh Farrokhzad, 1960s. Public domain.

Read other writers’ perspectives on Farrokhzad’s life and work on farrokhzadpoems.com.

For a deep dive into her writing, take a look at scholar Farzaneh Milani’s article in the Encyclopedia Iranica, or watch Milani’s lecture at the Library of Congress.

Or, look through photographs of Farrokhzad, posted alongside amateur translations of her poems, on a website created by Daniel Shams.

Shamlou and Farrokhzad . . . and Yushij

Sholeh Wolpé commented in an interview that a rebellious poet named Nima Yushij “attracted the attention of a group of brilliant young poets, among them Forugh Farrokhzad and Ahmad Shamlou.”
Nima Yushij went on to found modern Iranian poetry; learn about him in Wolpé’s interview, then read translations by Kaveh Bassiri in The Sink Review and Two Lines Journal.

In his introduction to this unit, scholar Amir Arian writes of Yushij:

If one is to mark a symbolic turning point, a year that launched the modern era in Iran, 1921 is a compelling choice. This is the year Nima Yushij published his long poem Afsaneh, in which he opened Persian poetry to the contemporary world and bravely brought “unpoetic” language into his art.

Shamlou's Global Influences

Langston Hughes by Carl Van Vechten 1936. (No known copyright; available from the Library of Congress.)

According to his obituary in The Guardian, Shamlou was fascinated by a variety of poets from around the world: “the French Paul Eluard and Louis Aragon, the Russian Vladimir Mayakovsky, the American Langston Hughes and, above all, the Spaniard Federico García Lorca.” Follow the links to find out more about these poets.

More Elegies*

On Words Without Borders:

  • I Pity the Garden, a poem about a more subtle kind of loss by Forugh Farrokhzad (the poet Shamlou mourns in “Elegy”)
  • Poems for Parting, an ancient Chinese poem mourning the end of a romance
  • Riverwilt, a Japanese poem that mourns a lost childhood connection to the natural world, and asks whether it is possible to restore it.

Elsewhere:

  • oh antic God,” by Lucille Clifton, about the poet’s mother
  • O Captain! My Captain!” Walt Whitman’s elegy for Abraham Lincoln
  • Spring and Fall” by Gerald Manley Hopkins, about the meaning of the change of seasons
  • Shakespeare’s Hamlet’s remembrance of a dead court jester (“Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him, Horatio”), also available in the context of the larger play and as performed by actor David Tennant.

*For Teaching Idea 1

More Imagery of Loss*

On Words Without Borders:

  • An Uncoincidence, A Noncoincidence,” by Russian poet Larissa Miller
  • “The Poem” by Mohsen Emadi and “23” by Shams Langeroody, two contemporary poems about loss from Iranian-born poets: the first is about the poet’s departure from Iran, the second, about the return of bodies from the Iran-Iraq War. Both poems have a very different approach to imagery from Shamlou’s.

Elsewhere:

For Teaching Idea 2

To access these Teaching Ideas, please register or login to WWB-Campus.
English

On the death of the poet Forugh Farrokhzad

Searching for you
on foothills of mountains,
on thresholds of oceans and meadows,
I cry.

Searching for you
in windy passes
I cry at the crossroads of seasons
in the weathered wood
of a broken window frame
that contains a cloud-stained sky.

Looking for your portrait
in this empty book—
how long
how long
will pages keep turning?

To embrace the flow of wind,
and love
who is sister to death—

eternity
has shared with you
this secret.

And so you have taken the shape of a treasure:
earned and enviable
another kind of treasure
which, claiming the earth, these lands
in this way
has made the heart embrace them.

Your name is a white dawn that passes over the sky’s brow
blessed be your name!—
And so we repeat the round
of night and day
in this way
even
now . . .


© Ahmad Shamlou. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2003 by Zara Houshmand. All rights reserved.

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