Skip to main content
Outdated Browser

For the best experience using our website, we recommend upgrading your browser to a newer version or switching to a supported browser.

More Information

Poetry

I Pity the Garden

By Forugh Farrokhzad
Translated from Farsi by Sholeh Wolpé
From "Iran's Sylvia Plath," Forugh Farrokhzad, a poem about change.

No one thinks of the flowers.
No one thinks of the fish.
No one wants to believe the garden is dying,
that its heart has swollen in the heat
of this sun, that its mind drains slowly
of its lush memories.

Our garden is forlorn.
It yawns waiting
for rain from a stray cloud
and our pond sits empty,
callow stars bite the dust
from atop tall trees
and from the pale home of the fish
comes the hack of coughing every night.

Our garden is forlorn.

Father says: My time is past
my time is past,
I’ve carried my burden
I’m done with my work.

He stays in his room from dawn to dusk
reads History of Histories or Ferdowsi’s Epic of Kings.

Father says to Mother:
Damn every fish and every bird!
When I’m dead, what will it matter
if the garden lives or dies.
My pension
is all that counts.

Mother’s life is a rolled-out prayer rug.
She lives in terror of hell, always seeks
Sin’s footprints in every corner,
imagines the garden sullied
by the sin of a wayward plant.

Mother is a sinner by nature. She prays
all day, then with her “consecrated” breath
blows on all the flowers, all the fish
and all over her own body.
She awaits the Promised One and
the forgiveness He is to bring.

My brother calls the garden a graveyard.
He laughs at the plight of the grass
and ruthlessly counts the corpses of the fish
rotting beneath the sick skin of shallow water.
My brother is addicted to philosophy
he sees the healing of the garden in its death.
Drunk, he beats his fists on doors and walls
says he is tired, pained and despondent.
He carries his despair everywhere,
just as he carries his birth certificate
diary, napkin, lighter and pen.

But his despair is so small
that each night it is lost
in crowded taverns.

My sister was a friend to flowers.
She would take her simple heart’s words
—when Mother beat her—
to their kind and silent gathering
and sometimes she would treat the family
of fish to sunshine and cake crumbs.

She now lives on the other side of town
in her artificial home
and in the arms of her artificial husband
she makes natural children.
Each time she visits us, if her skirt is sullied
with the poverty of our garden
she bathes herself in perfume.
Every time she visits she is with child.

Our garden is forlorn
Our garden is forlorn

All day from behind the door
come sounds of cuts and tears
sounds of blasts.
Our neighbors plant bombs and machine guns,
instead of flowers, in their garden soil.
They cover their ponds, hiding bags of gunpowder.

The schoolchildren fill their backpacks
with tiny bombs.

Our garden is dizzy.

I fear the age that has lost its heart,
the idleness of so many hands
the alienation in so many faces.

I am like a schoolchild madly
in love with her geometry books.
I am forlorn
and imagine it is possible to take the garden to a hospital.
I imagine I imagine
And the garden’s heart has swollen in the heat
of this sun, its mind slowly drains of its lush memories.

Translation © 2004 by Sholeh Wolpé. All rights reserved.

Read About Context Explore Teaching Ideas

No one thinks of the flowers.
No one thinks of the fish.
No one wants to believe the garden is dying,
that its heart has swollen in the heat
of this sun, that its mind drains slowly
of its lush memories.

Our garden is forlorn.
It yawns waiting
for rain from a stray cloud
and our pond sits empty,
callow stars bite the dust
from atop tall trees
and from the pale home of the fish
comes the hack of coughing every night.

Our garden is forlorn.

Father says: My time is past
my time is past,
I’ve carried my burden
I’m done with my work.

He stays in his room from dawn to dusk
reads History of Histories or Ferdowsi’s Epic of Kings.

Father says to Mother:
Damn every fish and every bird!
When I’m dead, what will it matter
if the garden lives or dies.
My pension
is all that counts.

Mother’s life is a rolled-out prayer rug.
She lives in terror of hell, always seeks
Sin’s footprints in every corner,
imagines the garden sullied
by the sin of a wayward plant.

Mother is a sinner by nature. She prays
all day, then with her “consecrated” breath
blows on all the flowers, all the fish
and all over her own body.
She awaits the Promised One and
the forgiveness He is to bring.

My brother calls the garden a graveyard.
He laughs at the plight of the grass
and ruthlessly counts the corpses of the fish
rotting beneath the sick skin of shallow water.
My brother is addicted to philosophy
he sees the healing of the garden in its death.
Drunk, he beats his fists on doors and walls
says he is tired, pained and despondent.
He carries his despair everywhere,
just as he carries his birth certificate
diary, napkin, lighter and pen.

But his despair is so small
that each night it is lost
in crowded taverns.

My sister was a friend to flowers.
She would take her simple heart’s words
—when Mother beat her—
to their kind and silent gathering
and sometimes she would treat the family
of fish to sunshine and cake crumbs.

She now lives on the other side of town
in her artificial home
and in the arms of her artificial husband
she makes natural children.
Each time she visits us, if her skirt is sullied
with the poverty of our garden
she bathes herself in perfume.
Every time she visits she is with child.

Our garden is forlorn
Our garden is forlorn

All day from behind the door
come sounds of cuts and tears
sounds of blasts.
Our neighbors plant bombs and machine guns,
instead of flowers, in their garden soil.
They cover their ponds, hiding bags of gunpowder.

The schoolchildren fill their backpacks
with tiny bombs.

Our garden is dizzy.

I fear the age that has lost its heart,
the idleness of so many hands
the alienation in so many faces.

I am like a schoolchild madly
in love with her geometry books.
I am forlorn
and imagine it is possible to take the garden to a hospital.
I imagine I imagine
And the garden’s heart has swollen in the heat
of this sun, its mind slowly drains of its lush memories.

Translation © 2004 by Sholeh Wolpé. All rights reserved.

Definitions

The Promised One: The messiah of the Shia Muslims; the 12th Imam, who is believed to be currently alive and hidden, and is supposed to bring back justice to the earth the day he returns.

History of Histories: A classic Persian work of Islamic history, which attempts to document the history of the world beginning with the creation of Adam.

Ferdowsi’s Epic of Kings: The most important national epic of Iran. Written in the tenth century, in verse, the epic includes myths and tales of ancient kings.

Hear the Names

First, listen to pronunciations of the names “Forugh Farrokhzad” and “Sholeh Wolpé” read aloud by Sholeh Wolpé.

Then, listen to the entire poem in Persian, recorded by Mandana Naviafar.

Meet the Author

Poet Forugh Farrokhzad, 1960s. Public domain.

Watch a 6-minute video in which translator Sholeh Wolpé introduces us to Farrokhzad and reads “I Pity the Garden” in English.

Next, read about the poet’s controversial life and tragic death 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 amateur translations of her poems) on a website created by musician Daniel Shams.

For a critical essay on her life and work, read scholar Farzaneh Milani’s article in the Encyclopedia Iranica, published out of Columbia University.

Meet the Translator
A portrait of translator Sholeh Wolpé

Photo copyright © Bonnie Perkinson

Sholeh Wolpé launched her career as a translator when she first began translating the “iconic rebel poet of Iran,” as she calls Farrokhzad. Find out which words are most difficult to translate, and read about a Christmas-Eve translation inspiration, in this interview with the magazine Words Without Borders.

A poet as well as a translator, Wolpé hates it when either she or Farrokhzad is referred to as a “poetess.” Read more of her thoughts on writing and gender in this write-up of a conversation with other women translators, also in Words Without Borders.

A Scholar on Farrokhzad

Iranian writer Amir Ahmadi Arian

Why was Farrokhzad such a vital figure for Persian poetry of the 1950s and ’60s?  Read Amir Arian’s comments below:

However, the 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 . . .

For more, read Arian’s entire introduction to the Iranian literature on this site.

(Not) the Author's Garden

A traditional Persian yard-garden in bloom. By Nima Fatemi, 2008. (Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Look through a photo gallery of “exemplary” Persian gardens from the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, or photographer Jassem Ghazbanpour’s “Persian Gardens” photo series.

Then, look at a contemporary photograph of Forugh Farrokhzad’s small, neglected garden.

Bombs in the Garden
A crowd protests the 1953 coup in Iran

Unseen images of the 1953 Iran coup from The Guardian. CC by 3.0

What might be the meaning of the poem’s references to bombs, machine guns, and gunpowder? One possible connection might be to the aftermath of the coup d’état of 1953. Amir Arian describes life before and after the coup in his introduction to Iranian literature:

The Shah’s removal [after WWII] ushered in one of the most dynamic periods in the literary culture of Iran. All the intellectual energy suppressed during Reza Shah’s reign burst onto the public stage. The publishing industry thrived, dozens of new voices cranked out books and treatises, and a wealth of fresh, progressive ideas spread and gained popularity.

 

But this period came to an end as abruptly as it had begun. After the then-prime minister of Iran, Mohammad Musadeq, nationalized the oil industry in March 1951, the CIA and MI6 orchestrated an infamous 1953 coup d’état to overthrow him and crown Reza Shah’s son, Mohammad Reza, the new ruler.

 

Upon his return to the throne, the paranoid young Shah set up SAVAK, a highly feared intelligence and police institution. He controlled the media with an iron fist and increased censorship, dashing the hopes and prospects of writers and intellectuals. Some writers left to live in exile, and some lay low and adjusted to the new regime. Others gave up, embittered.

Background on Iran

New to learning about Iran? Read the country’s profile on encylopedia.com.

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

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

More from the Author
A still life of a vase, a plate, a candle, and a small jar

A still life by Forugh Farrokhzad (public domain)

Read Farrokhzad’s “Connection,” also published on WWB Campus.

Want more poetry? Take a look at Sin: Selected Poems, also translated by Wolpé.

More on the Author

While working for Golestan Studio (the producer of the video above), Farrokhzad had an affair with the studio’s director. Find out what he has to say about “Iran’s Sylvia Plath” in this article from the Guardian.

Read excerpts from the title poem in Farrokhzad’s collection Let Us Believe in the Beginning of the Cold Season (where “I Pity the Garden” also appeared). The excerpts are republished from Michael C. Hillman’s biography A Lonely Woman: Forugh Farrokhzad and Her Poetry.

Then, look through photographs of Farrokhzad’s actual house and garden.

Finally, take a look at a novel loosely based on Farrokhzad’s life: Song of a Captive Bird, by Jazmin Darznik.

More from the Translator
A portrait of translator Sholeh Wolpé

Photo copyright © Bonnie Perkinson

Listen to and read other Farrokhzad poems translated
by Wolpé:

Wolpé is also a poet. Read her biography and her poems “Prisoner in a Hole” and “I never seen such days as this” on the Poetry Foundation website.

Then, take a look at her latest collection of poems, Keeping Time with Blue Hyacinths, “a surreal journey of sorrows and sins;” and find out about her play, Shame, about family secrets.

“I do not belong anywhere. I have an accent in every language I speak.” For more of Wolpé’s writing, ideas, and filmed readings, visit her website, where you’ll also find a complete list of her publications and online translations.

A Very Different Garden
A man sits in front of a long pool in a garden

Fin Garden located in Kashan, Iran, is a historical Persian garden. Photo by Mostafa Meraji. CC by 3.0.

Watch a video or look at a gallery of images from one of the most famous Iranian gardens, “Fin of Kashan,” a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Apparently, this garden was once a bit “forlorn,” too. A travel article written before UNESCO got involved suggests:

. . . some visitors are disappointed. The garden needs a restoration plan . . .

An Inspiration and a Peer

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.

Next, read a poem from Farrokhzad’s fellow poet Ahmad Shamlou on WWB Campus. The poem, “Elegy,” was written in response to Farrokhzad’s sudden death in a car crash at age 32.

Iranian poet Ahmad Shamlou

Who Was the American Forugh Farrokhzad?

Sylvia Plath, sitting sideways to the camera. Photo by Giovanni Giovannetti/Grazia Neri, CC by 3.0.

Read work from Farrokhzad’s American counterparts:

"My Brother . . . "

Watch a short film about the life and shocking death of the poet’s brother: pop star, TV actor, and political activist Fereydoun Farrokhzad. (In German with English subtitles.)

(Watch on YouTube.)

Learn more, and listen to people around the world singing one of Farrokhzad’s most popular songs, on the website for the film Singer’s Blood.

Emotions in Translation

How is grief related to anxiety? Is there a connection between love and pity?

This article explains how the language we speak may affect our understanding of emotions. Scroll down to see a chart that shows what emotions “pity” is associated with in Indo-European languages like Persian and English.

Do Words Outlast Gardens?
A statue in Ferdowsi Square, Tehran

Ferdowsi Square in Tehran, by Orijentolog. CC BY-SA 3.0.

In the poem, the father “stays in his room from dawn to dusk / reads History of Histories or Ferdowsi’s Epic of Kings.” Find out why, almost a thousand years later, Ferdowsi’s epic “defines Iranians,” and take a look at the epic.

Then, read an essay entitled “How a Persian Mystic Poet Changed My Life,” from a contemporary writer/activist with roots in Iran.

Who Planted the Bombs?

A resident of Tehran washes “Yankee Go Home” graffiti from a wall in the capital city of Iran, Aug. 21, 1953. AP, Public domain.

Get recently-released details on the CIA’s involvement in Iran’s 1953 coup d’etat, published in Foreign Policy magazine.

For a detailed and scholarly account, read an article in the Encyclopedia Iranica.

More Writing as Truth-Telling*
  • A poem about China’s Cultural Revolution; an interview with author Yan Lianke, about inconvenient truths the Chinese government represses; and other literature in the “Taboo Topics” section of the China unit.
  • Sleepless Homeland, a poetic attempt to awaken a nation to the devastating impact of the drug wars. Personifying Mexico as a fallen woman, the narrator notes that “you feign pleasure but feel pain.”
  • “Plato told,” a poem that defies denials about the human costs of war by e.e. cummings.

*For Teaching Idea 1

More Transformative Language*

Poems by poets who influenced Farrokhzad

Charles Baudelaire, 1844. By Emile Deroy. Public Domain.

*For Teaching Idea 2

More Poems About Change in Nature*

*For Teaching Idea 3

More Writing About Natural vs. Artificial Worlds*

*For Teaching Idea 3

More Poems About Characters*

For Teaching Idea 4

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

No one thinks of the flowers.
No one thinks of the fish.
No one wants to believe the garden is dying,
that its heart has swollen in the heat
of this sun, that its mind drains slowly
of its lush memories.

Our garden is forlorn.
It yawns waiting
for rain from a stray cloud
and our pond sits empty,
callow stars bite the dust
from atop tall trees
and from the pale home of the fish
comes the hack of coughing every night.

Our garden is forlorn.

Father says: My time is past
my time is past,
I’ve carried my burden
I’m done with my work.

He stays in his room from dawn to dusk
reads History of Histories or Ferdowsi’s Epic of Kings.

Father says to Mother:
Damn every fish and every bird!
When I’m dead, what will it matter
if the garden lives or dies.
My pension
is all that counts.

Mother’s life is a rolled-out prayer rug.
She lives in terror of hell, always seeks
Sin’s footprints in every corner,
imagines the garden sullied
by the sin of a wayward plant.

Mother is a sinner by nature. She prays
all day, then with her “consecrated” breath
blows on all the flowers, all the fish
and all over her own body.
She awaits the Promised One and
the forgiveness He is to bring.

My brother calls the garden a graveyard.
He laughs at the plight of the grass
and ruthlessly counts the corpses of the fish
rotting beneath the sick skin of shallow water.
My brother is addicted to philosophy
he sees the healing of the garden in its death.
Drunk, he beats his fists on doors and walls
says he is tired, pained and despondent.
He carries his despair everywhere,
just as he carries his birth certificate
diary, napkin, lighter and pen.

But his despair is so small
that each night it is lost
in crowded taverns.

My sister was a friend to flowers.
She would take her simple heart’s words
—when Mother beat her—
to their kind and silent gathering
and sometimes she would treat the family
of fish to sunshine and cake crumbs.

She now lives on the other side of town
in her artificial home
and in the arms of her artificial husband
she makes natural children.
Each time she visits us, if her skirt is sullied
with the poverty of our garden
she bathes herself in perfume.
Every time she visits she is with child.

Our garden is forlorn
Our garden is forlorn

All day from behind the door
come sounds of cuts and tears
sounds of blasts.
Our neighbors plant bombs and machine guns,
instead of flowers, in their garden soil.
They cover their ponds, hiding bags of gunpowder.

The schoolchildren fill their backpacks
with tiny bombs.

Our garden is dizzy.

I fear the age that has lost its heart,
the idleness of so many hands
the alienation in so many faces.

I am like a schoolchild madly
in love with her geometry books.
I am forlorn
and imagine it is possible to take the garden to a hospital.
I imagine I imagine
And the garden’s heart has swollen in the heat
of this sun, its mind slowly drains of its lush memories.

Translation © 2004 by Sholeh Wolpé. All rights reserved.

Read Next

[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]