Friday, October 31, 2008

Forough Farrokhzad's Fridays

"And when I gained the road where all are free/ I fancied every stranger frowned at me" run a pair of lines in the nineteenth-century poet John Clare's plangent sonnet "I Dreaded Walking Where There Was No Path". To walk where there was no path, to search for that place where all were free, and to invite society's obloquy was also the fate, or perhaps the destiny, of the Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad (1935-1967), who began writing verse in her teens, broke with her marriage at twenty-one, took several lovers and with them notoriety, and, like Clare, eventually did time in a mental institution.

The titles of Forough’s early collections of verse: Asir (Captive), Deevar (The Wall), Osyan (Rebellion) all suggest intensely painful confinement – within family, patriarchy, society, religion, conventional morality – and the bliss and blaze of throwing off those shackles. “I have sinned a rapturous sin/ in a warm enflamed embrace,/ sinned in a pair of vindictive arms/ arms violent and ablaze”, begins her early poem “Sin”, and we are led to wonder if that word “vindictive” is a transferred epithet. That is, the arms that embrace the speaker are not vindictive because of any actual malice on the part of the lover but because of the terrible consequences that already seem poised to pounce, even before the moment of rapture is past.

“In the confines of a four-walled time, our only connection to the world outside is a window,” writes Farrokhzad in her memoir In An Eternal Sunset. “A window towards light, towards the sun. A window on the other side of which is beauty and desire. Without a window how could we bear the darkness that presses itself upon us?” Here is one of Forough’s most resonant poems, “Friday”, which seems to describe a world without that window. The translation is by Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, and the place of Friday in Forough’s Iran is something like Sunday in ours:

Quiet Friday
deserted Friday
Friday saddening like old alleys
Friday of lazy ailing thoughts
Friday of noisome sinuous stretches
Friday of no anticipation
Friday of submission.
Empty house
lonesome house
house locked against the onslaught of youth
house of darkness and fantasies of the sun
house of loneliness, augury and indecision
house of curtains, books, cupboards, picture.
Ah, how my life flowed silent and serene
like a deep-running stream
through the heart of such silent, deserted Fridays
through the heart of such empty cheerless houses
ah, how my life flowed silent and serene.
Although the poem more or less explains itself, among the things worth noting in it is that “serene” appears to be a negative value here: it seems to be a cover for stasis, for submission. This is an impoverished silence and serenity, very different from the real thing. Everyone who has felt found their life or home intolerable at some point – whether through the callousness of the complacent, the condescension of the well-meaning, or the cheerlessness and empty routine that often masquerades as stability and peace – will recognize the mood of Farrokhzad’s Fridays. Many of Forough’s poem enact this movement of dread, the horror of insignificance: “Despite all my thrashing,/ I was sinking like silt/ slowly, slowly,/ in stagnant water, crusting/ the walls of its hole.”
And here is the first half of Forough’s long poem, “Window”, which, from the childlike peep of its opening to the ringing sounds of its crescendo, seems to enact a journey into disillusioned adulthood, an entrapment that the speaker beats back with the refrain “One window is enough for me”:

A window for seeing.
A window for hearing.
A window like a well
that plunges to the heart of the earth
and opens to the vast unceasing love in blue.
A window lavishing the tiny hands of loneliness
with the night’s perfume from gentle stars.
A window through which one could invite
the sun for a visit to abandoned geraniums.
One window is enough for me.
I come from the land of dolls, from under
the shade of paper trees in a storybook grove;
from arid seasons of barren friendships and love
in the unpaved alleys of innocence;
from years when the pallid letters of the alphabet
grew up behind desks of tubercular schools;
from the precise moment children could write
“stone” on the board and the startled starlings took wing
from the ancient tree.
I come from among the roots of carnivorous plants,
and my head still swirls with the sound
of a butterfly’s terror – crucified with a pin to a book.
When my trust hung from the feeble rope of justice
and the whole city tore my heart’s lamps to shreds,
when love’s innocent eyes were bound
with the dark kerchief of law, and blood gushed
from my dreams’ unglued temples,
when my life was no longer anything,
nothing at all except the tick tick of a clock on the wall,
I understood that I must, must, must
deliriously love.
One window is enough for me.
The translation is by Sholeh Wolpé, who has recently published a book of Forough’s poems in translation called Sin. The other bits of Forough I quote here are from this book, and one of the virtues of reading the poems in the chronological order of their composition, which is how Wolpé presents them, is that we sense the growth of the poet and the expanding circle of her compass. 
In the four decades after her untimely death in a car crash, Farrokhzad’s voice and words have seeped out into Iranian and world culture to enjoy what the Italian poet Eugenio Montale memorably termed “the second life of art”, or art as remembered and invoked in human dealings long after the first encounter with it as an aesthetic object. And it has been generative of other art too: I first heard of Forough in 2000 through Abbas Kiarostami’s marvellous film The Wind Will Carry Us, which takes its title from a poem by Farrokhzad of which this line is the ecstatic close (this link leads not just to a translation of the poem but also Kiarostami's revelatory essay "An Unfinished Cinema").
An interview with Sholeh Wolpé in which she discusses the process of translating Forough is here ("Something interesting to note is how even in our written material we refer to Forough Farrokhzad as Forough, not Farrokhzad. Even some scholars refer to her by her first name. To this day she evokes a charming intimacy between herself and the reader. Her poems are intimate at many levels and one cannot help but feel a kind of familiarity with her. After reading her work it is difficult to refer to her as Farrokhzad. She becomes one's own Forough.") and her translation of the long lyric poem "I Pity The Garden" here
Forough's short film The House Is Black, shot in a leper colony in 1962, can be seen here. And here is the poet Mimi Khalvati's marvellous poem "On A Line From Forough Farrokhzad".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Watch a film adaptation of "Tavalodi Digar"(rebirth) by Talieh.