Philip Amin-Grant translating Forough Farrokhzad

Earthly Verses*

the sun grew cold
& blessings departed earth –

plants dried up in deserts
fish in seas
& the ground thenceforth
welcomed the dead to itself – 

night in all the faded windows
like a suspicious image
swarmed & surged
& set free into the darkness
the paths
of its own continuation – 

no one thought of love anymore
no one thought of conquest anymore
& nobody
thought of anything anymore – 

in the lairs of loneliness
futility came into the world
blood reeked of opium & hashish
pregnant women
gave birth to headless babies
& cradles from shame
sought asylum in tombs – 

what black & bitter days;
bread had overcome
the miraculous force of prophethood;
hungry & wretched prophets
fled their trysts with the divine
& in the stupor of the plains
Jesus' lost lambs
were deaf to the shepherd's cry – 

in the eyes of mirrors
movements & colors & images
appeared upside down;
& above the heads of the vile & the hideous
the clown & the prostitute
a shining sacred halo burned
like an umbrella aflame – 

stagnant pools of alcohol
with their acrid poison-vapors
drew the inert masses of intellectuals
into their depths
& noxious rats
gnawed on the gold inlay of books
in ancient kists;
the sun had died
the sun had died
& in the mind of children
was mute, lost – 

in their homework
they portrayed with a black blot
the strangeness of this obsolete word – 

the people,
a fallen clutch of the people,
downcast & scrawny & stupefied,
beneath the burden of the cursedness of their carcasses
went from one exile to another
& the painful desire for crime
swelled up in their hands – 

sometimes a spark, an insignificant spark
suddenly stirred up this
silent lifeless crowd from inside;
they fell upon each other;
men slashed each others' throats
with knives
& in bloody beds
lay with immature girls – 

during executions always
when the pressure of the noose
made the convulsed eyes of the condemned
bulge from their sockets
they were lost inside themselves
& their old & tired nerves ached
racked by concupiscent fancy;
always at the edges of the squares
you saw these little killers
who stopped
& stared
at the constant fall of the fountains – 

perhaps still
behind the crushed eyes, in the depths of the congelation
something half-alive & bewildered
which in its breathless efforts wanted
to have faith in the purity of the waters' voice:
perhaps, but what emptiness without end;
the sun had died
& nobody knew
that the name of that doleful dove
which had fled from hearts was faith – 

oh! O jailed voice
will the splendor of your despair never
from out this repugnant night
strike up toward the light?
oh, O jailed voice
O last voice of voices!
* Translator’s note: âyeh-hâ, that is to say verses from the Quran or another holy book, and not verses of poetry or song.

Forough Farrokhzad

Forough Farrokhzad (1934-67) had a brief, brilliant career, cut short by her death in a car crash. She was one of a generation of Iranian poets who came to prominence in the 1950s. Author of five collections, she is best known for Tavallodi Digar (‘Another Birth,’ 1963) and the posthumous Iman Biavarim beh Aghaz-e Fasl-e Sard (‘Let Us Have Faith in the Beginning of the Cold Season’). Her poetry explores the loneliness of being a woman in a patriarchal society, but also celebrates sexual desire and love. It mobilizes dark and mythic imagery, but can also be witty and irreverent. 

Philip Amin-Grant

Philip Amin-Grant is, in the main, an anthropologist, but when time permits writes poetry in English, and translates from Persian, both contemporary and classical, to English. He has also translated contemporary Persian prose, including on behalf of Iranian women’s activists.