Simin Behbanahni is by far my favorite poet we’ve studied in our class. Her voice embodies the best part of Persian poetry: tradition, questions of love, patriotism, and self-awareness. What makes her stand out even more, is her ability to connect each topic back to nature. It is through these connections that the reader is more equipped in connecting their own experiences of life (by way of nature) to the poet’s experiences. This is a skill we have seen in other Persian poets, like Hafez or Rumi, however, Behbanahni has the most refined skill in this endeavor.
In Behbanahni’s selected poems, translated by Sara Khalili, the audience is able to see a wide variety of subjects in which she writes about. The following poems show some of her variety: bouncing between self-awareness, love for others, and patriotism. Again, all through the lens of nature and the connections of the land and one’s body.
In The Wine of Light (page 67), Behbanahni writes about an individual’s adoration for someone who clearly thinks less of them than the individual thinks of the Beloved.
“The shooting star of your memory in my mind’s sky, has carved lines of gold in every direction, come. For long I have sat and told the night my tales of woe, the night and I have grown pale with sorrow, come.”
In the first segment of the stanza: “The shooting star of your memory in my mind’s sky, has carved lines of gold in every direction, come.”, the author connects their priorities of love to the stars, and perhaps the infatuation that lies in both subjects. That is, the stars are all-consuming, particularly ones that run across the sky. It is love that shoots past someone yet they hold on to the image or experience for as long as they can. Shooting stars are the kind of love that makes one feel much more special than they are. It is with these feelings that love then becomes rooted in fantasy instead of reality.
In the second segment, Behbanahni continues: “For long I have sat and told the night my tales of woe, the night and I have grown pale with sorrow, come.”. Here, the author connects the strong infatuation they feel for their beloved to the far off reality in which this could be true. Further, the author is recognizing that this love is not ideal nor feasible but produces more pain to the individual than a worthwhile reward.
This individual’s priorities lie in another’s wellbeing, which suits the themes of Persian poetry, specifically Bahbanahni. In this poem, we have seen the beautiful expression of sour love, as the author is self-aware and vulnerable enough to share their worries with the audience. All this is done through the connection to the stars and sky. Often, one covers up their craving for someone with the craving of nature. This dichotomy is well known to Behbanahni and allows the reader to reflect on their own desires as they engage with the text.
In Behbanahni’s poem Love Came So Red, the reader is again greeted by the connections between love, infatuation, and nature.
“Love came so red, though pity it is too late; how pleasing a red flower blooming in the snow. Love, oh, love, how far am I from the mountaintop? My steps are so unsteady, my hands are so old!”
In the first segment: “Love came so red, though pity it is too late; how pleasing a red flower blooming in the snow.”, Behbanahni describes how although love can come in intense waves, it often comes too late for both participants to experience it wholistically and maturely. Further, it is with these intense feelings that judgment is clouded and little reality remains untainted from these ambitious feelings.
In the second segment: “Love, oh, love, how far am I from the mountaintop? My steps are so unsteady, my hands are so old!”, Behbanahni asks how far is their love away from being respected by the other. The mountaintop refers to what the readers want to happen. That is, the hopeless romantic in all of us wants the author to meet their Beloved at the mountaintop and live happily ever after. Alas, fairy tails aren’t real.
In this poem, Behbanahni has connected infatuation and unrealistic love to natural elements that are often out of reach or too daunting to be conquered. It is with this connection that the reader better understands the emotions of desperation and strong desire the author has to be loved by their Beloved just as much as they love them. Again, fairy tails don’t exist.
In our final poem for examination, the audience will see the connections Behbanahni draws between nature and patriotism. In My Country, I shall build you again, the author connects the importance of self-preservation, advocacy for morals that align with an individual, and the influence of natural elements — in this case the body.
“My country, I shall build you again, even if with bricks of my life. I shall erect pillars beneath your roof, even if with my own bones…. Still, in my heart there remains a fire that from its flames, I do not believe the dwindling of the love of my people. Again you shall give me strength, even if my poem is mired in blood”
In the first segment, the author asserts her priority in making sure this country’s dignity is reserved: “My country, I shall build you again, even if with bricks of my life. I shall erect pillars beneath your roof, even if with my own bones….”. Further, it is with the bigger than life promises that this priority is communicated so clearly to the audience. By involving her body, Behbanahni encourages the readers to see just how much she is willing to sacrifice if it means her country will be built again.
In the second segment, Behbanahni again articulates her allegiance to the cause of how important it is to her. “Still, in my heart there remains a fire that from its flames, I do not believe the dwindling of the love of my people. Again you shall give me strength, even if my poem is mired in blood” By articulating her priorities so clearly, the audience is inherently inclined to feel a connection to her and want to join in on the cause. It is this type of writing that makes Simin Behbanahni one of my favorite poets.
source: Simin Behbanahni selected poems, “My Country, I shall build you again”, translated by Sara Khalili, edited by Michael Beard