Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Nada Kessou FYSP 6: Behbahani, Sepehri: themes of analysis, intertwinement musicality and poetry.

Poem analysis and themes discussed:

Contemporary Iranian poetry is very spiritual, patriotic and a strongly convincing tool for political communication. “Read in the name of your God who created you” were the first words revealed to Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him) about reading. The idea of writing in Islam is, similarly, genuinely valued, believed to be a vehicle for positive change. Simin Behbahani is one of the many infamous writers to have delivered this command, discussing the universal themes of environmental protection, patriotism and love. Her voice itself was a movement that interfered with existing governmental public policy, and a frustrated scream to urge the halt of violence and abuse that her beloved nation, Iran, was going through. Behbahani’s poetry manifested unprecedented rhyme development, being musically fantastic. The video “I shall rebuild you again” [i] and “Shajarian music: lay down your weapon (poem by Fereydun Moshiri)” [ii] we watched in class was a testament to the latter, almost imitating marshal march sounds, patriotic yet not breeding violence, a juxtaposition I found quite interesting.

In her poem “The wine of light,”[iii] Simin, the lover, seems to be in sorrow and ache for her Beloved. In her selection of poems “My Country, I shall Build You Again” translated by Sara Khalili[iv], she writes[v]:

“In waiting I have cried so many tears at night’s feet

that the flower of dawn has blossomed and day breaks,

come.

The shooting star of your memory in my mind’s sky,

Has carved lines of gold in every direction, come.

You didn’t come when the sky bore clusters of stars,

[…]”[vi]

There is almost no trace of unrequited, mystic love; instead, love is often celebrated in its most earthly and physical sense. “In waiting I have cried so many tears at night’s feet that the flower of dawn has blossomed and the day breaks” [vii]shows the intensity of her cries, almost as powerful as a river stream. The line “In my mind’s sky,” she states her mind is a sky and the Beloved is a shooting star, where the only thing grasping her attention in the midst of the emptiness of her mind is her Beloved. Scientifically, shooting stars are nothing more than “space debris burning up in our atmosphere and have shown that the Earth is pelted with these space rocks almost continuously.” [viii]Nevertheless, the Human mind, in the sighting of a shooting star, automatically awakens feelings of wonder and awe, creating the impression that we are small and insignificant in comparison to the vast expanse of the Heavens. I can draw the parallelism between the insignificance of our existence in comparison to the cosmos, to the Beloved, to God. The fact that the metaphor uses shooting star also emphasizes the idea of the Beloved never coming [back]. “[…] quickly streaks across the sky and usually burns out before reaching the earth’s surface.”[ix] “Even today, we have a ritual of making a wish upon seeing a shooting star in the Hope that the Divinity will grant our request. Whenever we make a wish upon a shooting star, we are sharing the same awe and respect for Divinity”.[x] 

Behbahani’s patriotism is well known in the Persian arena as well as international literature. “My country I shall build you again”[xi] had, in fact, cemented her voice firmly in the ranks of those distinguished to disillusion with the existing government policy. Likewise, in her collection of poems “My Country I shall Build You Again” translated by Sara Khalili, Behbahani writes:[xii]

“I shall again cleanse you of blood with the flood of my tears.

Again you shall give me strength, even if my poem is mired in blood,

Once again I will build you with my life, even if it be beyond my might.”[xiii]

She exhibits an intricate relationship with Iran, her home country. On the one hand, she holds scrutiny and disappointment, and on the other hand she exhibits a powerful will to change her nation and “rebuild” her country. “I will rebuild you, Oh my homeland, if need be, with bricks made of my soul. I will rebuild columns under your roof, if need be, with my bones.”[xiv] Her activism and devotion earned her the title of “Lioness of Iran.” The video showcasing Behbahani’s political activism and protest, the Lioness of Iran strongly communicates sensations of anti-war, anti-violence. This ethical message was accompanied by several snapshots of war and havocking aftermath. The musicality and symphony patterns are purposefully guided by the intensity of the events. For instance, the beat would get slower as the camera’s focus zooms into the ruins.

In the book “The Oasis of the Now,”[xv] Sepehri exhibits his consideration to the animals and his environment. In his poem “Water,”[xvi] he repeats the line “Let’s not stir up any mud in the water.”

“Let’s not stir up any mud in the water.

Downstream, a pigeon may be drinking

or a thrush in the thicket having a bath.

*****

Let’s not stir up any mud in the water.

******

No doubt blue is bluer there.

******

People who live by river understand water.

They do not stir up the mud and neither should we.”[xvii]

This reiteration or anaphora stresses the importance of the topic of sustainability. Likewise, water represents light and transparency. Blue in the poem is represented as the mystical color and symbol of the world is eternal. “Blue is calm, Jupiter is the blue god of Jupiter’s planet.” The people who take advantage of the clear water of the river understand and understand the truth of water. They do not pollute this water (they know the value of water) We also do not muddy the water according to them because they do not condemn and sin. This can also be seen as an analogy to real life. Additionally, water is one of the most sacred elements of worship in Iran. “No doubt blue is bluer there” is my favorite line, discussing the increasing lust to pure love. Professor Mahallati in class recited from memory that “Love is as blue as the feathers of honesty.” From this metaphor, I see honesty as a blue-feathered bird. In Sufism, the color blue refers to freedom and purity from stains. Love is associated to a blue sky, as blue as the feathers of sincerity; as the two become one at the height of harmony. This resonates to me with what Professor Mahallati says about friendship and understand why it is a dual relationship. The mythical aspect of water is still evident in many popular beliefs. For example, “a bowl of water is put on a wedding table” and after the ceremony they pour a bowl of water on the bride, the water is the shrine of Prophet Zahra (AS) and should not be contaminated, reminiscent of ancient Iranian traditions. In the poem “To the Garden of Companions,” Sepehri seeks refuge in the inner paradise of heaven in the face of the bitter and dark realities of the outside world. On the whole, fleeing from “the world that is (exists)” whilst seeking the “ideal world that ought to be” is the basis of his mystical poetry and conduct. In this poem “ideology turns into worldview, and the poet exhibits his political commitment, a cosmic commitment. Sepehri seems to answer one ultimate question: How can Humans be effectively responsible of their ordinary, temporary yet naturally high position in this ephemeral life? He eventually suggests one to work on improving thyself as a justification for our presence in this world.

Calligraphy:

After coming to class, I enjoyed comparing my calligraphy exercise, and comparing it to other students’ works, oftentimes exhibiting new fonts. It was interesting to see how people who formerly had the experience with Urdu, Arabic or other languages that use an alphabet more or less similar to Persian perform in juxtaposition with people who only know of the romance languages and who haven’t familiarized with anything similar before. As I speak Arabic, my calligraphy style is Arab at times. It often shows when I try to write the letter “ئ” or “ي”. Additionally, I realized that writing my words faster enhances the curves I sometimes failed to deliver while writing slowly.

Memorization:

Professor Mahallati’s stories about how Persian poetry’s faith seems to be strongly intertwined with world politics and foreign affairs makes my decision of oral practices and memorization a stronger, much more personal one. The anecdotes narrated to us in class exhibit some sort of spirituality to them, in addition to the universality of their timeless relevance. 


[i] Iran – Darioush – داریوش – دوباره میسازمت وطن. (2008). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cr4ElIFq95o [Accessed 6 Dec. 2019].

[ii]  “زبان آتش – تفنگت را زمین بگذار – استاد محمد رضا شجریان.” آپارات – سرویس اشتراک ویدیو. a.a. Accessed December 6, 2019. https://www.aparat.com/v/HzTw6/زبان_آتش_-_تفنگت_را_زمین_بگذار_-_استاد_محمد.

[iii] Bihbihānī Sīmīn, Sara Khalili, and Michael Beard. Dūbārah mīʹsāzamat vaṭan = My Country, I Shall Build You Again: barguzīdah-ʼi ashʻār hamrāh bā Tarjumah-ʼi Ingilīsī. Tihrān: Sukhan, 1388.

[iv] Bihbihānī Sīmīn, Sara Khalili, and Michael Beard. Dūbārah mīʹsāzamat vaṭan = My Country, I Shall Build You Again: barguzīdah-ʼi ashʻār hamrāh bā Tarjumah-ʼi Ingilīsī. Tihrān: Sukhan, 1388.

[v] Bihbihānī Sīmīn, Sara Khalili, and Michael Beard. Dūbārah mīʹsāzamat vaṭan = My Country, I Shall Build You Again: barguzīdah-ʼi ashʻār hamrāh bā Tarjumah-ʼi Ingilīsī. Tihrān: Sukhan, 1388.

[vi] Bihbihānī Sīmīn, Sara Khalili, and Michael Beard. Dūbārah mīʹsāzamat vaṭan = My Country, I Shall Build You Again: barguzīdah-ʼi ashʻār hamrāh bā Tarjumah-ʼi Ingilīsī. Tihrān: Sukhan, 1388.

[vii] Bihbihānī Sīmīn, Sara Khalili, and Michael Beard. Dūbārah mīʹsāzamat vaṭan = My Country, I Shall Build You Again: barguzīdah-ʼi ashʻār hamrāh bā Tarjumah-ʼi Ingilīsī. Tihrān: Sukhan, 1388.

[viii] “Shooting Stars: The Use of Metaphors in Writing.” The Writings of Cassidy Cornblatt, January 23, 2012. https://cassidycornblatt.wordpress.com/2012/01/08/shooting-stars-the-use-of-metaphors-in-writing/.

[ix] Gallagher, Andrew, and David Gould. “Metaphors of Stars, Meteors and Outer Space.” Metaphors in American Politics, November 26, 2014. http://www.politicalmetaphors.com/2014/11/26/metaphors-of-stars-meteors-and-outer-space/.

[x] “The Shooting Star – Symbol and Myth.” The Shooting Star – Symbol and Myth. Accessed December 6, 2019. http://www.aseekersthoughts.com/2009/11/shooting-star-symbol-and-myth.html.

[xi] Bihbihānī Sīmīn, Sara Khalili, and Michael Beard. Dūbārah mīʹsāzamat vaṭan = My Country, I Shall Build You Again: barguzīdah-ʼi ashʻār hamrāh bā Tarjumah-ʼi Ingilīsī. Tihrān: Sukhan, 1388.

[xii] Bihbihānī Sīmīn, Sara Khalili, and Michael Beard. Dūbārah mīʹsāzamat vaṭan = My Country, I Shall Build You Again: barguzīdah-ʼi ashʻār hamrāh bā Tarjumah-ʼi Ingilīsī. Tihrān: Sukhan, 1388.

[xiii] Bihbihānī Sīmīn, Sara Khalili, and Michael Beard. Dūbārah mīʹsāzamat vaṭan = My Country, I Shall Build You Again: barguzīdah-ʼi ashʻār hamrāh bā Tarjumah-ʼi Ingilīsī. Tihrān: Sukhan, 1388.

[xiv] Bihbihānī Sīmīn, Sara Khalili, and Michael Beard. Dūbārah mīʹsāzamat vaṭan = My Country, I Shall Build You Again: barguzīdah-ʼi ashʻār hamrāh bā Tarjumah-ʼi Ingilīsī. Tihrān: Sukhan, 1388.

[xv] Sipihrī Suhrāb, Kazim Ali, Mohammad Jafer Mahallati, Sipihrī Suhrāb, and Sipihrī Suhrāb. The Oasis of Now: Selected Poems of Sohrab Sepehri ; Translated from the Persian by Kazim Ali and Mohammad Jafar Mahallati. Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, Ltd., 2013.

[xvi] Sipihrī Suhrāb, Kazim Ali, Mohammad Jafer Mahallati, Sipihrī Suhrāb, and Sipihrī Suhrāb. The Oasis of Now: Selected Poems of Sohrab Sepehri ; Translated from the Persian by Kazim Ali and Mohammad Jafar Mahallati. Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, Ltd., 2013.

[xvii] Sipihrī Suhrāb, Kazim Ali, Mohammad Jafer Mahallati, Sipihrī Suhrāb, and Sipihrī Suhrāb. The Oasis of Now: Selected Poems of Sohrab Sepehri ; Translated from the Persian by Kazim Ali and Mohammad Jafar Mahallati. Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, Ltd., 2013.

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