Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Response paper 6-Estelle Tronson

Words: 1,048

Poetry

Modern Persian poetry has had a profound effect on the genre as a whole. Among the many contemporary poets, Simin Behbahani and Sohrab Sepehri stand out. Their work has quickly become some of my favorite. I am especially enamored by Behbahani’s poem “You Will Not Believe It”:

“You will not believe it, but I have stars in my fists…

I have stars in my fists, I want no one to steal them,

I watch every corner, I listen to every sound.

I watch every corner, there is someone lurking in the dark,

It is a monster, a fairytale monster that I recall from nanny’s tales…

I see him squirm in the blood from the wounds of my stoning.

The monster has fallen from his height onto squalid dirt and rock,

But you will not believe it, I am left with no more stars…”¹

Here, Behbahani explains that she is holding precious stars in her fists, and goes to extreme lengths in order to keep them, including killing a monster, which results in the disappearance of her stars. This is a commentary on greed and its corruptive powers. She wanted to keep the stars’ beauty for herself and she became so paranoid that everyone would want them that she went as far as murder. You can see the paranoia in her tone when she says, “I watch every corner, there is someone lurking in the dark”. As though she has convinced herself that someone is there. This makes the reader question whether or not there was a monster in the first place, or if it was an illusion. Afterall, it was a “fairytale monster… from nanny’s tales”. In a way, this seems to be an allegory for innocence as well. The poet’s stars were bright and pure, like innocence. However, after she committed this act of violence, the light vanished.

Sepehri’s poetry deals less with human characteristics and more with connections to nature. In “Water’s Footfall”, he writes:

“I am a Muslim:

The rose is my qibla.

The stream is my prayer-rug, the sunlight my clay tablet.

My mosque, the meadow.

I rinse my arms for prayer along with the thrum and pulse of windows.

Through my prayers streams the moon, the refracted light of the sun.

Through translucent chapters I look down at the stones in the stream-bed.”²

Here, Sepehri compares aspects of religion to the nature around him. Through this elaborate and beautiful metaphor, he insinuates that God can be found in nature, in everything around him. He is displaying the common notion that God is all, and can be found in every aspect of creation. Sepehri is also almost describing nature as a religion itself, something to treat with respect and reverence, and never take for granted.

In his poem “The Living World”, Sepehri writes, 

“Someone died last night.

Bread still bakes.

Rainy snow still drizzles limply down.

The horses drink from the snow-fed trough.

Rain and snow piling down on the shoulders of silence.”³

In this poem, Sepehri reflects on life and death, and how life keeps moving, even in the wake of tragedy. He also brings in his themes of nature, explaining that nature remains unaffected by the death this poet had experienced. The last line, “rain and snow piling down on the shoulders of silence”, can be interpreted a few different ways. It can seem as though perhaps nature is not only unaffected by the tragedy, but apathetic towards it. The rain and snow continue to apply pressure to the situation, despite what has occurred. However, another way I interpreted this poem is that nature is instead comforting the poet during this time. It is helping move him along, past death and suffering, by remaining unchanged. This helps ground the poet and bring back some sense of normalcy.

Calligraphy

Over the course of this semester, I have found that I thoroughly enjoy calligraphy. The pieces we study in class are gorgeous, and there is something deeply calming about sitting down and copying phrases. It has become one of my favorite ways to relax after a stressful day.

There are still a few letters that I struggle with, but I have seen a drastic improvement since the beginning of class. One new thing that I have tried a few times in my calligraphy is layering. Instead of doing my practice on a separate sheet of paper from my final product, I practice the phrase in a lighter color before layering the final phrase on top. In this way, I am embracing my mistakes and including them in my finished piece. Not only does this bring depth to my calligraphy, but it gives me confidence as an artist, reminding me that mistakes are common and can be beautiful.

Music

When listening to a piece by Sepehri that was put to music, I noticed that the singer waits a long time before coming in.⁴ This is very different from western music, where the song revolves almost entirely around the vocals. In Persian music however, the music and the vocals are equally as important, they work together, rather than having one aspect overpower the rest. 

Memorization

 At the beginning of the year, I was intimidated by the prospect of memorizing entire phrases in a language that was completely foreign to me. Contrary to my fears, memorizing lines in persian was not nearly as difficult as I had expected. I have also found it to be deeply satisfying. There are a few lines that have stuck with me, and probably will for several years to come. In my first response paper, I said “I am sure that everything I have learned so far, and am still yet to learn, is information I will carry with me for the rest of my life”⁵. I was more correct than I could have possibly realized.

Endnotes:

¹ Simin Behbahani, My Country, I Shall Build You Again, Translated by Sara Kjalili, Tehran: Sokhan Publishers, 2007

² The Oasis of Now : Selected Poems, BOA Editions Ltd., 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central

³ The Oasis of Now : Selected Poems, BOA Editions Ltd., 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central

⁴ PersianMusic. “سهراب سپهری، شهرام ناظری.” YouTube, YouTube, 27 July 2012, youtu.be/yA3KdYOMAhs.

⁵ Response paper one, September 2019

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