Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Roya Ahmadi-Moghadam: Oral Culture & Poetry, RP6

Sepehri, Bebahani, & Moshiri as Contemporary Poets

Many contemporary Iranian poets took traditional forms and developed them into a more modern style by playing with the structure of traditional poetry to create a new form and often  relating them to modern societal or political issues. Great contemporary poets like Sohrab Sepehri, Simin Behbahani, and Fereydoon Moshiri are all exceptional examples of this.

Sepehri is most well known for his deep connection to the environment, with his poems often having lots of imagery relating to nature, and his mystical understanding of the ordinary and our relation to the world as individuals.  Dabashi puts it best when he notes that “Sohrab Sepehri cut through the thick politicization of his age to grasp a primal moment of wonder in the world.”1

Someday soon

I will come with a message 

And into your bloodstream I will pour light

Calling out, “You who haul baskets of slumber and sleepiness, wake up!

I’ve brought you an apple sun-red”

I’ll tear down the clouds 

And stitch everyone’s eyes to the sun,

And stitch everyone’ s hearts to love

And sew shadow’s down to into the water’s surface, 

And sew the branches into the wind’s arms2

The beauty in Sepehri’s poetry is his masterful integration of nature as a reflection of God’s beauty. Sepheri views himself in unity with the entire world and in this poem we can clearly see his desire to connect everyone and thing to the beauty of the world and its love though his metaphors (i.e. him wanting to connect or “stitch”/”sew” things together).

Behbahani is well known for her reflections on Iranian culture and the role of the individual in society, particularly focusing on modern Iran. She often talks about love, passion, and gives a very romantic, but more “real” view of life. Her unique poetic style adds new metric schemes to traditional Persian poetry and her focus on socio-political issues makes Behbahani distinct as a contemporary.3

In her poem “My County, I Shall Build You Again” Behbahani writes:

My country, I will build you again,

If need be, with bricks made from my life.

I will build columns to support your roof,

If need be, with my bones.

I will inhale again the perfume of flowers

Favoured by your youth.

I will wash again the blood off your body

With torrents of my tears.4

Here Behbahani shows us that she’s not afraid to mix poetry with politics. This particular poem is written only a few years after the beginning of the Iranian Revolution and the county’s complete restructuring of its government. Behbahani’s seemingly patriotic message and vow to rebuild her (at the time) politically turbulent country by whatever means necessary is no doubt an intentional commentary on Iran’s situation, demonstrating her ability to use poetry as a means of political dialogue.

Moshiri like Behbahani also focused on society, but was seldom politically motivated in his poetry. Moshiri’s poems reflect the “universal pain and suffering, loves and passions, and strengths and weaknesses” of humanity; the love between mankind and the importance of unity, peace, and friendship. 5

In the soil that is the essence of you and I,

from the fist encounter,

every word, every action,

are seeds we sow,

a tree we grow.

Its water, sun, and breeze “affection.”

If it grows as it should 

it will adorn life, with the most pleasing image.

It will so join with you this delicate spirit,

that your soul’s desire will be all that, and no more

It will free you from want, of everything and everyone.

Life is the warmth of united hearts;

in it, without friends, all doors are closed6

This poem in particular, I feel, really captures Moshiri’s poetry as an “invitation to kindness and love”7; The poet shows us the importance of our most basic relationship, friendship, by using a very accessible metaphor,  and affirms the very idea of experiencing life and being a part of mankind by trusting, connecting, and loving one another.

This idea is also reflected in “Laydown Your Weapon” in which Moshiri points out the foolishness of fighting and urges us to find our humanity.

Lay down your gun,

As I hate seeing this very abnormal shedding of blood.

The gun in your hand speaks the language of fire and iron, But I, before this fiendish ruining tool, Have nothing but, the language of the heart, The heart full of love for you, Who are friendship’s adversary.

Come, sit down, talk, hear.

Perhaps the light of humanity will get through to your heart

Oh brother, if you hear me, sit down like a brother Lay down your gun.

What do you know about humane religion?

If God has bestowed us life,

Why you should take it?7

Interestingly, this piece would be taken into a highly political context after it was used by Shajarian in his song “Zaban-e Atash” (‘The Language of Fire’). The song, written nearly thirty years after the Iranian revolution8, would come in the spotlight at the height of anti-regime protests in Iran like the “Green Movement,” a political movement that arose after the 2009 Iranian presidential election.

It is clear then that the question of contemporary poets is one of society and how we interact with one another in both a social and political sense. Many of these great poets used their writing to express the importance of our relationship and advocated for understanding, unity, and love.

Calligraphy and Memorization

In furthering my calligraphy, I think I have continually developed my style and technique, paying careful attention to the meaning and visual message I want my calligraphy to send; my writing is more romantic in nature, favoring curved forms and slanted lines. I have also quickened the pace at which I can write, no longer awkwardly stumbling over certain letters in my writing. Using a smaller writing implement has also helped my writing, as I no longer worry about fitting my letters onto the page, but allow the pen strokes to take me where they want to, giving my lines more free and playful feeling.

Memorization has, as always, helped me hear what I’m writing and allowed me to more accurately reflect that sound in my calligraphy, while simultaneously instilling valuable lessons for me and my classmates to think about.

1. Dabashi, Hamid. Close up: Iranian Cinema, Past, Present and Future. London: Verso, 2001.

2. The Oasis of Now : Selected Poems. 2013. Rochester: BOA Editions Ltd.. Accessed December 6, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central.

3,4. Simin Behbahani, My Country, I Shall Build You Again, Translated by Sara Kjalili, Tehran: Sokhan Publishers, 2007

5,6. Fereydoon Moshiri, Lucky Those Half-Opened Buds, Translated by Sara Kjalili, Tehran: Sokhan Publishers, 2007

7. Moshiri

8. Sreberny, Annabelle, and Massoumeh Torfeh. Cultural Revolution in Iran: Contemporary Popular Culture in the Islamic Republic. London: I.B. Tauris, 2017.

Leave a Reply