The wild soul

Lament for Forough Farrokhzad


The wild soul
by Ryszard Antolak

[She] loved as in our age
People already do no longer; as only
The wild soul of a poet
Is still condemned to love


Ever since her tragic death in a car accident in 1967, Forough Farrokhzad has been drawing thousands of visitors to the Zahir-al-Doleh cemetery in Tehran. They come to lay flowers, recite poetry and light candles on the grave of the poet who has become an inspiration to women not only in Iran, but wherever women’s rights are severely curtailed. If she had survived her car crash, the poet would have celebrated her 72nd birthday this year.

Forough Farrokhzad was one of those poets for whom Poetry (with a capital P) was not solely about the "writing" of "poems" or versification, but about living life to the full without compromise or equivocation. She once wrote:

"I believe in being a poet in every moment of my life. Being a poet means being human. I know some poets whose daily behaviour has nothing to do with their poetry. In short, they are only poets while they are writing their poetry. When they have finished writing, they turn back into greedy, indulgent, oppressive, short-sighted, miserable, and envious people. So I do not believe their poems. I prize honesty in life, and when I find these people making fists and various claims - in their poems and essays - I get disgusted, and I doubt their veracity. I think to myself, “Perhaps it is only for a plate of rice that they are screaming.”

Forough Farrokhzad, and also Marina Tsvetaeva, (with whom she is often compared), believed one could be a poet without writing a single line of poetry. For these women, Poetry was a vocation, a way of life: a unique way of perceiving the world (and ourselves with it) as a seamless unity of being. Just as the written poem uncovers hidden connections between apparently disparate elements and unites them into a meaningful work of art; so the poet gathers up the scattered elements of his own life and makes from them a new living entity, open to infinity. He makes a poem out of the details of his life, and attempts to live it with all the heightened passion and intensity of feeling he is able withstand.

Forough knew the consequences of dedicating her life so completely to Poetry. As a woman, it meant renouncing the traditional roles of wife and mother Iranian society required of her. On a more personal level, it meant abandoning her only child whom she loved to distraction. She made the choice in full consciousness of the consequences, writing about it with her characteristic brutal honesty:

I know a weeping child mourns
The loss of his mother,
Yet, tired and despairing
I set out on the road to Hope.
Poetry is now my love. Poetry my lover.
I leave everything behind to follow it.

Her actions, which remain as controversial today as they were during her own time, were to have tragic repercussions for her life as well as her sanity. As the years went by, she became increasingly haunted by the enormity of what she had done: that “sin” (as she called it) which she both detested and exalted at the same time.

I sinned a sin of pure pleasure,
In an embrace that was fiery and wild.
I sinned in the arms of one
Who was hot and avenging as iron.

In that dark and silent seclusion,
I sat dishevelled by his side.
As his passion was poured upon my lips,
And I lost the sorrow in my shattered heart…

I sinned a sin of pure pleasure,
Next to a shaking, stupefied figure.
God only knows what I did
In that dark and silent seclusion!

But her poetry became enormously enriched as a result. She showed a generation of Iranian women that their lives did not have to revolve around their children or the kitchen sink. In the details of her own life, she demonstrated the possibility of extracting the utmost from every moment of existence.

It has been said that the poet’s main task is to make us aware of the breath of eternity that hangs over all that is truly alive. If this is the case, then Forough Farrokhzad fulfilled her role as “eternity’s hostage, captive to time”. She gathered up the shattered morsels of eternity that lay within her own soul and held them up to us in “wet and trembling hands” (Pasternak)

Her poetry (like her life) veered wildly to the far-flung borders of passion, which she documented with meticulous honesty and ruthlessness of vision. Her life was tragically brief. She lit up the literary sky for a brief moment, and then went out forever. But that unique light was not forgotten. Every year on the anniversary of her death (February 14th), people gather at her graveside in their hundreds to light candles, lay flowers and mourn her passing. The sky comes down among them to lay a covering of soft snow upon her gravestone After so many years, Forough Farrokhzad is still sorely missed.

I will come, I will come
I will come again
and this time my hair will smell of the soil;
and my eyes will be black
with the knowledge of the darkness;
I will come again
carrying the branches I have gathered
in the woodlands behind the wall.

I will come, I will return,
I will come again,
and the entrance will be filled once more with love;
And I will greet once more at the gate
All those who are in love
And the girl who is waiting at the gate;
I'll greet them all once more.


Ryszard Antolak is a writer and teacher specializing in Persian History and philosophy


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