God's weaver


Sen McGlinn
by Sen McGlinn

Parvin E’tesami (1907-1941)

God’s weaver

This is a debate poem, between a busy spider and a lazy fellow, but beginning with an extensive section of description. I’ve translated just this introduction. We've been discussing it in a class on Intellectual Debates in Iranian Modernism (part of the Master's course at Leiden: see //tinyurl.com/6k8mel)

Such fables, in which animals or insects teach wisdom, are found in many world literatures, and the spider is a common enough figure in them. What makes this poem of particular interest is that the spider, and the idler, are not simply universal figures. The poem is also an allegory, the spider and the weaver represent something specific in Iran around the 1930's. The question is: what do they represent? Is it the woman, who works indoors, her work unappreciated? The intellectual, tirelessly spinning lines? The mystic, detached from the world? The poet? The woman poet? And who is this lazy fellow: Iran itself, as a broken land; the Iranian male; the philistine who sees no point in intellectual work, mysticism, or poetry? Or is it the author’s male literary critiques who found it hard to believe that a woman could write, and attributed Parvin’s work to others? See what you think.


An idler’s fallen in a corner,
firm in form but broken and anguished.
He sees a spider, hard at work above the doorway,
detached from all the world’s vicissitudes,
spinning determination’s spindle, ignoring
all but the path of exertion and work.
Fallen behind the door, but looking ahead,
always in ambush, for the sake of the chase.
Up and down, here and there
spinning threads as fine as hair,
hanging veils, seen and concealed,
gleaming saliva is wound into yarn.

Without words or argument, the spider gives lessons,
cooks up a counsel out of raw thread:
craftsmen set to work like this,
while the ball’s in play they play the ball.

Now tearing down, now building up,
now descending, now ascending:
the work gets done without a tool.
A hundred circles without a compass,
of angles no shortage, triangles too,
who taught this architect such craft?

How clever the trader, who makes such gains,
the warp and woof are both the same!
Dancing down and dancing up: one hour of yarn-winding, and then
an age as an acrobat, balanced on rope.
Humble, resourceless, head held high;
plain and simple-hearted, loving a challenge.
A master of maths, with its rules and its lines,
planning and making faultless fine carpets.


As for me: while it is tempting to think that this is the tale of the intellectual and Iran, I think the spider is the mystic and the idler an irreligious person. "How clever the trader, who makes such gains" refers to exchanging perishable benefits for a timeless happiness. The metaphors of descending and ascending, in several places, represent the soul’s journey from innocent bliss, via experience, to conscious bliss. But that’s just my reading.


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Ok, knowing that Parvin is

by Reviewer (not verified) on

Ok, knowing that Parvin is more representetaive of move for modernity and against the traditional/ religious viewpoints (in an implicite way), why she should identify with the Spider and be arguing with the irreligious idler? I think Parvin identifies with Spider thogh, but in a way that it puts her in a mystical context, to depict spiritual rational for her endless endouvers of life. Idler may illustrate male figures whitin the field of houshold who are mostly passive, lazy and pessimistic.

Sen McGlinn


by Sen McGlinn on

I will have to translate the remainder of the poem to say more about the character of the idler, but the fact that it is a debate poem tells us that the two characters will represent contrasting views.

Perhaps I should say more about what I mean by an irreligious person. The 1930's was in the high tide of secularism in intellectual culture, not just in Iran but around the world. There was a generally accepted sociological analysis of modernity, in which "religious thinking" was seen as a stage to be replaced by "scientific thinking", and religion was expected to decline in importance as societies modernised. In line with this idea, studies of modernisation omitted religion and religious networks, or included them only in the form of opposition to modernity. By an "irreligious person" I mean someone who thinks within this framework: who cannot see the use of "god's weavers"or the cloth they weave.

I am quite sure that the spider and idler do represent more than themselves alone, and that Parvin identifies with the spider. My question is, in what capacity: as an intellectual, woman, poet, mystic, or something else ?



What I can do, is keep my arm
from bringing others any harm.
How can I give the enviers ease?
They are themselves their own disease.
(Sa'di, Gulestan 1:5)

Email: Sen.Sonja[at]Casema.


Dear Sen, Thanks for your

by Reviewer (not verified) on

Dear Sen,

Thanks for your observations. I might be wrong, but I think the Spider and the Idler only represent themselves. I mean I doubt Parvin intentionally has used them as metaphores to portrait particular situation with regard to socio-cultural conditions of Iran at that time. I agree with you on the way you interprete the mystical implications from the Spider side. But I don't know why the idler should be considered as irreligious.