Overlooked No More: Forough Farrokhzad, Iranian Poet Who Broke Barriers Of Sex And Society
Farrokhzad’s last years were full of promising achievement. In 1962, she made a short documentary, “The House Is Black,” about a leper colony where she lived for 12 days. Narrated by Farrokhzad with her own verses, the film portrays the colony as an allegory for Iranian society. While there, she adopted a young son, Hossein Mansouri. The film won the 1963 grand prize for documentary at the Oberhausen Film Festival in West Germany.
In 1964, she published her landmark collection, “Another Birth,” which established her among the great voices of Persian literary modernism, alongside the poets Ahmad Shamlu and Mehdi Akhavan Sales.
The collection, whose title poem is a long meditation on love, includes cutting social commentary. “Oh Bejeweled Realm” satirizes the pretensions of both Iran’s Westernizing regime and its middle-class intellectuals:
Tomorrow I can,
In the backroom of Khachick’s shop,
Snort a few grams of some of the purest stuff,
Swill a few glasses of mixed-up Pepsi-Cola,
Give out a few oh Gods, and Hallelujahs, haw-haws, aha-aha-aha,
And formally join the ranks of high-minded thinkers and an asinine Enlightenment.
Then I’ll sign up with the Ho-Ho School of Thought,
And put out my first great novel
Published with a bankrupt press.
The poem ended by mocking writers who clung to traditional and decorous rhymes in their verses.
Yet Farrokhzad never thought of modernity and tradition as mutually exclusive. Like the French symbolist poets whom she read and admired in translation, she reinvented classical imagery in modernist forms. Her last collection, “Let Us Believe in the Beginning of the Cold Season,” published posthumously, was heavily influenced by her reading of the 13th-century Persian mystic Jalaluddin Rumi.
“She always had one eye back on tradition, and one eye toward the future,” said the Iranian poet Fatemeh Shams, an assistant professor of Persian literature at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Many people who left Iran in the 1980s took three books with them: Saadi, Rumi, Forough,” Shams said, referring to the tumultuous decade after the 1979 revolution, which led millions of Iranians to leave their country.
Farrokhzad died in a road accident, returning from lunch at her mother’s house, on Feb. 14, 1967. Hundreds mourned at her funeral. It was a rare gathering of many of Iran’s leading intellectuals, one of the last times before the revolution.
She was buried at Zahir al-Dowleh cemetery in northern Tehran, under the February snows.