Forugh Farrokhzad: Captive (From Persian)

Owing to idiosyncrasies of temperament and biography, I don't engage with modern Persian poetry a great deal. I also very rarely translate it, in part because I feel I know too little of modern Iranian cultural, literary and linguistic phenomena to do it as sensibly as I'd like, compared to the classical tradition for which books are a reasonable access point, and the medieval world which nobody can study except from a distance of centuries.
But Forugh Farrokhzad, to use a phrase she might have approved of in this context, is very hard to resist.  This is the third poem of hers that I have translated, mainly due to the depth of my dismay at how badly most of her translators have botched the job (especially with her metered and rhymed works) leaving the English reader with something almost as unreadable as it is unconscionable in its traducement of Forugh.
If there is one thing to be said about Forugh, it is that she had an irrepressible genius for being herself, which isn't as tautological as it might sound. She was true to herself in spite of all attempts by the society around her and by many of the individuals she knew, to make her into something else, more ladylike, less flamboyant, less overtly sexual, and probably a good deal less interesting.  She has been rightly noted as a woman who almost singlehandedly made it possible for a poet to speak as a woman in Persian. While far from being the first woman to write poetry in Persian, she was notable for not being afraid to write poetry as an Iranian woman. Women's experience had almost no precedent in Persian poetry. Those few women of the medieval tradition (such as Mahasti and Jahan Khatun) who did write poetry and did attempt to incorporate women's experience into their work, always seem to be at great pains to remain ladylike and proper while doing so. When Jahan Khatun wishes to express sexual desire, for example, she is forced to speak as a man (to the point of comparing herself to legendary male lovers, and even talking about her beard.) Even Forugh's female contemporaries (to my ear) evince this kind of timidness. Forugh the Modernist, however, comes to express over the course of her five volumes a full range of experience as a woman, including that not only of being desired but of actively desiring. And desire she did. A lot. From the publication of her first book Asīr 'Captive' which takes its title from the poem translated here, Forugh's poetry startled, shocked, scandalized and fascinated her readers.
And Forugh writes as herself. We can almost always be certain that the poetic "I" of her poems is referring to her, or at least some stylized version of her. The poem translated here, for example, was written during an unhappy marriage which she later left (and her husband, as was the norm back there and back then, got sole custody of the child in the divorce.) This autobiographical voice, coupled with her penchant for expressing and treating taboo topics (and not being shy about having a sex life that was not limited to writing) seems to have made her an attractive subject for biographical speculation, condemnation, and outright fantasizing by male readers of her work, much as was the case for Louise Labé in Renaissance France, and Edna St. Vincent Millay in 20th century America.
Forugh would eventually come to abandon the tropes, meters and rhymes of the classical tradition (though the shadow of Persian meter always hovers behind even her freest compositions.) Yet here in a poem from her first book, she exploits them to interesting effect. Though in all but one poem ever published she has forsaken monorhyme, preferring like other early Persian modernists to adopt stanzaic rhymes reminiscent of western verse, her diction, meter and habits of phrase would have more in common with the poetry of centuries past than with the free and colloquially tinged verse she would later prefer. The imagery, too, is not entirely new. The trope of a bird trapped in a cage yearning for the loved one above is a well-worn (perhaps even worn down) classical motif. In the classical tradition, however, this is almost always used as a Sufi metaphor to refer to the soul trapped in this world, yearning for the absent Beloved Almighty. (The opening verse of this poem by Hafiz is a brief typical example.)
Forugh maintains the theme of the absent beloved, so central to Persian lyricism, and recycles much of the caged bird motif in the poem's first half or so, but there is a new tone of despair overlaying it. Moreover, whereas God and Beloved tended to merge in classical poetry (and especially when caged birds are involved,) the absent beloved is here very corporeal. And (gasp!) it's a woman desiring him. Indeed, throughout Forugh's work, alongside a near-total absence of anything recognizably "Islamic," one finds a great many such profanations, when not outright sexualizations, of the sacred, appropriating the imagery (or even meters, such as that of Rumi's Masnawī) traditionally associated with divine union or Sufi yearning. In the most inspired cases, such as her 'āšiqāna "Love Song" this has the effect of elevating the joy of carnal sexual union to the highest level of glory and wonder. But I'm getting ahead of myself, and this introductory note has now gotten far longer than I meant for it to get.
In any case, the poem here translated is a relatively sedate one, all things considered, a timid first peep that would eventually swell to full-throated song. But the signs are unmistakable. Turā mēxwāham "I want you" says she with scant decorum.

Captive
Forugh Farrokhzad
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

I want you and I know I'll never hold you
To satisfy my heart in an embrace.
You are the clear bright heavens, I a captive
Bird in a cage that keeps me in my place.

My face behind these cold dark bars looks out
At yours, eyes full of wonderment and rue.
I think about a hand outstretched toward me,
That I might rise on instant wings toward you.

I think about one moment of neglect
When from this stifling sullen jail I'd glide,
Laugh in the face of him who jailed me, leaving
This life to seek a new one at your side.

I think such thoughts, but know I'll never be
Able to flee this cage before I die.
For even if my keeper wished me gone,
I've not enough strength left in me to fly.

Across the bars I see each sunlit morning
My child's eyes smile at mine in gentle glee,
And when I lift my voice in joyous song
His lips come offering up a kiss to me.

Sweet heavens, even if one day I rose
And from this smothering prison cell struck free,
What would I say to my boy's tearsoaked eyes?
"I was a bird held captive. Let me be."

I am a candle that illuminates
Cold ruins with the burning in my breast.
If I should choose to go for dark and silence
It would be desolation for my nest.


The Original:

اسير
فروغ فرخزاد 

ترا می خواهم و دانم که هرگز
به کام دل در آغوشت نگیرم
توئی آن آسمان صاف و روشن
من این کنج قفس، مرغی اسیرم

ز پشت میله های سرد و تیره
نگاه حسرتم حیران برویت
در این فکرم که دستی پیش آید
و من ناگه گشایم پر بسویت

در این فکرم که در یک لحظه غفلت
از این زندان خامش پر بگیرم
به چشم مرد زندانبان بخندم
کنارت زندگی از سر بگیرم

در این فکرم من و دانم که هرگز
مرا یارای رفتن زین قفس نیست
اگر هم مرد زندانبان بخواهد
دگر از بهر پروازم نفس نیست

ز پشت میله ها، هر صبح روشن
نگاه کودکی خندد برویم
چو من سر می کنم آواز شادی
لبش با بوسه می آید بسویم

اگر ای آسمان خواهم که یکروز
از این زندان خامش پر بگیرم
به چشم کودک گریان چه گویم
ز من بگذر، که من مرغی اسیرم

من آن شمعم که با سوز دل خویش
فروزان می کنم ویرانه ای را
اگر خواهم که خاموشی گزینم
پریشان می کنم کاشانه ای را

Romanization:

Asīr
Furōɣ Farruxzād

Turā mēxwāham o dānam ki hargiz
Ba kām-i dil dar āɣōšat nagīram
Toī ān āsmān-i sāf o rōšan
Man īn kunj-i qafas, murɣē asīram

Zi pušt-i mīlahā-i sard o tīra
Nigāh-i hasratam hayrān barōyat
Dar īn fikram ki dastē pēš āyad
Ba man nāgah gušāyam par basōyat

Dar īn fikram ki dar yak lahza ɣaflat
Az īn zindān-i xāmuš par bigīram.
Ba čašm-i mard-i zindānbān bixandam.
Kanārat zindagī az sar bigīram

Dar īn fikram man o dānam, ki hargiz
Marā yārā-i raftan zīn qafas nēst.
Agar ham mard-i zindānbān bixwāhad
Digar az bahr-i parwāzam nafas nēst

Zi pušt-i mīlahā har subh-i rōšan
Nigāh-i kōdakē xandad barōyam
Čo man sar mēkunam āwāz-i šādī
Labaš bā bōsa mēāyad basōyam

Agar, ay āsmān, xwāham ki yak rōz
Az īn zindān-i xāmuš par bigīram.
Ba čašm-i kōdak-i giryān či gōyam
Zi man bugzar, ki man murɣē asīram.

Man ān šam'am ki bā sōz-i dil-i xwēš
Furōzān mēkunam wērānaērā
Agar xwāham ki xāmōšī guzīnam
Parēšān mēkunam kāšānaērā

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