E Abadi, Consultant Economist & Researcher
E Abadi, Consultant Economist & Researcher

Poems translated by: Abbas Zahedi, Esmail Salami

Sohrab Sepehri

A painter who wanted to be a poet,
or A poet who wanted to be a painter?

Sohrab Sepehri was born in Kashan in October 1928. From the way he describes Kashan in his poems one would think it is heaven on earth. He talks about Kashan with warmth, love, and delight. The Kashan he describes is nothing like the actual city that lies on the borders of the Great Central Desert of Iran.

Sohrab Sepehri Sohrab never composed a poem in the classical style. His verse is free of form, rhyme, often even rhythm as was common with the poets of the Post-Constitution Movement, that is to say with Nima, often called the Father of Modern Iranian Verse, and his followers. These poets, particularly Nima himself, used very simple language, the language of ordinary people and of ordinary, everyday life:

I'm a native of Kashan
Life is not so bad
I have a bit of bread, an iota of intelligence
And a bit of wit
I've a mother, better than a leaf;
And friends, better than running water

Sohrab spent his childhood in Kashan. After completing the secondary school, he was employed in various state departments such as the Ministry of Education and the National Iranian Oil Co. Later, he continued his studies in the School of Fine Arts where, in 1953, he was awarded a BA and the First Class Medal for Arts.

Sohrab was in love with nature and felt committed to keeping water pure and birds free to fly. And he also wished that there be friendship and love among all human beings and this is what gave his poems an aura of mysticism. His poems are not concerned with the material world but rather with the supernatural, the eternal, the truth, and the very depth of life. In his world - the world in which he felt he was living - everything was exquisitely beautiful and yet all could be given up, left behind, to go on a long journey, which he describes in one of his poems:

And a God who lives nearby:
Amidst these gillyflowers, near that tall pine tree
Over water's cognition, over the ontogeny of plant
I'm a Muslim:
A rose is my qibla
A spring, my prayer-rug, the light, my prayer-stone
The plains, my mosque

I perform ablutions with the heartbeats of windows
Through my prayer flows the moon, flows the spectrum
Rocks are visible through my prayers

One of Sohrab Sepehri's paintings

Before being a poet Sohrab was a painter who worked passionately, endlessly and intensely. While on a visit to the USA, he wrote a letter to a friend from New York, saying that he painted "because there is still space available for painting on the walls of the world. So let us work; we must work... I paint; painting is one of the hardest tasks. It's so hard it 'skins' you alive. I read poems; I paint..."

I'm a native of Kashan:
An artist by profession
Sometimes, I build a cage of colors and offer it for sale
To ease your lonely heart
With the song of the peony confined therein

Elsewhere he points out that his family - his father in particular - were artists and in love with arts.

Father died after twice migrating of swallows
Twice falling of snow
Twice sleeping on the terraced-roof
Father died beyond Time
When my father died, the sky shone blue
My mother jumped up from sleep.
My sister turned pretty
When my father died the police were all poets
"How many kilos of melon?" the greengrocer asked
"How much is a gram of consolation?" I reciprocated

Father painted
Made tars*, played the tar as well
He wrote a fine hand too

Deep within he thought that his existence was not a mere coincidence, a simple accident... He felt he had been invited to this life:

I went to the Banquet of World
To the Plain of Sorrow
To the Garden of Mysticism
To the Illuminated Hall of Science
I climbed up the Stairs of Religion

One of Sohrab Sepehri's paintings Sohrab detested wars and bloodshed, cruelty and injustice, destruction and savagery. He wondered why people could not simply love one another and show kindness and generosity, compassion and sympathy:

Never have I seen two poplar trees at war
Never have I seen a willow selling its shade to the ground
The elm tree offers its branches to the crows gratis
Wherever there is a leaf, my passion blossoms
A poppy bathes me in the Flow of Being

Like an insect's wings I feel the weight of the dawn
Like a vase I listen to the Music of Growing
Like a basket full of fruit I pine for ripening
Like a tavern I stand on the borderline of Languor
Like a cottage by the sea, I fear eternal long waves
Sun, union, reproduction in abundance

I am contented with an apple
And with the smell of a chamomile
I am satisfied with a mirror, with a pure relationship
I won't laugh at a child if his balloon bursts
I won't sneer when a philosophy halves the moon
I know the fluttering of quail's wings
The color of bustard's belly, the footprints of chamois
I know where rhubarbs grow
When starlings migrate, when partridges sing
When falcons die
I know what the moon means in the Sleep of Desert
Death in the Stalks of Desire

Sohrab's love for nature is extraordinary, and, moreover, he feels that all that is beautiful on this earth belongs to him:

Wherever I am, let me be
The heaven is mine
Window, mind, air, love, and earth are mine
What matter
If the fungi of Nostalgia
Sometimes bloom?

He describes nature with passion and enthusiasm and in all his poems and paintings nature occupies a unique position. He counsels all people to keep the nature clean and pure and to treat this policy as a divine law:

Let's taste light
Weigh the night of a village, the sleep of a gazelle
Let's fathom the warmth of a stork's nest
Let's not tread on the Law of Grass

Let's not ask where the Fountain of Fortune is
Why the Heart of Truth is blue
What a night, what a breeze our forefathers experienced
Behind us is no living space
Behind us is no singing bird
Behind us is no blowing wind

He sees the human being in a delightful world of joy and ecstasy where all people smile and love one another. He sees a better tomorrow always and for all people:

One of Sohrab Sepehri's paintings Some day
I will come and bring a message
Into veins I will cast light
And call out, "O you whose baskets are full of dreams!"
I have brought you an apple, the red apple of the Sun

I will come to offer the beggar a lilac flower
I will give the lovely leprous woman a pair of earrings
To a blind man I will say, "How enchanting the garden is!"
I will become a peddler, roam the alleyways
And cry out, "Dews, dews, dews"
A passer-by will say, "It is indeed a dark night"
To him I will give a galaxy
On the bridge there is a little legless girl
Round her neck I will hang the Great Bear
All lips I will purge of obscenities
All walls I will tear down
I will inform the bandits
"A caravan is arriving with a load of smile"
I will tear up the clouds
Graft the eyes onto the sun, the hearts onto love
The shadows onto water, and the branches onto wind
I will graft infantile dreams to the murmuring crickets
I will fly kites
Water flowerpots
Go to horses and cows
And put the green grass of love before them
For a thirsty mare, I will bring a bucket of dews
There is a decrepit donkey on the way
I will scare the flies off its body

I will come to plant a carnation on each wall
I will sing a verse to every window
I will give each crow a pine tree
I will tell the snake: "The frog is so glorious!"
I will reconcile
I will familiarize
I will walk on
I will eat light
I will love

Sohrab greatly admired the ancient Persians' regard and respect for water, soil, fire and wind, water particularly which he begs everyone not to soil:

Let's not soil the water:
Perhaps a pigeon is drinking down there
Or a thrush dipping its wing by a far thicket
Or a pitcher being filled in a village
Let's not soil the water
This stream is perhaps running to a white aspen
To sooth a lonely heart
A dervish may have dipped his dry bread there
A lovely lady has come by the stream
Let's not soil the water
Beauty is doubled

Sweet water!
Clear stream!
People are so affable there!
May their streams bubble!
And their cows produce abundant milk!
Never have I visited their village
Their hedges must bear God's footprints
There, moonshine illuminates the expanse of eloquence
No doubt, the fences are low in yonder village
And its inhabitants know what a flower the peony is
No doubt, blue is blue there
A bud blossoms! People know it
What a glorious village it must be!
May its alleyways overflow with music!
The people living by the stream understand water
They did not soil it
Nor should we

One of Sohrab Sepehri's paintings

In his poem named Gulestaneh, which is the name of a village he visited, he describes how he finds life and love in the mountains and plains of the region surrounding the village:

Plains so vast!
Mountains so high!
What a scent of grass lay over Gulestaneh!
In that village I was searching for something:
Perhaps for some sleep
Light, pebble, smile

Behind the poplar trees
Innocent negligence keeps calling me

At a rush bed I stopped, the wind was blowing, I listened:
Who was talking to me?
A lizard plopped
I walked on
A hayfield on the way
Then contours of cucumbers, rosy bushes
And the oblivion of earth
At a stream
I took off my cotton slippers, and sat down
with my feet in water
"How green I am today!
And how alert my body!
What if Sorrow creeps down the mountain?!"
Who is behind the trees?
Nothing. Only a cow is grazing
It is summer noon
The shades know what a summer it is

In my heart there is something like a blaze
Of light, like a morning dream
And so restless am I that I feel like running
To the far end of the plains, up to the mountaintop
A voice keeps calling me from afar"

All his life, Sohrab searched for friendship, trying to find the worthy, ideal friend and again it is within nature that he searches. If you truly appreciate Sohrab's poetry you will lose all fear, doubt, anxiety, distress, by finding the "supreme one," but even beside Him one feels an endless solitude:

"Where's the friend's house?" asked a horseman at dawn
The sky paused
To the dark sands, the passer-by gave the twig of light
between his lips
Pointing to a white poplar, he said:

"Before you reach the tree
There is an orchard aisle greener than God's dream
Where love is as blue as the Wings of Honesty
Walk to the end of the alley, emerging from beyond Maturity
Turn towards the Flower of Solitude
Two steps to the flower
Stay by the eternal fountain of the earth's myths
Then a lucid fear will encompass you
In the fluid sincerity of space, you will hear a rustle:
You will see a child
On a tall plane tree, picking a young bird
from the Nest of Light
Ask him
Where's the friend's house?"

One of Sohrab Sepehri's paintings The collection known as the Eight Books reveals the evolutionary journey that Sohrab went through during his life. It seems that he came to this world too late but still with enough energy to shed light on the world at large.

Sohrab was a painter by profession and has left remarkable works of art but even so he is better known by Iranians for his poetry than for his paintings though some experts consider him a far better painter than poet.

In the end Sohrab showed that he knew the art of dying as well as painting and poetry, as he indicates by quoting TS Eliot at the beginning of one of his poems: "I should be glad of another death." When, in 1980, suffering from leukemia, he awaited death, poetry filled his empty days and all he asked from all those who wished to visit him was not to disturb his solitude.

If you are coming to me
I am beyond Oblivion
Beyond Oblivion is a place
Where dandelions run into the veins of air
Bringing news of a faraway blooming bush
The sands bear the footprints of delicate horsemen
Mounting the hilltop of poppies
Beyond Oblivion, the umbrella of desire is open
As soon as thirst blows onto the root of a leaf
Rain sings songs of freshness
One is lonely here
Where an elm's shadow streams into eternity

If you are coming to me
Approach gently, softly lest you crack
The fragile china of my solitude!

He is no longer with us but his memory persists stronger than ever, particularly among the younger generations, one generation after another.

* A Persian musical string instrument
- The translations of the poems remain exactly as originally translated.

Events, December 2004 - Copyright ©2003~2022 Events - All Rights Reserved