on this page: Passages from the Lonely Woman by Michael Hillmann

The following is reprinted from A Lonely Woman by the kind permission of Professor Michael Hillmann, the author andÊ Lynne Reinner Publishers. For more information about this book please click here.

Only through the strength of perseverance shall I be able to do my own part in freeing the hands and feet of art from the chains of rotten conditions and in brining into existence the right of every one and especially women to be able freely to draw aside the curtain of their hidden instincts and tender, fleeting emotions and to be able to describe what is in their hearts without fear and concern for the criticism of others.

When I leaf through magazines and open volumes of contemporary or classical poetry .. I see that men everywhere have described their love and beloved with utter frankness and freedom and have compared the beloved to everything and have voiced imaginatively and poetically all manner of petition to the beloved, and they have described all of the stages of love experienced at the beloved's side. And people have read these books with complete equanimity, no one screaming out in protest that: "O lord, the foundations of morality have been shaken, and general modesty and purity are about to collapse and the publication of this book is dragging the morals of the youth to perdition!

Her point, of course, is that readers reacted in this way to her poems not because of their subject, but because of their feminine perspective. But Farrokhzad asks her readers to realize that:

Poetry is the language of the heart and I am a woman and my heart and its emotions are different from the emotions that exist in the heart of a man. Consequently, if I want to speak with the voice of a man, for sure I will not be speaking from my own heart.

In Rebellion , she reveals that she has moved to that state from her sense of being a captive and facing wall(s) .  Farrokhzad herself later referred to rebellion as "the hopeless thrashing of arms and legs between two stages of life . the final gasps for breath before a sort of release".
page35 Forugh Farrokhzad , Four Interviews , P.6.

Farrokhzad 's death actually shocked Iran, as only one other death of a literary figure ever had, Sadeq Hedayat's April 1951 suicide in Paris.  Although equally controversial figures, they could not have differed more as to why their deaths were shocking. Hedayat was a burnt out case whose death seemed a dramatic personal act congruent with the black pessimism and nihilism many readers sense in The Blind Owl and other stories. Farrokhzad 's death, on the other hand, was no statement, but rather the sudden, senseless tragedy of a growing, still youthful artist cut down before maturity and fulfillment.

Concomitant with the shock came unfounded rumors to the effect that Farrokhzad had deliberately crashed her car.  Some people pointed to passages in "Let Us Believe in the Beginning of the Cold Season" that seemed to them a prediction of the time of day, weather, and season of the year in which she would die.  The poem may exhibit ante quem details: the poet did die shortly after 4 p.m. On the 14th; her mother did have to send an obituary announcement to the newspapers: and snow was falling during the graveside ceremonies on the 15th.  But the whole poem has to do not with actual death or a forecast of suicide, but with the death of youth, optimism, and faith, which leaves the woman speaker pessimistic and face-to-face with a lonely life of potential meaninglessness. 

If one thinks of poetry, specifically of lyric expression, as personal, individual, open frank, intense, committed, unambiguous, full of the sights and sounds of its poet's time and place, full of the human content of all times and places, possessed of an indefinable purity, somehow sad even when voicing happiness-in whatever terms one conceives of poetry-it seems no exaggeration to see Forugh Farrokhzad's life and life's work as lyric statement.  Such a view implies special significance in Iranian terms insofar as lyric poetry itself has a special place in Iranian culture as the highest, most revered art. The metaphor implies that Farrokhzad herself epitomizes ideas in that culture.

Farrokhzad' s refusal to live according to the prevailing moral code and social double brought her the continuing and intensified opprobrium of people who actually were privy to no more than rumors about her private life.  Al-e Ahmad, for example, reportedly opined on several occasions that Farrokhzad was using her sex in life and sex in her verse as her only means of achieving some prominence in Persian literature.  Rumors about the poet's private life scandalize women in her own class as well as men. It just did not strike many people that, as in the case of France's George Sand (1804-1876), Farrokhzad sexual relationships might represent a natural expression of needs and wants.  If she had had Joan of Arc's personality and had expressed herself less sexually as a female, she might have faced less intense or categorical negative reaction.  Had she been lesbian, she might not have intruded so challengingly onto the arena of public sensibility. But unlike George Sand's case, documentation in the form of correspondence and other written records has not been made available by which one might discern the nature of the meaningfulness of Farrokhzad's sexuality during this period.

I wanted to be a "Woman," that is to say a "human being". I wanted to say that I too have the right to breathe and to cry out. But others wanted to stifle and silence my screams on my lips and my breathe in my lungs.  They had chosen winning weapons, and I was unable to 'laugh anymore' . Not that I had run out of laughter; no, rather my strength had been completely sapped, and in order to get fresh energy and strength for 'laughing ' some more, I suddenly decide to put some distance for a while between myself and this environment.

While in Europe, Farrokhzad wrote:

At the time I could not imagine how great an effect this trip could have on my psyche and mentality and to what degree it could bring back my lost health and peace of mind.  At this moment while I'm sitting here and writing these lines, I confess that I have never before in my life felt so calm and hopeful and strong.

If  my poetry contains a degree of femininity, well it is quite natural owing to the fact that I am a woman. I am glad I am a woman. But if the criterion used is artistic value, then I do not think sex can be propounded (as a determining factor). Discussing this matter is not right in the first place. Naturally because of her physical, emotion and psychological qualities, a woman focuses on problems that are perhaps not apt to be scrutinized by a man, and a feminine "vision" relates to problems that differ from those of a man. I think for those who choose artistic work as a means of expressing their existence, If they try to make their sex a standard for their artistic work, they will always remain on this same level, and this is really not good. If I think that because I am a woman, I should talk about my own womanhood all the time, this would indicate a kind of stagnation and lack of growth, not just as a poet but as a human being. Because the consideration is that a person nurtures the positive aspects of his or her own existence in some way so he or she can attain a certain level of human values. The essential thing is being a person. Being a man or a woman is not the issue.
page 64,65 from "Four Interviews" pp.21-22.

Among male observers, Mahmud Azad commented in the early 1960s on what he called "startling and sad" , , i.e., "the mean-spirited understanding of Iranian intellectuals in sexual and emotional matters and their attitude and behavior toward women."
Azad added an equally pertinent, more readers and critics refer to her orally and in print. In discussing other modernist Iranian poets, readers and critics generally cite the poet by surname. Ahmad Shamlu is referred to as "Shamlu." Mehdi Akhavan-e Sales is called "Akhavan(-e Sales)." Nader Naderpur is referred to as "Naderpur." Otherwise, the name is usually a nom de plume, as in the case of Shamlu, sometimes referred to as "Bamdad," and Akhavan as "Omid" But with Forugh Farrokhzad readers and critics are quick to refer to her simply as "Forugh," which Azad sees as a manifestation of male chauvinism or presumption of some sort or other. p.36

Reprinted from Lonely Woman: Forugh Farrokhzad and Her Poetry, by Michael C. Hillmann. Copyright © 1987 by Michael C. Hillmann. Reprinted with permission of Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc.

A Lonely Woman


home | about us | Forugh's life | Forugh's work | about Forugh | contact us | search the site | literary works | order memorabilia