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Poet Behbahani Writes for Peace Amid Iran’s Political Turmoil

May 17, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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English translator Farzaneh Milani examines the writings of Simin Behbahani, one of Iran's most renowned and prolific female poets, amid the recent political turmoil that has affected her own life.
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JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight: a second Iran story about a renowned poet and her struggle amid the recent political turmoil in Iran.

Her story is told by a scholar in this country, who translates her work.

FARZANEH MILANI, University of Virginia: My name is Farzaneh Milani. I teach at the University of Virginia. And I have been there for a quarter-of-a-century. My area of specialization is women writers in Iran.

I have also had the great and distinct pleasure to be the translator of Simin Behbahani, Iran’s foremost poet alive, with my colleague Kaveh Safa.

Over the last six decades, Behbahani has published 19 books of poems. She is the most prolific female poet in Iran, a country in which poetry is the national scripture.

“My country, I will build you again.”

This is one of the most anthologized poems of Simin Behbahani.

“My country, I will build you again, if need be, with bricks made from my life. I will build columns to support your roof, if need be, with my own bones. I will inhale again the perfume of flower favored by your youth. I will wash again the blood off your body with torrents of my tears.”

Simin Behbahani recognizes the power of words, and she has used them to write a different kind of history of Iran. I sincerely believe that the history of the last three decades of Iran, especially after the revolution, can be best studied through her poetry.

Because she is not an ideologue, because she doesn’t belong to any political party, because she loves the country she lives in, she has presented an image that is fair and judicious, that is complicated and multilayered.

These are miniature portrayals of Iranian history, from the street level up. The Islamic republic confiscated Behbahani’s passport on March 8 as she was leaving Tehran Airport for Paris. She had been invited there to deliver a speech and read a few of her poems on the occasion of International Women’s Day.

Despite her physical fragility and age, she was interrogated all through the night and told to report to the Revolutionary Court. For now, Behbahani is under country arrest. She is virtually a prisoner in her own country.

“Once more, the darkness will leave this house. And I will paint my poems blue with the color of our sky. The resurrector of old bones will grant me in his bounty a mountain’s splendor in his testing grounds. Old, I may be, but, given the chance, I will learn. I will begin a second youth alongside my progeny. I will recite the Hadith of love of country with such fervor as to make each word bear life. There still burns a fire in my breast to keep undiminished the warmth of kinship. I feel for my people.”