O Iran, My Bejewelled Land (extract), translated by Jahan de Bellaigue

I am Victorious
I have now been made Official
I have ornamented myself with a name in a card of identity
and my existence has been Ratified with a number
so all hail the number 678 Issued from sector 5, Tehran
and from now I have peace of mind in every possible way
and lo, the kind embrace of the motherland
the baby’s dummy, brimming with historic glories
the lullaby of civilisation and culture
and the chirruping and cuckooing of the law
Oh
from now I have peace of mind in every possible way
filled with joy
I go to the window and enthusiastically, sucked in six hundred and seventy eight times the
air crammed thick with the dust of shit, rubbish and piss
and beneath six hundred and seventy eight the Receipts of debts
and written on top of six hundred and seventy eight job applications: Forough Farrokhzad
in the land of poetry and the rose and the nightingale
life is a blessing, all the more
when the fact of your being after years and years has been accepted
and in that land with the first official glance through the curtains, I see six hundred and
seventy eight poets
what charlatans, all in the strange guise of beggars
in amongst the rubbish, searching for meter and rhyme
and at the sound of the first official step
suddenly from amidst the dark cesspool, six hundred and seventy eight mysterious
nightingales
that for fun
disguised themselves as six hundred and seventy eight old black crows
lazily fly towards the edge of the day
as my first official breath
is smeared with the smell of six hundred and seventy eight rose stems
Produced by the huge Plasco plastic factory
Oh isn’t life is a blessing

 

This extract from Forugh Farrokhzad’s satire on the superficialities of the Iranian bureaucracy also laments the broken promises of her childhood. The use of Iranian poetic clichés, such as the ‘gol’ (rose) and ‘bolbol’ (nightingale), two popular motifs symbolising perfection and the poet who seeks it, manifest this idea. However, the title is the most caustic example of these failed expectations and is taken from a popular nationalist poem, recited by children before school. Translated literally as ‘Land full of Jewels’, it posed a problem because of my desire to convey the nationalist cliché that Farrokhzad attacks. The most obvious English equivalent was the line ‘Our green and pleasant land’ from ‘Jerusalem’, another nationalist anthem that schoolchildren sing. But this realisation was tempered by the appreciation that the Iranian essence of the poem must be kept and that using English clichés to cater to the needs of English readers only distorts the meaning. Which is why my title is closer to the literal translation whilst showing its personal relevance to Farrokhzad. Another problem I encountered was the intentionally limited use of originally Arabic words, with Farrokhzad mostly utilising them when using the official language of the bureaucracy she is criticising, for example words like ‘sadere’ (issued), requiring a way to convey the intended alienation. Therefore, I decided to use capital letters to highlight these words’ foreignness in an attempt to differentiate them from the ‘pure’ Farsi words. Certain lines were also problematic, for example when I found three different equivalents for the line ‘jegh jeghe jeghjegheye ghanoon’. I finally settled upon the current translation to maintain the rhythm and onomatopoeic nature of the original whilst also showing the indifference Farrokhzad feels towards the law by reducing its toil to the inconsequential sound of birds.

فاتح شدم
خود را به ثبت رساندم 
خود را به نامی در یک شناسنامه مزین کردم 
و هستیم به یک شماره مشخص شد
پس زنده باد 678 صادره از بخش 5 ساکن تهران

دیگر خیالم از همه سو راحت است 
آغوش مهربان مام وطن 
پستانک سوابق پر افتخار تاریخی
لالایی تمدن و فرهنگ 
و جق و جق جقجقه قانون ، 
آه 
دیگر خیالم از همه سو راحت ست

از فرط شادمانی 
رفتم کنار پنجره با اشتیاق ششصد و هفتاد و هشت بار هوا را که از اغبار پهن 
و بوی خاکروبه و ادرار ، منقبض شده بود 
درون سینه فرو دادم 
و زیر ششصد و هفتاد و هشت قبض بدهکاری 
و روی ششصد و هفتاد و هشت تقاضای کار نوشتم : فروغ فرخزاد

در سرزمین شعر و گل و بلبل 
موهبتیست زیستن ، آن هم 
وقتی که واقعیت موجود بودن تو پس از سالهای سال پذیرفته می شود 
جایی که من با اولین نگاه رسمیم از لای پرده ششصد و هفتاد و هشت شاعر را
می بینم
که حقه باز ها همه در هیات غریب گدایان 
در لای خاکروبه به دنبال وزن و قافیه می گردند
و از صدای اولین قدم رسمیم 
یکباره از میان لجنزارهای تیره ششصد و هفتاد و هشت بلبل مرموز 
که از سر تفنن خود را به شکل ششصد و هفتاد و هشت کلاغ سیاه پیر در آورده
اند 
با تنبلی به سوی حاشیه روز می پرند 
و اولین نفس زدن رسمیم 
آغشته می شود به بوی ششصد و هفتاد و هشت شاخه گل سرخ 
محصول کارخانجات عظیم پلاسکو
موهبتیست زیستن

Original poem by Forugh Farrokhzad. With thanks to Sholeh Wolpé and the team at farrokhzadpoems.com for their advice on securing permissions to reproduce the original poem here.