‘The Bird May Die’: Forough Farrokhzad’s Poems and Iran’s Caged Women

My room has a sketch from Persepolis hanging on the wall. For those who have not read the book, I highly recommend it. I first read it on a cosy winter evening after it was gifted to me by a dear friend. I initially thought the book was some sort of a comic novella. I finished reading it in one sitting and it soon became one of my most cherished books.

The autobiographical piece covers pre-revolution and post-revolution Iran, but from the eyes of a young narrator who is ten years old at the time the book starts. It is based on the experiences of French-Iranian writer and filmmaker Marjane Satrapi.

I was still new to the world of Persian writers when I came across the poetry of Forough Farrokhzad. The name ‘Forough’ in Persian means brightness and, like her name, Farrokhzad’s work continues to illuminate Persian feminist literature. Her writings have been translated into various languages, including English.

The death of Farrokhzad in 1967 left behind an incomparable void in the arena of Persian literature. At a time when Persian literature was exhausted with the voices of male counterparts, Farrokhzad’s work was a rare bluebird. She touched upon the topics of desire and eroticism that were hardly discussed by women within the household, let alone literature. It deemed her the reputation of being ‘controversial’ and ‘shameless’.

She led her personal life as fearlessly as she wrote. Post her divorce, she began her romance with Ebrahim Golestan, who inspired her to explore the depths of her desire. Farrokhzad’s work continues to be celebrated more than half a century later.

The Window

Forough Farrokhzad, 1962

When my faith was hanging
By the weak thread of justice
And In the whole city
The hearts of my lamps were
Being torn to pieces,
When the childlike eyes of my love
were being blindfolded by law’s black kerchief,
And fountains of blood were gushing forth
From the distressed temples of my desire,
When my life was no longer anything,
Nothing but the tick-tock of a wall clock,
I discovered that I must,
That I absolutely had to
Love madly.

Translation: Anonymous


Farrokhzad’s poetry also reminds me of the state of women in Iran, especially political prisoners. The term ‘political prisoner’ is not new in Iran. The inhuman treatment of political prisoners in Iran violates various international human rights convention. The relentless crackdown on dissent and opposition has received widespread criticism and sanctions.

In 2019, Nasrin Soutoudeh was sentenced to 38 years imprisonment and 148 lashes. She is a human rights lawyer fighting against hijab laws and seeking answers from the regime over the gross violation of human rights in the country. She has also been on a hunger strike to protest against the dreadful condition of prisons in Iran since the outbreak of coronavirus. Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe, a British Iranian woman was visiting her parents in Iran from London when she was arrested on the account of conspiring to overthrow the regime. Ratcliffe was arrested back in 2016 and has faced multiple charges since then. In September 2020, fresh charges were pressed against her and she will be facing trial.

There have been several thousand women like Soutoudeh and Ratcliffe who are in Iranian prisons. In 2018, Maedeh Hojabri, a teenager, was arrested for uploading dance videos on Instagram. This shows the extent to which women have to monitor their lives and walk on the perils of everyday reality. Satrapi quotes in her book:

“It’s only natural! When we’re afraid, we lose all sense of analysis and reflection. Our fear paralyses us. Besides, fear has always been the driving force behind a dictator’s repression. Showing your hair or putting on makeup logically became acts of rebellion.”

The hope of receiving justice is also diminishing with unfair trials. Iran has drawn intense backlash from international governments and civil bodies over violation of human rights and for the heinous ways of oppressive and violence unleashed on people who oppose the regime. It has drawn a considerable number of sanctions from the US in recent years.

Satrapi’s book Persepolis speaks of how people rejoiced when Shah (former ruler) was overthrown from his throne, and expected democracy to be installed in the country. However, things turned out to be starkly different from what the vox populi imagined. Post-revolution, many people had to flee Iran to save themselves from persecution.

It is also important to understand what we can learn from these regimes and rulers. It does not take much time for the direction of winds to change from democracy to dictatorship. The works of Farrokhzad and Satrapi capture the painful tragedy of justice and freedom in Iran. While Farrokhzad bid adieu to the world even before theocracy reigned over Iran, but parallels can be drawn between her poetry and the reality of today.

The Bird May Die…

I feel sad,
I feel blue.
I go outside and rub my cold fingers-
On the sleek shell of a silent night.
I see that all lights of contact are dark,
All lanes to relate us- are blocked.
Nobody will introduce me to the sun,
Nobody will take me- to the gathering of doves.
Keep the flight in mind,
The bird may die.

Translated by Maryam Dilmaghani

Ankita Chakravarty is a masters student at Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Guwahati.

Featured image credit: Century Mountain/Flickr