Farrokhzad, Forugh 1935–1967

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Farrokhzad, Forugh

Forugh Farrokhzad was a pioneer among Iran's women poets and is considered one of the country's most innovative poets of modern times. She was born on January 5 in Tehran, the third of seven children born to Mohammad Farrokhzad, an army officer, and Turan Vaziritabar, a homemaker. Farrokhzad's formal education was limited, as she never finished high school. At age sixteen, she fell in love with and, against her family's wishes, sentiments, married Parviz Shapur, a distant relative fifteen years her elder. The couple moved to the southwestern city of Ahvaz where he worked in the provincial office of the Ministry of Finance. The marriage ended in acrimonious divorce three years later. As was common practice in Iran, the court awarded custody rights of their son, Kamyar, to the father; Farrokhzad also lost visitation rights because the court judged her unfit to raise a child. Her pariah status was to turn into a haunting force in Farrokhzad's life and poetry.

Farrokhzad began writing poems first in the form of ghazal, the most central lyrical genre in the classical tradition, and later in charpareh, a ballad-like poetic form consisting of a number of stanzas each made up of four hemistiches where at least two rhyme. The themes of her early poems are youthful love, pangs of separation, particularly from her son, and a desperate search for true love. Three collections of poems were published successively, Asir (The captive) in 1955, Divar (The wall) in 1956, and Osyan (Rebellion) in 1957. By and large, the poems in these collections are in a confessional tone and address themes of physical and emotional intimacy. Although her poems refresh the millennium-old tradition of male Persian lyricism, their self-expressive qualities worked against the poet's status in the highly normative culture of mid-twentieth-century Iran. The response from poets, critics, and readers was generally negative. The very community that could have welcomed the audacity enshrined in such expressions reacted with repulsion or derision or both, earning the poet the undeserved reputation of a loose woman and a threat to Iranian women's sense of modesty.

The effect on the aspiring poet's fragile psyche was devastating. Farrokhzad suffered a nervous breakdown in September 1955 and was hospitalized for about a month. What sustained her, at least in part, was a new interest in filmmaking, which would lead to her close association with Ebrahim Golestan, a leading intellectual filmmaker. Meanwhile her poetry, still largely in traditional verse forms, began to take on social issues. This tendency became evident in Osyan and together with the themes of love forms the twin strains that dominate the poems that followed. In 1956 Farrokhzad took the first of several trips to Europe, an experience that helped restore her to health; it also infused her poetry with the kind of cosmopolitanism hitherto absent from all writing by women in Iran, including her own early works. She also kept a journal, which was first published under the title Dar Diari Digar (In another land), and posthumously as Javdaneh Zistan, Dar Owj Mordan (Living for eternity, dying at the peak).

Farrokhzad's 1958 friendship with Golestan led to the last, most productive phase of her life. She worked on at least four documentary films through Golestan Film Studio, Yek Atash (1959; A fire), Khastegari (1960; Courtship), Ab va Garma (1961; Water and heat), and Mowj va Marjan va Khara (1961; Waves, corals, and flint stones). Some of these films were featured and won prizes at various European festivals. The 1962 film Khaneh Siah Ast (The house is black), a poetic treatment of the life of lepers which she wrote, directed, and edited during and after a twelve-day sojourn in the Baba Baghi leper colony, remains her best film by far. During the same period, she adopted a boy from his leper parents. In 1964 the publication of Tavallodi Digar (Another birth) awakened Iran's literary community to Farrokhzad's poetic genius, and the feeling has only grown through the decades. Although many of the thirty-three poems in this volume had been published in the leading literary journals of Tehran, the book revealed the coherence of an evolving vision that had gone largely unnoticed. Farrokhzad died at the age of thirty-two on February 14, 1967, when she swerved the car she was driving into a stone wall to avoid colliding head-on with a school bus.


Farrokhzad, Forugh. 2004. Remembering the Flight: Twenty Poems by Forugh Farrokhzad, ed. and trans. Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak. 3rd edition. Los Angeles: Ketab.

Hillmann, Michael C. 1987. A Lonely Woman: Forugh Farrokhzad and Her Poetry. Washington, DC: Three Continents Press and Mage Publishers.

Karimi-Hakkak, Ahmad, ed. and trans. 1978. An Anthology of Modern Persian Poetry. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

                                    Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak