Ode to a decade gone by

Published December 31, 2009 · Estimated reading time: 3 minutes · One response so far
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Tonight we say goodbye to 2009 and the decade that it brings to an end. I was glued to the television ten years ago with sheer excitement as the millennial celebrations unfolded throughout the world. It had been just a week after my birthday, and I felt incredibly lucky to have been born at a time when I could witness the turning of the millennium… the 1500s are so passé. I started this decade in elementary school and ended it in university. It has been a decade filled with ups and downs. Personal failures and successes. Global failures and successes. It has been filled with hope and disappointment… and hope again.

Welcome to a New Century

I was raised in the decade when towers fell, when tyrants fell, when millions of innocents fell. I was raised in a decade of fewer wars than before, but even lesser peace. Axis of evil became the emblem, and we became familiar with allies, enemies, sanctions, and moral crusades. Us and them. Them and Us. Religions. Cultures. Languages. The Clash of Civilizations self-prophesized. Plain talking, simple talking. Dude, where are my WMDs? Reality is TV and we’re all stars. Vote each other off islands, houses, and the stage. But Keep watching. With SARS, Bird Flu, Swine Flu, our lungs never caught a break. Mad Cow, West Nile, and Anthrax just in case you weren’t scared.

Earthquakes wiped out ancient mud cities, tsunamis wiped out modern steel cities, and hurricanes came and went from Y2K to 2012. Broken ice-sheets, broken promises, broken levees. Green bags, green protests, green earth. Poisoned rivers feed largest dam, and black gold feeds humanity as starvation abounds. It was a decade of threats and terror. Sixty years since the bomb, look north of the 38th parallel. Planes, subways, only bikes are safe now. And no carbon footprint.

But we connected. We forged friendships on walls, carved our aspirations on the screen. Mundane life or the greatest tweet ever. Status update: Will you accept my friend’s request please? The Roman forums became the digital platforms for dialogue between civilizations. Cell phone cameras became the eyes of the world jury, and our redemption. The world is watching your every move. Seriously? Seriously.

We changed our perspectives. We saw more than ever. The world at our fingertips, Gorillas in our Midst, planets in worlds far off, and the hobbits in humankind’s family tree. Stem cells created parts of us. Millionaires traversed space, and shuttles disintegrated while one lone mathematician solved the Poincaré Conjecture. When I was your age, Pluto was a planet… and the Hadron Collider investigated the essence of the universe. Before it had a Wardrobe Malfunction. Wiki stored our collective knowledge. The threads of our existence were unraveled and their codes became just one click away. Data, data, data. I’ve been Swallowed in the Sea, will you Lift me up? Ice from Mars for the iGeneration. Order from your nearest online retailer. Man from monkey? The debate rages on a hundred and fifty years later.

Millions voted in world’s biggest democracy. With solidarity, with courage, millions turned out against wars, for civil rights, in white, orange, green and all the colors of a rainbow. Funny men on TV made us think. Elections were won and lost, or in dispute, or recalled. Candidates assassinated. Men became presidents. Proud Cowboys and Humble Street Sweepers. They wore their faith on their sleeves. Epic Fail– You Betcha that’s What She Said. Recessions didn’t recede, but swept the globe. Watch the numbers fall, fall, fall. Dollars, schemes, prisons, and bail-outs.

We LOLed at cats, and shed tears when massacres took lives. Batons, Kalashnikovs, mines and bombs. White phosophorous gave a light blue shade to the heavens above, and tear gas burnt. We clash, we collide, and sometimes we headbutt. Run fast. You are Bolt. Keep running when they make you fall. You are gold. Black man became most powerful person in the world, and gave us all a change and a glimpse of hope, however transient.

I grew in the 2000s, and it was worthwhile. Google it.

What do you remember?

Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi

شورم را (Sohrab Sepehri)

Published December 05, 2009 · Estimated reading time: 0 minutes Less than a minute · One response so far
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At a painter’s doors in the Narenjestan-e Qavam (Shiraz, Iran)

شورم را
من سازم: بندی آوازم. بر گیرم، بنوازم.
بر تارم زخمه ی «لا» می زن، راه فنا می زن
من دودم. می پیچم، می لغزم، نابودم.
می سوزم، می سوزم: فانوس تمنایم. گل کن تو مرا، و درآ.
آیینه شدم، از روشن و از سایه بری بودم. دیو و پری آمد،
دیو و پری بودم. در بی خبری بودم. قرآن بالای سرم، بالش من انجیل،
بستر من تورات، و زبر پوشم اوستا،
می بینم خواب:
بودایی در نیلوفر آب.
هرجا گل های نیایش رست، من چیدم. دسته گلی دارم،
محراب تودور از دست: او بالا،
من در پست.
خوشبو سخنم، نی؟ باد «بیا» می‌بردم، بی توشه شدم در
كوه «كجا» گل چیدم، گل خوردم.
در رگها همهمه‌ای دارم، از چشمه ی خود آبم زن، آبم زن.
وبه من یك قطره گوارا كن، شورم را زیبا كن.
باد انگیز، درهای سخن بشكن، جا پای خدا می‌روب.
هم دود «چرا» می‌بر، هم موج «من» و «ما» و «شما» می‌بر.
ز شبم تا لاله بیرنگی پل بنشان ، زین رؤیا در چشمم
گل بنشان، گل بنشان.
– سهراب سپهری
(شرق اندوه ١٣٤٠)
Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi

Neshani (Sohrab Sepehri)

Published November 28, 2009 · Estimated reading time: 3 minutes · 6 responses so far
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I was fortunate enough to find a print of a painting of this Sepehri poem when I was going through the old things I had carefully preserved in my grandmother’s house in the third grade. I had a series of these prints. Each illustrated a few verses from modern Persian poetry, and I was unusually attached to them.

Where is the home of the friend?
Calligraphy and painting by Seddigh (1995) – (خط و نقاشي اجراء صديق (١٣٧٤

“خانه دوست كجاست؟” در فلق بود كه پرسيد سوار.
آسمان مكثي كرد.
رهگذر شاخه نوري كه به لب داشت به تاريكي شن‌ها بخشيد
و به انگشت نشان داد سپيداري و گفت:
“نرسيده به درخت،
كوچه باغي است كه از خواب خدا سبزتر است
و در آن عشق به اندازه پرهاي صداقت آبي است
مي‌روي تا ته آن كوچه كه از پشت بلوغ، سر به در مي‌آرد،
پس به سمت گل تنهايي مي‌پيچي،
دو قدم مانده به گل،
پاي فواره جاويد اساطير زمين مي‌ماني
و تو را ترسي شفاف فرا مي‌گيرد.
در صميميت سيال فضا، خش‌خشي مي‌شنوي:
كودكي مي‌بيني
رفته از كاج بلندي بالا، جوجه بردارد از لانه نور
و از او مي‌پرسي
خانه دوست كجاست.”
– سهراب سپهری
(حجم سبز ١٣٤٦)


“Where is the home of the friend?”2
Asked the rider at dawn.
The sky stood still.
The passerby bequeathed
the branch of light he held to his lips
to the darkness of sands
and pointed to a poplar and said:

“Before the tree,
there is a garden lane greener than God’s dream
where love is as blue as the wings of fidelity.
Go on till that alley which emerges from maturity,
then turn to the flower of loneliness,
two steps before the flower
remain at the foot of the eternal fountain of earthly legends
where a transparent fear overtakes you.
In the flowing sincerity of the space, you hear a rustling
A child you see
has climbed a tall pine, to take a chick from the nest of light
and you ask him
where is the home of the friend?”

Notes: I’ve written earlier about the challenge of translating old Persian poems where the meaning is carried in the form of the couplets, as well as in the cultural/historical/religious symbolism used. Modern Persian poetry tends to be more abstract and encompassing in meaning. As well, the poems are frequently in free verse, so there is no meter and no rhyme to be concerned with.

Nonetheless, it can be exceptionally difficult to translate because to compensate for not relying on broader symbolism in verses; these poems rely on the ambiguity of words, even tenses to convey meaning. So while there is no rhyme, the poems often contain alliterative elements. For example in “bodhi” Sepehri uses budan (and verbs budam/budi/bud) which means to be, to exist in Persian in corroboration with the bodhi and buddha in the last verse har budi buda shodeh bud. These alliterative elements create images that transcend what is said literally.

1Neshani literally means address in Persian, however the word can also mean “indication” stemming from the root neshan (noun:sign, point, verb:to show).
2This line is very famous and is often translated as “Where is the friend’s house?” or “Où est la maison de mon ami?” in French as it was in the title of the brilliant & tragic film by Abbas Kiarostami. However, I felt that “the friend’s home” was much choppier than it should be. “Where is the home of the friend?” is more in line with the original verse “Khane-ye (home of) doost (friend) kojast (where is)?” as Persian does not use possessive nouns that English does, possession appears before the possessor in a sentence and is indicated by of. As well, this gives a sense of ambiguity in reference to the “friend” that the other construction lacks.

On a final note, there is a gorgeous site up dedicated to the works of Sohrab Sepehri by someone who “loves Sohrab”. It’s an incredible collection of all his paintings, writings and poetry (in English/en Français).

Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi