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

The Linnean Papers: Darwin, Wallace & A Nascent Revolution

Published November 26, 2009 · Estimated reading time: 25 minutes · 10 responses so far
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November 24th, 2009 marked the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. The book, along with Marx’s The Communist Manifesto is the most important work of the 19th century. Like the other, Origin challenged both the scientific establishment and the social establishment, and as a result, generated a lot of controversy, which it continues to do so to this day.

Origin of Species must also be considered one of the most influential books of all time. I can’t think of any work that has so rapidly and in a such a way shifted the prevailing paradigm and changed humankind’s perception of the world and itself– so it’s no surprise that the book is said to have brought about a revolution in science, much like Copernicus’ On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres. Unlike Copernicus, however, Darwin himself foresaw this and wrote in the last pages of Origin:

When the views advanced by me in this volume, and by Mr. Wallace, or when analogous views on the origin of species are generally admitted, we can dimly forsee that there will be a considerable revolution in natural history. -Chapter XV, On the Origin of Species

In the words that follow, I explore the origins of Origin and pose that the revolution in fact started a year and some months earlier with the publication of the Linnean papers. I also examine the brilliant naturalist and elusive figure, “Mr. Wallace”, and his role in putting forward evolutionary theory.

Charles Darwin & Alfred Russel Wallace

The Linnean Papers
Darwin, Wallace & A Nascent Revolution

By Marzieh Ghiasi (Nov 2009)


n July 1st, 1858, in a special meeting of the Linnean Society, held in London, two brief papers describing natural selection as a mechanism of evolution were read. The Linnean papers, published later in August 20th as part of the society’s proceedings, were the start of a movement in science that became known as the Darwinian revolution. One essay was by Charles Darwin, an English naturalist whose name has become the cornerstone of evolutionary theory. The other essay was by Alfred Russel Wallace, an English naturalist whose name has become largely restricted to the annals of history. The traditional approach has been to set Darwin and Wallace as rivals in a fight for priority of publication, one which the majority of literature has argued Darwin won. The Linnean papers, however, can be examined as an outcome of a cooperative trajectory in which a common theory of evolution was developed by two vastly different individuals. This paper focuses on the association between Darwin and Wallace with respect to the Linnean papers, arguing that the interactions of the two naturalists offered them mutual benefits that would have been unlikely otherwise. As well, the interactions between the two men created a cohesion and unity critical in a field at its nascent stages.

Two Men Worlds Apart

Victorian Britain was highly class-conscious and its science was viewed as a domain of the upper class. Charles Darwin, born in 1809 into a prestigious and wealthy English family and educated in the University of Edinburgh and University of Cambridge, was an ideal representative of these values. Alfred Russel Wallace, conversely, was born in 1823 to a low income family and class relations played a tremendous role throughout his life.[1] Although his father was a lawyer, he never practiced and the family had to learn to rely on self-sufficiency. Wallace never received formal schooling beyond the age of thirteen, when he was withdrawn and sent to an apprenticeship because his family no longer could pay for his education. By the time he was fourteen, he joined his brother as an apprentice land surveyor. However, Wallace was precocious and determined, and began to teach himself many subjects including taxonomy for which he had grown a great affinity.[2] Unlike Darwin, who was well positioned for a life in pursuit of science, Wallace’s challenge was to break through rigid social barriers and prove himself as a scientist.

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Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi

Anatomically correct cakes

Published November 11, 2009 · Estimated reading time: 0 minutes Less than a minute · Share your thoughts
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Every year, for more than twenty years or so, the McGill Anatomy & Cell Biology Students Society has held an “anatomically correct” bake sale at the systemic human anatomy class. This year’s bake sale was pretty amazing and apparently in an hour managed to raise nearly two-thousand dollars for a charity for deaf students here in Montréal! I took a couple of (low-quality) cell-phone pictures. Yes the last one is legs and kind of NSFW. 😀

Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi