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Remembering The Poet Sohrab Sepehri: 1928-1980

Photos by Mohamad Akhlaghi, ISNA


The 80th birthday anniversary of late Iranian poet Sohrab Sepehri is being marked in Kashan, Iran.



Sohrab Sepehri (October 7, 1928 - April 21, 1980) was a notable modern Persian poet and a painter. He was born in Kashan in Isfahan province of Iran. He is considered one of the five most famous modern Persian (Iranian) poets who have practiced "New Poetry". Other practitioners of this form were Nima Youshij, Ahmad Shamlou, Mehdi Akhavan-Sales, and Forough Farrokhzad, all of whom are now dead.




The Sound of Water's Footsteps[1]

Poem By: Sohrab Sepehri (translated by: Roya Monajem, Tehran)


I am from Kashan

My life is not bad

I have a loaf of bread, a speck of intelligence, a morsel of talent.


A mother, better than a leaf of a tree,

Friends, better than a current of water.

And a God not far away, but

Among these wallflowers, beneath that tall pine tree

On the consciousness of water, on the law of foliage.


I am a Moslem.[2]

My ghebleh[3] is a red rose.

My janamaz[4], a water spring, my mohr[5], light

Field is my sajadeh[6].

I take vozou[7], with the palpations of windows.


In my namaz[8] flows moon, flows rainbow

Stone is visible behind my namaz:

Crystallized are all the particles of my namaz.

I chant my namaz when

The wind has sung its azaan[9] on the minaret of cypress tree


I chant my namaz following 'takbirolharaam'[10] of grass,

Following ghadghaamat[11] of wave.

My Kaabah is by the shore,

My Kaabah is beneath acacia tree.

Like the breeze, my Kaabah travels from garden to garden, from city to city.

My hajarolasvad[12] is the brightness of flowerbeds.


I am from Kashan

My craft is painting;

Every now and then, I make a birdcage with paint, to sell to you,

So with the song of poppies that it has imprisoned

Cheers up the heart of your loneliness.


What a dream, what a dream!

I know my canvas is soul-less,

Surely I know that the pond of my painting is fish-less.


I am from Kashan.

My descent perhaps goes back

To a foliage in India, to an earthen vase in See-alk[13].

My descent goes back perhaps

To a prostitute in the city of Bokhara.


My father died after twice coming of swallows,

After twice falling of snow,

After twice sleeping in veranda,

After the passage of times.

When my father died, the sky was blue,

My mother woke up innocently, beautiful, got my sister.

When my father died, policemen were all poets.

The grocer asked me: 'how many melons do you want?'

'How much does a tiny bit of happy heart cost?' I asked.


My father used to paint

He made and played the tar[14] too.

Beautiful was his hand-writing.


Our garden was on the shadowy side of wisdom

Our garden was the knotting place of feeling and foliage,

Our garden was in the focal point of encounter of eye, cage and mirror.

Our garden was perhaps an arc of green circle of bliss.

I'd chew the unripe fruit of god in sleep, in those days.

I'd drink water non-philosophically;

I'd pick berries unknowledgeable-ly.

As soon as a pomegranate burst, hand was a fountain of desire.

As soon as a Cello sang, breast burnt with a longing to hear.

Every now and then, loneliness stuck its face against the window.

Passion could arrive, folding its arms around the feeling,

Thoughts would play.

Life was something like the pouring of Feast of Spring,

           like a plane tree full of starlings.

In those days, life was like a row of light and dolls,

Like an arm of freedom.

In those days, life was like a pond of music.


Toddling slowly, the child walked away through the alley of dragonflies.

I packed my suitcase, moved out of the city of carefree fancies.

My heart, though, filled with homesickness for dragonfly.


I joined the party of the World:

I visited the field of grief,

The garden of mysticism,

The lighted veranda of knowledge.

I climbed up the stairs of religion.

To the end of the alleyway of doubt,

To the cool air of independence,

To the wet night of compassion.

I went to meet someone on the other end of love.

I walked, I walked toward woman,

Toward the light of pleasure,

Toward the silence of desire,

Toward the sound of the wing of loneliness.


I saw many things on Earth:

I saw a child smelling Moon.

I saw a cage with no doors, brilliance flapping its wings in there.

A ladder on which love ascended to the roof of heaven.

I saw a woman pounding light in the mortar.

On their table for lunch, there laid bread, fresh herbs, aloofness of dew

                                  the hot bowl of compassion.


I saw a beggar walking door to door, begging the song of a lark

And a sweeper chanting his prayer to the peeling of a melon.

I saw a lamb eating paper-kite.

I saw a donkey understanding hay.

In the meadow of 'advice,' I saw a satiated cow.


I saw a poet talking to a lily, addressing it as 'You, (Your Highness).'

I saw a book with its words all of crystal.

I saw a paper of the same nature as spring.

I saw a museum far from vegetation,

A mosque far from water.

Above the bed of a hopeless scholar, I saw a vase filled with questions.


I saw a mule with a load of 'essays'

I saw a camel with a load of empty basket of 'maxims'.

I saw a mystic with a load of 'tanana ha ya hoo'.[15]


I saw a train carrying brightness.

I saw a train carrying religious jurisprudence, so torrential it ran.

I saw a train carrying politics (and so empty it ran).

I saw a train carrying the seeds of lotus and the song of canary.

And an aeroplane that on that height of thousands of feet

Dust was visible on its window:

The comb of hoopoe,[16]

The spots of a butterfly's wing,

The picture of a frog in a pond

And the passage of a fly through the alleyway of loneliness.

The clear desire of a sparrow when it lands on earth from a plane tree.

And the maturation of Sun.

And the beautiful lovemaking of a doll with morning.


I saw stairs that ascended to the greenhouse of lust;

Stairs running toward the cellar of alcohol;

Stairs running toward the corruption of red roses

And toward the mathematical conception of existence;

Stairs running toward the roof of Enlightenment;

Stairs running toward the platform of manifestation.


Down there, my mother was

Washing cup in the stream of memory.


The city was visible:

The geometrical growth of cement, steel, stones.

The pigeon-less roofs of a hundred buses.

A florist was putting his flowers up for sale.

A poet was hanging a swing amid two jasmine trees.

A boy was throwing stones at the wall of a school.

A child was spitting plum stones upon the faded praying rug of the father.

And a goat was drinking water from the Khazar[17] of a Geographical map.


A laundry line was visible: a restless brassier.


The wheel of a cart longing for the horse to become weary,

The horse longing for the carter to sleep,

The carter longing for death to arrive.


Love was visible, wave was visible.

Snow was visible, friendship was visible.

Word was visible.

Water was visible, so was the reflection of matter in water.

The canopy of cells in the heat of blood

The humid side of existence

The East of Grief in the heart of humanity

The season of roaming in the alley of woman

The fragrance of loneliness in the alley of season.


A flabellum[18] was visible in the hand of summer.


The journey of seed to flower;

The journey of ivy from this to that house;

The journey of Moon to the pond;

The eruption of Snowdrops from the earth;

The pouring of young vine from the wall;

The raining of dew on the bridge of dreams;

The leaping of joy over the fortress of death;

The passage of accident behind the words.


The war between a hole and the plea of light,

The war between a step and the large foot of Sun,

The war between loneliness and a song,

The sweet war of pears with the emptiness of a basket,

The gory war of pomegranate with teeth,

The war of a parrot with eloquence,

The war of a praying forehead with the coldness of earth.


The onslaught of mosque's tiles on prostration,

The onslaught of wind on ascension of soap bubble,

The onslaught of a troop of butterflies across the plan of 'extermination of pests,'

The onslaught of a flock of crickets upon 'plumbers,'

The onslaught of regiment of reed-pen writing across leaden letters,

The onslaught of a word on a poet's jaw,


The conquest of a century by a poem,

The conquest of a garden by a starling,

The conquest of an alleyway by two `helloes',

The conquest of a city by three or four wooden horsemen,

The conquest of a spring festival by two dolls, one ball,


The murder of a rattle on the bed of afternoon,

The murder of a story at the beginning of the alleyway of sleep,

The murder of sorrow by the order of a chant,

The murder of moonlight by the neon light,

The murder of willow tree by the 'regime,'

The murder of a sad poet by Chimonanthus[19]

The entire of Earth surface was visible.


Verse was walking through the alley of Greece.

Owl was howling in the 'Hanging Gardens' of Babylon;

In the gorge of Kheibar, wind was shoving a lace of History dust to the East.

On the serene lake of 'Negin,' a yacht was delivering flowers.

In Bonars, an eternal lantern was burning.


I saw people.

I saw cities.

I saw fields, mountains.

I saw water, I saw earth.

I saw Light and Darkness.

And I saw the foliage in Light, and I saw the foliage in Darkness.

And I saw humanity in Light, and I saw humanity in Darkness.


I am from Kashan, but

My city is not Kashan.

My city is lost.

Out of swing, out of fever[20] 

I've built a home, on the other side of night.


In this home, I am close to the wet anonymity of grass.

I hear the breathing of flowerbeds

And the sound of Darkness when a leaf falls down,

And the sound of brightness coughing behind a tree,

The sneezing of water in every gap of stone,

Checkcheck chelcheleh[21] from the ceiling of spring,

And the clear voice of the window of loneliness, opening and closing

And the pure vague sound of love shedding its skins,

The fervor of passion to soar, concentrating in the wings'

And the cracking of self-restraint in Spirit.


I hear the sound of steps of desire

And the lawful sound of footsteps of blood in veins,

Pulsation of the spell of pigeon's well[22],

Beating of the heart of a Friday's night,

The drift of clover in thought,

Pure neighing of truth from afar.

I hear the sound of gust of matter

And the sound of Faith's shoes in the alley of Passion,

And the sound of rain on the wet eyelid of love,

On the sad music of maturation,

On the song of pomegranate gardens,

And the crumbling sound of the bottle of joy at night,

The ripping sound of the paper of beauty,

The filling and emptying of nostalgia's bowl with wind.


I am close to the beginning of earth.

I take the pulse of flowers.

I am familiar with the wet fate of water, green habit of tree.


My spirit flows in fresh direction of objects.

My spirit has not lived that long.

My spirit coughs sometimes out of passion.

My spirit is idle:

It counts the drops of water, the gaps between the bricks.

My spirit is sometime as true as a stepping stone.


I haven't seen two fir trees hostile to each other.

I haven't seen a willow tree selling its shadow to the earth.

The elm tree offers its branch for free to the crow.

Wherever there is a leaf, my passion blossoms in the flux of being.


Like the wing of an insect, I know the mass of the dawn.

Like a vase, I listen to the music of growth.

Like a basket full of fruit, I suffer from the fever of reaching.

Like a tavern, I am standing at the frontier of malady.

Like a building on the shore, I am concerned with never-ending high-waves.


Suns, as much as you will; bond, as much as you will; reproduction, as much as you will.


I am content with an apple

And with smelling a chamomile bush.

I am content with having a mirror, a pure attachment.

I don't laugh if a balloon bursts.

And I don't laugh if a philosophy halves the Moon.

I am familiar with the flapping sound of the quail's wings,

With the colors of the bustard's belly, the foot-trace of wild goat.

I know very well where rhubarb grows.

When starlings arrive, when a partridge sings, when a falcon dies,

I know the meaning of Moon in the dream of desert,

Of death in the stem of desire

And the raspberry of pleasure, under the tooth of making love.


Life is a lovely ritual.

Life has wings and feathers as vast as Death,

A leap as high as love.

Life is not something to be left forgotten on the windowsill of habit by thou and me.

Life is the rapture of a hand that harvests.

Life is the taste of the first black fig in the acrid mouth of summer.

Life is the dimension of a tree in the eye of an insect.

Life is the moth's experience in darkness.

Life is a strange feeling that a migrating bird has.

Life is the whistling of a train that echoes in the sleep of a bridge.

Life is watching a flowerbed from the sealed window of an aeroplane.

Is the news of the launch of a rocket to space,

Touching the loneliness of Moon,

The notion of smelling a flower on another planet.


Life is washing a dish.

Life is finding a penny in the brook of the street.

Life is 'square root' of mirror.

Life is flower 'to the power' of eternity.

Life is 'multiplication' of earth by beatings of our hearts.


No matter where I am,

Sky is mine.

The window, thought, air, love, earth is mine.

Why should it matter

If every now and then get taller

The mushrooms of melancholy?


I don't know

Why it is said: 'horse is gallant, pigeon is beautiful.'

And why nobody keeps a vulture in a cage.

What is absent in sweet clover that is present in red tulip.

Washed should be the eyes, another vision should be found.

Washed should be the words.

Word itself should be the wind; word itself should be the rain.

Umbrellas should be closed.

Under the rain, should every one go.

Under the rain, thought and memory should be taken.

With all people of the city, under the rain, one should go.

Friend, under the rain, should be met,

Love, under the rain, should be sought.

Under the rain one should sleep with women.

Under the rain one should play.

Under the rain one should write, talk, sow lotus.

Life is getting wet time after time.

Life is swimming in the pond of 'Now.'


Let us take off our robes:

Water is only a step ahead.


Let us taste brightness,

Weigh the night of a village, the sleep of a deer,

Perceive the warmth of the stork's nest,

Tread not on the law of lawn,

Loosen the knot of taste in vineyard.

And open the mouth, if the Moon comes out,

And cry not that the Night is bad,

And cry not that the glowworm is unaware of the garden's vision.


And let us bring baskets

And pick up so much red, so much green.


In the mornings, let us eat bread and pennycress[23] 

And plant a young tree on every turn of speech.

And scatter the seed of silence amid two syllables.

And read not the book through which the wind does not blow,

And the book in which the skin of dew is not wet,

And the book in which cells are without dimension.

And we should not will a fly dash off the tip of the finger of Nature.

And we should not will a leopard walk out of the door of creation.

And we should know that life lacked something, if the worms did not exist.

And without a scratch on its bark, the law of tree would be offended.

And if there were no death, our hands would search for something else.

And we should know that before corals, a void existed in the thoughts

                                                                                               of seas.


And we should not ask: 'where are we?

But only sense the fresh petunias of the hospital.


And we should not ask, where is the fountain of luck?

And we should not ask, why the heart of truth is blue?

And we should not ask, what sort of night had the forefathers of the fathers of breeze?


There is no living space behind the back.

Behind the back, bird does not sing.

Behind the back, wind does not blow.

Behind the back, the green window of fir tree is closed.

Behind the back, dust covers all the peg tops.

Behind the back rests the exhaustion of history.

Behind the back pours the remembrance of wave on the cold shell coast of stillness.


Let us go to the seashore,

Spread the net on the water,

Catch freshness out of the water.

Pick up a pebble from the ground

And feel the weight of being.


Curse not the Moonlight if we have fever,

(I've sometimes seen in fever, the Moon comes down

The hand reaches the ceiling of Heavens.

I've seen goldfinch singing better.

Every now and then, the wound on my foot

Has taught me all the nuances of the earth.

Every now and then, in my sickbed, the size of flower has multiplied

And has increased the diameter of sour orange, the radius of lantern.)

And let us not fear death

(Death is not the end of the pigeon.

Death is not the cricket upside down.

Death flows in the mind of Acacia.

Death takes a seat in the pleasant climate of thinking.

Death speaks of morning in the heart of a village's night.

Death comes into the mouth with the cluster of grapes.

Death sings in the red larynx of throat.

Death is responsible for the beauty of butterfly's wing.

Death picks up basil every now and then.

Death drinks vodka every now and then.

Every now and then, it sits in the shadow staring at us.

And we all know

The lungs of pleasure are full of the oxygen of death.)


Shut not the door to the live speech of Fate coming

                                                        from behind the wattles of sound.

Draw back the curtains:

Let the feeling gets aired.

Let maturity settle under any bush it will.

Let instinct go to play games,

Take off its shoes, and chasing seasons, let it jump

                                                         over the flowers.

Let loneliness sing.

Write something.

Go to the street.


Let us be simple.

Let us be simple, whether behind a bank's counter or under a tree.

Our job is not to discover the 'secret' of the red rose,

Our job is, perhaps,

To float in the charm of roses,

Camp behind wisdom,

Wash our hands in the ecstasy of a tree leaf before sitting

                                                                                at the dining table.

Get born with the sun rising in the morning.

Make excitements fly.

Spread water on the perception of space, color, sound, window and flower.

Position the sky in-between the two syllables of 'being.'

Fill and empty the lungs with eternity.

Take the load of knowledge off the swallow's shoulders.

Reclaim name from cloud,

From fir tree, mosquito, summer.

Climb to the heights of compassion on the wet foot of rain.

Open the door to humanity and light and foliage and insects.


Our job is perhaps

To run after the song of truth

Amidst Lotus flower and Century.


        Kashan, village of Chenar (plane tree), summer of 1343 (1964).




[1] "I would like to thank Katherine L. Clark who took the great trouble of reading this poem and pointing to me a few instances of my shortcomings."

[2]In a more international language, this part can be translated as:

I am Moslem.

I stand towards a red rose to pray.

I stand on a water spring to pray.

I prostrate on light to pray.

A Field is my praying carpet.


I perform my ablution,

With the pulsations of windows.

In my prayer, surges moon, surges the spectrum  of light.

Stone is visible behind my prayer,

Crystallized are all the particles of my prayer.

I chant my prayer when

The wind has sung its bid  to pray

On the minaret of a cypress tree.

I chant my prayer following the 'God is great' hymn of grass,

Following the call: 'rise on feet' of a wave.


My temple is by the shore,

My temple is under the acacia tree

Like the breeze, my temple travels from garden to garden, from city to city.

My holy Black Stone is the brightness of flowerbeds


[3] ghebleh: Qibla or Qiblah, the direction of Kaaba Shrine in Mecca toward which all Moslems turn in ritual prayer.

[4] Janamaz is a piece of material sewed for this purpose and usually with beautiful handiwork in which Mohr, (see the following footnote) is kept.

[5] Mohr: a piece of hardened clay taken from a holy place that Moslems put their forehead on when they sort of prostrate.

[6] Sajadeh is a praying rug.

[7] Vosou is the ritual washing before praying.  I have used it with the verb 'to take' on the similar basis as 'to take a bath or shower'

[8] Namaz is the name of the ritual prayer

[9] Azaan is Persian pronunciation for Izan or call to prayer

[10] Takbirolahraam is the expression for the saying 'god is great' uttered at the beginning of the daily prayer. Hajarolasvad is the holy black hole by the Kaaba shrine that Moslem kiss during the ceremony of haj (pilgrimage

[11] ghad-ghaamat: it means 'rise' in Arabic. Adding the sound of 'o' between the two words identified here by the hyphen, it would mean in Persian, 'height.' So the meaning of this line would literally be 'Following the call:  'rise to pray' of the wave.

[12] Hajarolasvad is the holy black hole by the Kaaba shrine that Moslem kiss during the ceremony of haj (pilgrimage).

[13] One of the most ancient archaeological sites in Iran, showing the existence of a relatively advanced civilization around 7000 years ago.

[14] Tar: an Iranian string musical instrument

[15] I could not find tanana in any dictionary, and it sounds like one of those typical coinages by Rumi, 'tan' however means 'body' in Persian and 'ha' is the plural sign. 'body' in Persian, ya hoo, in Arabic means, O Lord.

[16]  A bird of the same size of a large thrush with handsome erectile semicircular crest and cinnamon-colored and back plumage.

[17] Another name of Caspian Sea.

[18] Fan

[19] An evergreen Asiatic tree with small dark yellow beautiful smelling flowers. In Persian it is literally called 'frost flower' as the flowers appear when the weather gets really cold, preferably frosty.

[20] The Persian word for 'swing' is 'taab' also meaning 'endurance.' Fever is 'tab' in Persian and the expression tab o taab implies a kind of restlessness observed in high fevers. Some of the implied meanings of English word 'swing' are not that far from the Persian word 'taab'

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