Simin Behbahani


A prominent Iranian poet and activist National poet and an icon of the Iranian intelligentsia and literati Simin Behbahani was affectionately referred to as the 'lioness of Iran'. She came from a generation that rediscovered the freedom of critical thinking in Iranian society controlled by absolute monarchy and refused to be silenced after the Islamic revolution that replaced it. Behbahani's words cross into politics as her verses of hope and defiance for the people. She wrote in deftly combining classical Persian verse forms more than 600 poems, collected in 20 books, on subjects including earthquakes, revolution, war, poverty, prostitution, freedom of speech and her own plastic surgery. In both poems and public speeches, she confronted her nation's authorities on topics as sensitive as the stoning of women who commit adultery. The autocratic rule of the Shah sharpened her desire for justice. She began to dream revolution because she wanted an end to repression and the fear of the secret police. It was her words that revolutionaries used to inspire their opposition to the monarchy, and the very same words their children now use against the Islamic Re Her legacy lives on, as do the words that have inspired generations of Iranians. In 2009, after disputed elections saw Mahmoud Ahmadinejad retain the presidency, she showed her defiance with at least two poems. "Stop this extravagance, this reckless throwing of my country to the wind," she wrote. In reply, a year later, Behbahani's passport was confiscated and she was banned from leaving the country. Behbahani's poetry in the 1950s and 60s, influenced by her leftwing politics and reflecting social issues, included Seh-tar-e-Shekasteh (The Broken Lute, 1951), Ja-ye-Pa (Footprint, 1954), Chelcheragh (Chandelier, 1955), Marmar (Marble, 1961). She published Khatti ze Sor'at va Atash (Line of Speed and Fire, 1980), Dasht-e-Arzhan (Arzhan Plain, 1983), Kaghazin Jameh (Paper Dress, 1992), Yek Daricheh Azadi (A Window of Freedom, 1995) and her collected poems in 2003. She also wrote three autobiographical volumes, two collections of short stories, literary articles and essays and many lyrics for Iranian singers. Unlike many of Iran's famous artists, Behbahani stayed in her country and alongside her people, despite the restrictions, the censorship and the threats. She did not flee to become an exile or a transplant into another world. And her people respected her greatly for that. In a 2011 interview, she described her life - the inspiration for her work, the inspiration born from life in Iran. Behbahani was nominated twice for the Nobel Prize in literature, and among the many literary awards she won was, in 2013, the Janus Pannonius Poetry Prize from the Hungarian PEN Club, which carries a 50,000-euro prize and is sometimes called the Nobel Prize for poetry. Simin Behbahani passed away in Tehran where she was born.

Compiler: M. Nauman Khan

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