Home > Iranology > Persian Poetry: Symbolism and Romance > Sohrab Sepehri

Sohrab Sepehri, one of the most celebrated contemporary modern poets and painters of Iran was born in 1928 in Kashan. After obtaining his high school diploma, he attended and obtained a Bachelor of Arts from Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Tehran. In the first twelve years after his graduation he worked in several government agencies while on the side pursuing his personal interest in poetry and painting. During these years he also travelled on numerous occasions to Europe, and Africa.

In 1964 he completely resigned from his governmental position and began focusing all his time and energy on poetry and painting. He moved and lived in USA for one year, and subsequently spent about two years living in Paris. During this time period he painted numerous paintings applying the same soft and gentle style, which can be found in his poems. His poetry is full of humanity and concern for human values. He loved nature and refers to it frequently.

In 1979 he was diagnosed with cancer and for the last time he moved to England for treatment. A year later, in 1980, he passed away in Tehran and now he rests in his birthplace, Kashan.

Sohrab's poems have been translated into many languages so far including French, English, Spanish, Italian, Swedish and Russian. 

Ref: 1. Persian Language and Literature: Sohrab Sepehri, Iran Chamber Society [visited on 28 October 2010]; 2. Sohrab Sepehri, Wikipedia [visited on 29 October 2010]

The footsteps of water

 

I am from Kashan,

I am doing fine,

Make a modest living,

Have some wits, some talent.

I have a mother better than blooming green leaves.

And honest friends clear like waterfalls of some remote corners of this earth.

 

And I have a God,

A God who lives close-by my house,

Between these oleanders in the garden,

Or on the face of the water in the pool,

Or in the veins of the trees.

 

I am a Muslim;

My kiblah is a rose;

My prayer book is as vast as the arms of rivers,

As bright as the face of the sun.

And I pray over the expansion of the meadow.

I cleanse my heart in the stream of lights,

Flowing from wide open windows.

And how full my prayer is with the moon,

With the clouds, with colourful rainbows.

But yet you can see the rocks,

The sea and the stones through the soul of my words.

I cleanse my heart with the stream of lights

Flowing from wide open windows.

And I pray whenever the breeze calls up,

From the green heights of the willows

And I pray behind the dancing mass of the grass,

Or over the flying crowd of the waves.

 

My God lives by the rivers

Lives under the bunch of acacias

My God, light as the breeze, flows from turf to turf,

From heart to heart, from town to town.

 

I am from Kashan.

I paint for living.

Once in a while

I make a cage with paper and paint

And I sell it to you

To listen to the song of the caged lily

Whenever you feel lonely.

Well, I dream… now I dream,

Because I know

My doodles are lifeless.

Yes, I know, the lake of my painting

Has no swimming fish.

 

I am from Kashan.

Who knows,

I may descend from a tree in Varanasi,

Or a pottery jar lost in the hills of Sialk,

Or a young prostitute from Samarqand.

 

My father is lying dead now,

Right behind a few comes and goes of the migrating birds,

Right behind a few blows of snow,

Right behind a few hot summer nights on the roof,

My father is lying dead now

For some time.

When my father died, the sky was blue.

My mother suddenly woke up.

My sister became pretty.

When my father died the soldiers wrote poetry.

And then a farmer asked me:

“How many melon would you take?”

And I replied:

“Don’t you sell the clusters of peace to hang in one's heart?”

 

My father could paint,

My father could make Tar that he could also play,

He had a pleasing handwriting too.

 

Our garden was on the right side of the shades of wisdom,

Our garden was at the intersection of feeling and foliage,

Our garden was the meeting point of sight, border and mirror.

Maybe our garden was an arc from the green Circle of Paradise.

And there

I was chewing the unripe fruit of God in my every dream.

I was drinking cold water without the ice of philosophy.

I was picking blackberries without the ladder of science.

The fertile heart of the pomegranate always laid

Within the fountain of my yen.

The wings of the doves always called

My fleeing mind to the lengthy trips.

And sometimes loneliness would arrive,

And stick her cold cheek to the clean glass of the window,

And then the passion would come,

Holding my shoulders in her warm hands,

Setting free again my sense of the endless play.

And then life was something

Like a shower on the New Year’s Eve,

Like a poplar tree and the sparrows in his arms.

Life was then only a room full of dolls, of toys and of lights.

Life was like a train heading towards freedom and laugh,

Life was then a vast sky of songs.

 

The child slowly moved,

Fading away in the blizzard of butterflies,

Crickets and sands.

And I bit by bit packed,

Leaving that dreamy land.

My heart was full of grief,

Grief for all the lost butterflies,

 In the sand storm of time.

 

I went to the gathering of the world,

To the turf of sorrow,

To the garden of mystics,

To the ornamented tower of science,

And I went up to the ladder of religion,

Down to the lane of doubt,

Beyond the cool breeze of ease,

To the moist misty night of kindness.

And once I soared away to the visit of someone

At the glowing edge of love.

I went, I went,

I went until the woman emerged.

I went, I went

To the light of delight,

To the silence of yearning,

To the thick sound of solitude.

 

And I saw things on this earth:

I met a child who went up to smell the moon every night.

And I saw a broken cage with the colourful lights swinging in its four corners,

And a ladder set next to a wooden wall

That love was stepping up to the heavens from its side.

I got to know a woman crushing light in her blender,

Cooking a tender dish for the lunch.

I saw a beggar making door to door asking for canary’s songs.

And a vagabond praying in front of a half-eaten melon in the park.

 

I saw a sheep chewing colourful kites,

I saw a donkey cogitating on the fate of the grass,

And I saw a cow so stuffed in the stable of advice.

 

I saw a poet who addressed the flowers with “Your Highness”.

 

Oh… I read a book its words made from pieces of crystal,

And I touched a paper that felt like the cool nights of spring,

I went to a museum that had no tree around,

I went to a mosque far from waterfalls,

And I saw a priest, falling sick, holing a jar full of queries.

 

Oh… and I saw a foal carrying bags of handwritten essays,

And a camel trekking with empty baskets of travel guides,

And a mystic running so very fast

to catch up with his devotion song.

 

I watched the trains;

I watched a train carrying containers of light,

I watched a train moving with weighty trunks of dogma,

And I watched another leaving with void boxes of politics,

And I came across a train transporting seeds, songs and sights to a remote shore.

Yes, I saw thing on this earth:

A plane as high in the sky as letting you see the ground,

From its windows

The dance of flowers in the wind,

The colourful spots on the butterflies wings,

A frog playing with his picture in the pool,

A fly fleeing alone in a forsaken lane,

And the blazing longing of sparrows in the shade of willows,

And the maturity of the golden rays of sun

on the silken back of a passer.

And I saw a doll making love

To the fading shadow of the dawn.

Oh… I counted the stairs reaching to the forest of flesh,

To the pond of alcohol that has fermented fast,

To the rule of rose that has gone bad,

To the knowledge of the arithmetic of life.

And I counted the stairs up to the roof of salvation,

Up to the dais of lights.

 

And my mother down there

Was washing a vase in the dusty memory of the rivers.

 

And you could see the town,

With its face of geometric shapes

Of stone, of cement and of metal bars.

And plenty of buses and cars with no pigeon on their roof,

And blooming flowers on sale,

A child busy writing on his school’s walls,

Another hitting his father’s prayer book with a piece of fruit,

And a goat drinking water from a lake

in a torn geography carte.

 

And you would see a balcony,

with restless bras hanging on a red rope.

 

And the wheels in hope of a broken van,

The van in hope of a resting man,

A man in hope of an end,

The vain hope of an end.

 

From the heights

Love was visible, waves were visible,

Snow was there, friendship as well.

Words were standing still on every cross

waiting for the redeemer to come...

The water was there with spotless pictures in its heart.

Oh… and the shady place of cells in the veil of blood,

In the flood of life.

And the dawn of human soul,

And the season of abundance of female,

And at the end in the overtaking scent of solitude.

 

And hope,

You could see the hope

Within every surge of the breeze

From the mouth of summer.

 

And the journeys we took…

The journey of a seed to the height of a tree,

The journey of vines from walls to windows,

The journey of the moon to the still water of the pool,

And the blow of flowers from the gloom of soil.

And the jump…

The jump of events over the sense

Over the sight, far above the reach of the words.

 

And the battles we fought…

The battle of a tear with the desire of light,

The battle of stairs with ascending mass of the sun,

The battle of lonely hours with the advent of songs,

The battle of pomegranate with teeth,

The battle of empty hands with the weight of rosaries.

 

And the attacks we endured…

The attack of the mosques on the ground of devotion,

The attack of winds on the innocence of soap bubbles,

The attack of butterflies on the posters on the walls,

The attack of marching band of crickets

On the construction workers,

The attack of pens on printed sheets,

And the attack of words on a poet’s jaws.

 

And the triumphs we rejoiced…

The triumph of a poet over the frozen army of a century,

The triumph of a passer over the blocked gates of a garden,

The triumph of the expansion of two hands over a shady lane,

The triumph of four horses made of sticks

Over metallic face of a town,

The triumph of two dolls and three balls

Over the blankness of the New Year’s Eve.

 

And the murders witnessed…

The murder of a toy on the revolted sheets of a bed,

The murder of a tale by the heavy mass of a nap,

The murder of despair by the dawn of a song,

The murder of the moonlight by the blazing neon's,

The murder of a willow over the words of the mayor,

The murder of a poet by the thorns of a rose.

 

And all that is on the earth was visible:

The order was hiking in Greece,

The owls were singing on the tower of Babel,

The wind, spinning in Khyber

Was pushing the sands to the East,

On a peaceful lake a sailboat was carrying freshly cut flowers to the North,

And in Banaras an eternal light was burning above every door.

 

I saw people,

I saw towns,

I saw meadows, peaks, mountains,

The light and the dark;

I saw the plants in the light,

And I saw them again in the dark.

I saw the beasts in the light,

And I saw them again in the dark.

And I saw men moving from the light to the dark,

And moving from dark to the instance of lights.

 

I am from Kashan,

But my town is not Kashan.

My town got lost some day.

And I tasked,

In fever of thrill, with fervour of will

To make myself an adobe abode

Past the vast province of night.

And in this lodging,

How close I am to the moist anonymity of the moss!

I hear the breathings of the soil, the heartbeat of the stones.

I hear the noise of night when it falls off from the leaves.

And I hear the sharp cry of the day,

Coughing right behind the trees.

I hear, I hear!

And I hear the footsteps of water from every crack of rocks,

And I hear the stream of swallows over the roof of the clouds,

And the clear calls of solitude in every budging of the doors.

And oh… I hear love changing her skin,

Under the weakening light of the moon,

And I hear the urging words of the wings for flight.

And I can listen to the cry of remorse

That cracks under the expansion of soul.

And I listen to the chant of blood flowing in the flowers’ veins,

And the heartbeat of the sun next to the nest of doves,

And also the pounds of night on the dawn of the winter.

I can hear the song of my life,

The journey of oleanders in the rivers of mind,

The vague figure of the truth in the horizons of eyes,

The soft sound of females flying over the clouds,

And the footsteps of faith in the lone lane of joy,

And the song of rain played on the eyelids of love,

Played on the sad days of youth,

On the bleeding heart of pomegranates.

And I listen,

I listen to the chant of fleeting delights, of passing beauties

To the chant of memories set in the hands of the wind…

 

I feel so close to the first nights of the earth,

I take the pulse of the flowers.

Oh… I am so familiar with the moist fate of water,

And with the green habit of trees.

 

My soul flows in the direction of rebirth of matter,

Oh… my soul is so young.

My soul sometimes gets so excited that it coughs.

My soul has nothing left to do,

So it counts the drops of rain, the cracks of walls.

My soul sometimes exists as intensely as stones

In an ancient lane.

I have never come across two pines in fight,

And I have never seen a willow

Selling its shielding arms to the earth.

And the elm-tree is setting free of charge

The cool space within its leaves for the crows.

Wherever there is a leave,

I feel inspired, I feel alive.

The thorns of wild flowers have bathed me

In their dews of absolute life.

 

Like the wings of the butterflies,

I know the weight of sunrise.

Like a flower in the wind,

I can hear the melody of growth.

Oh… like a basket heavy with fruits,

I spin in the fever of arrival.

I am like an empty bar at the borders of boredom.

And like an edifice off the shore,

I stand watching the eternal appeal of the heavens

For the revolting crowd of water.

 

And I aspire in my heart

For so many suns, so many ties,

And the feel of reaching to the infinity.

 

I can be content with a bite of apple.

I can be content with the perfume of mint,

I am content with the light of mirrors,

And with only one honest friend.

I do not laugh at the blast of balls,

I do not laugh if a sage talks about

Dividing the moon into halves.

I recognise the sound of the friction of quails wings,

I recognise the footsteps of goats and deer,

I know so well where the clusters of rhubarb can grow,

And when partridge is about to arrive,

And when the eagle may die.

I know of the dreams of deserts

Of the bright face of the moon.

I know of the feel of death in the branch of yearning,

And the sense of delight in the long stem of love.

 

Life is a pleasant rite.

Life is covered by feathers and wings,

Growing as vast as the silhouette of death.

Life has leaps as high as the summit of love.

Life is really not something that one can forget

On the obscure shelf of habits.

Life is a grasping hand that picks,

Life is the taste of the first harvest of figs

In the bitter mouth of summer.

Life is the depth of trees in the eyes of insects,

Life is the adventure of a moth in the darkened air,

Life is the strange sense of a migrating bird.

Life is a train’s siren

Piercing into the dreams of a bridge.

Life is seeing the glow of a garden

From a barred window in a flight.

Life is the news of landing on the lonesome moon,

Life is the thought of smelling flowers

On the soil of another sphere.

 

Life is washing a stained vase.

 

Life is finding a blemished coin on the way,

Life is the square root of mirrors,

Life is a flower to the power of infinity,

Life is the product of earth and the pounds of our hearts,

Life is the simple geometry of breathing.

 

Wherever I live, it does not matter,

I'll always own the sky,

I'll always own the window and the sky,

Love and light, earth and water.

So who cares if sometimes the leaves of solitude

May grow all around?

 

I do not understand

Why they say that horse is noble,

And doves are gentle,

And why nobody keeps a crow in a cage,

And why rose is the most sought-after flower?

I washed my eyes, I see otherwise.

And I must wash the words,

Words should be the mere sense of the wind,

The true essence of the rain.

And we must close umbrellas,

We must stay under the stroke of drops of rain.

And we must take, all together,

The mind, the memory and the heart

To the rite of descending water.

And we must make friends under this chaste shower,

And may we look for love under the downpour of water,

And may we make love there,

And I know we can plant lilies,

We can sing elegies,

We can write poetry,

With its blue rhyme.

Yes, we must play the game of life in the rain.

Life is being endlessly dampened,

Life is bathing in the lake of present.

 

Let’s get undressed,

I hear the song of streams,

The water is so close-by!

And let’s savour the birth of lights,

Let’s slip into the deer’s absolute night,

Let’s weigh the silent sleep of the village,

Let’s learn the warmth of nest of pelicans,

And let’s not step on the rules of moss,

And let’s still open our mouth

Whenever we encounter the beauty of the full moon.

And we must not blame night for the fatigue of lights,

And may we understand the thought of glow-worms

About the green confines.

 

May we arrive with hands holing empty baskets,

And pick our share of brightened greens, glowing reds and shining lights.

 

And may we enjoy bread and cheese every morning,

While we are planting trees within our words, our greetings,

And may we be able to still throw the seed of silence

On the ground of talks,

And walk away.

And may we not read the books that do not let the breeze to come in,

And may we not read the notes that do not let the dews to stay within,

And may we not read the tomes that set their words on the two dimensions of deceit.

And why would we ask the flies to leave the nature alone?

Why would we ask the wolves to drop out of the sight?

And why would we be sure that worms did not make any difference in our lives.

And may we believe that without death

We could be lost in an eternal quest.

And let me tell you,

The reason of flight is set on the shoulders of lights,

And the coral is born over the prayerful dreams of the seas.

And let me tell you that if we would not ask where we were

We could always sense the fresh perfume of hyacinths by our feet.

 

And we can forget about searching the fountain of fortune,

And we can never question

Why the heart of truth is coloured with deep blue.

And we can forget what the fathers of our fathers have done.

As I think that behind our steps there will not be life,

And behind our steps the birds no more sing,

And behind our steps the breeze stands still,

And behind our steps the windows are closed,

The pines are asleep.

Behind our steps the sands sit on the face of all windmills.

Yes, what is behind is the fatigue of the past,

And there the memory of waves

Land in the closing shells of sloth.

 

I would walk straight till the seas

And I would give away my net to the hands of waves.

And I would try to catch the freshness of the blues in return.

 

And I would pick a small stone from the shore,

And I would try to grasp the grey weight of reality.

 

And let’s not blame the moon if we have a burning fever.

Sometimes in fever I saw that the moon steps down,

And hands can reach the gates of heavens,

And the canary sing better.

And when I had a wound on my feet I learned more

About the texture of the soil.

And when I was sick

I felt the expansion of flowers around my bed,

And the thickening of oranges

And the widening span of the lightened torch.

And let’s not fear death,

Death is not the end point of a dove's flight,

Death is not the reversal of the journey of a moth,

Death flows in the mind of acacias,

Death lives behind the peaceful shell of our thoughts,

Death talks about the dawn for the spirit of the darkened town,

Death may be tasted along a ripe cluster of grape,

Death can be sung in a soulful voice.

And death is behind the striking beauty of the butterflies,

Death is picking mint in the garden just close-by,

Death may be drinking vodka

In a bar two blocks away your house,

And at time it is sitting staring at us with frowning eyes.

And we fill our lungs with his grey breath.

And I would not close the door on the face of fate

 

If I hear a strange noise from behind the blinds.

 

Let’s pull the shades away,

And expose the sense to the invasion of breeze, light and air,

And set the wits free to sit wherever it wants,

And allow the instincts to play, even barefoot,

Along the swift course of seasons, along the route,

And permit the solitude to sing its song, to write it tale,

To wander pointlessly around.

 

Oh… let us be just simple,

Let us be simple in the bank and in the park.

 

We may not get to unearth the mystery of The Rose,

I suspect we can…

But we may always stream into the charm of Rose.

Let us at least camp within the consciousness of the sense

And wash our hands in the green truth of the leaves

And walk towards the certainty of the stones.

And then,

Let us every sunrise repaint for us the picture of rebirth

And let us only watch the flight of birds

In the sky of our minds

Over the perception of space,

Over the colour of time,

Over the beats of sound.

Let us keep wide open windows!

And let us invite the sky to sit in every blank space

And between our words.

And then let us breathe the air of eternity,

In the heart of silent deserts serenity.

And swim with the migrating birds

In the wisdom of infinity.

Let us sometimes forget about the terms,

Forget about the words

And still call the clouds, call the willows and the pines

And summer and fall

With their names.

Let us just see

And follows the moist Footsteps of Water

To the roots of love.

 

And perhaps we are only meant to

Within the white lilies of snow

And the flaming red of the years

Run after the verse of the truth. 

 

Translated by Maryam Dilmaghani [http://www.sohrabsepehri.net/]