Author(s): Muhammad-Huseyn Shahriyar and Hadi Sultan-Qurraie
The Future is Always the Place of Hope: Two Poems by Muhammad-Huseyn Shahriyar
Although the predominant language of Iran's Literature is Persian, a trickle of literary works has always been written in other languages, most notably in Azeri Turkish, the language spoken in Iranian Azerbaijan as well as in the Republic of Azerbaijan to the north of the Araxes river. The following two poems, translated from the original Azeri Turkish, demonstrate the presence of that minority voice.
With regard to the translated poems, a reference to a historical event is necessary here. From 1946, when the autonomous movement in Iranian Azerbaijan was defeated, to the downfall of the Iranian monarchy in 1979, contact between the people of the two regions was discouraged on both sides, and Azeri Turkish was aggressively suppressed by the state, which defined Iranian nationalism through the increasing dominance of the Persian language. However, individual poets of the two regions were in sporadic contact. In 1978, during the peak of the Iranian revolution, Suleyman Rustam (1906-89), a poet from the Republic of Azerbaijan, sent an epistle in verse to Muhammad-Huseyn Shahriyar (1907- 86), the most famous Turkish-speaking poet of Iran in the twentieth century. In it, he asked his Iranian counterpart what he had been doing, and why he had not raised his voice in support of the popular movement in his country. "Qardashim Suleyman Rusteme" (To My Brother, Suleyman Rustam) is Shahriyar's response to that letter. In it, the poet recounts the frigid condition of his country in decades past, now beginning to thaw, and expresses his hopes for a freer future.
The second poem, "Derya eledim" (I Turned It into a Sea)1, was written during the last days of Shahriyar's life, perhaps in 1985, and may be viewed as his epitaph as well as the poet's assessment of his achievement, particularly in reference to his compositions in Turkish. Here, he enumerates his most important works and acknowledges the greater latitude given to poetic expression in Turkish."The shameless tyrant" who "robbed Turkish of its life blood" is a clear allusion to the last Iranian monarch. At the same time, the poet describes his own work as breathing life into the Turkish language. The poem can thus be viewed in the classical tradition of rajaz, meaning"self-praise" or "boasting." It is noteworthy, however, that here, contrary to that tradition, the poet does not recall his ancestral or tribal honors. Rather, he takes pride in serving his own people by infusing their language with greater expressive power.
1. Both poems are taken from Muhammad-Huseyn Shahriyar, Kulliyat-e divan-e torki (Collected Turkish Poems), (Tehran:Negah / Zanin Publications, 1987), 210- 212, 229-230.
To My Brother, Suleyman Rustam
The sun rose, my eyes were dazzled,
The river Araz greeted me.
Once your voice touched me, Suleyman,
My passion took flight, bare-foot and naked.
Let my life be a sacrifice to you.
I am dead, but no one weeps for me;
There is none to bind my eyes.
The cold has benumbed us;
No one strikes a match.
We are frozen.
They gulp down our oil,
And make people vomit blood.
They bribe a handful few
While the rest are left starving.
The youth are hungry and rabid.
I've spent forty years in prison.
I am a white among the blacks.
Do you think I am still alive?
Our screaming availed us nothing
But tore our throats and entrails.
There is no haven for our people.
How will their wounds be healed?
It is their own wickedness and their own malice
Which drive them to vicious acts,
And make them do wrong.
One holds a weapon, the other nothing;
One is thin, the other fat.
They say, claim your rights!
But where is our support?
Can one live on words?
What nation demolishes its own fortress;
Who are the soldiers? Its own sons.
They are its own blood running into its own ditch.
How can I say, let's pound and crush them?
How can I say, let's blow them up?
The greats at the top are guilty;
What guilt do the little people bear?
If the army supported the people,
The nation would succeed.
Otherwise, rat poison is the only cure.
The nation is losing with every move.
Every kitchen breaks its own pot.
It is Satan's own rule which says,
"My father called me blind,
so I can strike out at everyone."
I fear this might be another trick.
Once more the nation's lamb might be led to slaughter.
Who is there to be our support
To scare off the wolf?
And save the lamb from its evil?
Yet our freedom fighters!
Each is worth a thousand souls.
They heed neither tank nor mortar.
Their cry is blood, blood!
They are wrathful lion cubs.
Those who help each other reach the moon.
We have no support.
Our case is left to God.
Our Shah proved to be the agent of Satan,
But we have our God.
We have given a sea of blood;
In prisons, we have given our lives.
We have sacrificed a generation:
Unique individuals like Shari'ati;2
Champions like Takhti.3
We went on lengthy strikes
And rose up bare handed.
0, let the deputy of the Imam come soon!
If he orders jihad, we will sacrifice our lives;
We are not afraid of being massacred.
Straw is scattered on our heads;
Mists blur our eyes.
Oh Ali! Oh the living Imam!
Come to our aid! We are in trouble!
It's a blizzard! We are caught in the snow! There are wolves!
2. Ali Shari'ati(1933-77), Iranian philosopher and religious reformer whose activities and teachings were subjected to constraints during the reign of the last Iranian monarch.
3.Gholam-Reza Takhti (1930-68), Iranian wrestling champion who is believed to have committed suicide under pressure from the last Iranian monarch's secret police, SAVAK.
Your voice breathed new life in me;
My tomb once more becamea cage.
I desired to soar high.
I said, "Let me rise and write again,
Once again I'll dig me a grave."
Let your voice reach us once in a while;
It will dry the tears from our eyes.
Let a smile move my lips.
When the time comes? When will I see you
And wrap my arms around your neck?
Kiss my brothers on their eyes;
Kiss Bakhtiyar4 on his cheeks.
Kiss Samad's5 words.
My dears! I am lonely here,
My lone body a sacrifice to you all.
I Turned It into A Sea
Turkish was a spring; I turned it into a sea;
A petty argument it was, I turned it into Armageddon.
The star Canopus was but a glimmer, invisible;
With my glittering tears, I turned it into the Pleiades.
I now live in the hope that this sea will become an ocean.
Thus to insure I prepared this bed for it.
If they are not bound to gnosis, poetry and culture cannot live.
I joined with gnosis and made my poetry immortal.
I joined with eternity, and another Hafez was born.
I gifted Tabriz with the Beacon of Shiraz.
A shameless tyrant had robbed Turkish of its lifeblood.
Into it I breathed new life, revived it as our due.
Like Hafez, I was blessed with the Holy Spirit's bounty,
And Hafez-like performed the miracles of Jesus.
4. BakhtiyarVahabzada(b. 1925) is a contemporary Azerbaijani poet who lives in Baku, the Republic of Azerbaijan.
5. SamadVurghun(1906-56) was an Azerbaijani poet and playwright whose poems have turned into popular songs. The present national anthem of the Republic of Azerbaijan is one of his compositions.