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5. Two Types of Birds


Alongside the night-dawn motif, Nimâ had always been interested in birds. It suffices to look at the names of birds used in his poem titles to observe this: Rooster, swan, eagle, partridge, turkey, “an isolated bird”, phoenix, raven, “the bird of sorrow”, “the bird of statue”, carrion-kite, hibarreh (a kind of vulture), a “broken-winged bird”, “a bird in hibernation”, owl, ortolan, kâkoli, “a bird hanging from night”, the bird of amen, and winged insects such as moth and black beetle. Of course, in every period of his artistic development, Nimâ deals with his birds differently.

In his early days and especially in the book of Fables, birds are used in fables and parables to teach a lesson, like the story of “the Simple Rooster” previously quoted. One poem is an exception, “The Swan”. “The Swan” is written in classical meter in two-couplet stanzas, ABCB, dated March 1926. In the opening, the reader watches the sunrise on the sea, a scene which afterwards enters in many other of Nimâ's poems. Then, the swan is seen far out on the sea with his chest rising up with “dignity” in his loneliness. Without mentioning his own presence, the poet reads the “sea thoughts” of the bird: Going to the other side of the sea, to infinitude, out of reach of the little world. The swan has a “vision” for herself; whether people can see her or not, she continues to exist:


Contrary to everyone's perception

The swan is fascinated with the story of the water

Whether she is watched or not

The swan is asleep in the bosom of the waves. 


The poem is powerful, without any “action” or direct messages, but full of imagery. It is not hard to see that the poet identifies with the swan and discovers in her serenity, a hidden ambition and vision for the future. 

When we get to Nimâ's “night poem” starting with “Phoenix”, dated 1937, birds become a vehicle for conveying the social message. Just as the conflict between night and dawn represents dualism between good and evil, so birds are divided into two opposing camps: The messengers of the good and the demonic. The role of the mythical bird, phoenix, has already been analyzed. This bird is not part of folkloric beliefs, rather Nimâ picked it up from books. There is, however, another auspicious bird, the rooster, which plays a major role in Nimâ's night poems; contrary to the phoenix, it is part of the village life and the village culture. According to Iranian folklore, at dawn, first a big white rooster sings from the heaven's throne, and then the roosters on the earth hear his voice and begin to do the same. Nimâ in Rojâ, points to this auspicious white rooster, as previously quoted; however, the most well known poem that he has written about roosters is called “The Rooster Crows” (Khorus mikhânad) written in 1946. It begins with a joyful sunrise:


Cock-a-doodle-doo the rooster is crowing

From the hidden quiet place inside the village 

From the slope of a path which like a dried vein lets

blood flow in the body of the dead 

It spins around the cold wall of the dawn

leaks everywhere in the desert

the road is filled with his songs

Freely, it brings good news to the ears

His path in the wasteland 

shows the town to the caravan.


At the end of the poem, it seems that a messiah comes to the village at the same time as the rooster:


The horseman hurries on his way

though his horse has shied in the dark

The morning's sneeze triggers in his mind

The lively design of the white dawn.


In a poem called “The bird of Statue”, dated January 1940, Nimâ puts both of his opposing evil and good birds in one poem against each other:


A bird is hidden on the roof of our house

Another bird is sitting on a pine tree

singing passionately as if for us

The other one is silent as if designed in ivory.


In spite of the fact that the singing bird seems very active, and the golden-winged bird is silent, in reality,


The singer is dead and nothing else

The bird which looks petrified in its place

is passionate and full of life


The evil birds are the carnivorous: carrion-kites and vultures. In the poem, “Hibarreh”, the poet depicts a local kind of vulture which eats from our flesh and blood. In “The Carrion-kites” he talks about two vultures which eat from each other's flesh implying the situation in the Second World war. Nimâ's views in this poem were based on Stalin's analysis of the war, at the time of the Soviet-German Pact he considered both sides unjust and imperialistic.

Among the evil birds, owl has a special role. The Iranian people consider owl as an ominous bird which nests in cemeteries and brings death and bad news. In the poem “An Old Owl” (Joghdi pir), which Nimâ wrote in September 1940 from a forest near his homeland, he points to the impending flight of the dictator, Rezâ Shâh and compares him to an old owl:


Hush, not a word, a silent creek

rolls down the valley. 

The sun questioned the earth through her cold gaze

Then she turned back and went away.


In the sorrowful forest there is no sign of beautiful idols

A charming lover out of mockery grinned and went away.


The owl sitting quietly on the rock

This time his wing soaked in his blood

Hush, no word, an old owl

On his way to the grave is still listening to the footsteps.


Nevertheless, the owl does not represent only the dictators and despots, it also embodies death itself. Jalâl Al-Ahmad who had seen Nimâ a few days before the death of the latter, when he was in fever, tells a story which can clearly show Nimâ's obsession with the image of death in the figure of the owl:


The old man had been in bed for a while by now. For the first time in his life—except in the world of poetry—he had done something unusual. He went to Yush in winter. This time he was bedridden, but there was no sign that he was kicking the bucket. From Yush up to the Chalus road, they carried him on a mule. His son and a young friend of his son accompanied him. His son said how difficult it was to carry the old man, he was neither thinner nor had his color changed. His legs were swollen and he could hardly smoke [his opium]. 

He [Nimâ] was speaking of a woman when they had been living in Yush who came to their house as a maid. She would not leave when she was done rather she would sit like an owl and would watch him carefully. So long that the old man would turn his face back to the wall and would pretend that he was asleep. Now I ask myself whether it may be that the woman had realized [his fear] or may it be that the old man, himself, was hiding his fear of death behind this story? Whatever it was, it was the last interesting thing that I heard from him—his last oral poem. He had many of these oral poems.


When Nimâ reaches the peak of his creativity in his nature poetry, a different attitude appears towards the bird motif in his works. Here, the bird does not substitute a social symbol or a vehicle for conveying a political opinion, but rather it represents itself as a bird in nature which is open to different interpretations. For example, in “The Kâkoli's Death” (Marg-e kâkoli) which was probably written in 1948, the poem starts with a morning scene in the forest:


In a remote spot in the forest, like the day before

every corner speaks of the morning

The blue-green vine coiled around Majar

Is laughing bitterly from her heart


The morning is not an allegorical dawn as is seen in Nimâ's night poems. It is rather a usual morning in a forest with all its aromas. There are two things in this opening stanza which foreshadow a tragedy: The sarcastic laughter of the vine which continues to crawl, and the phrase “like the day before” which repeats itself in the poem:


Like the day before, It is cold and still

A breeze is blowing or perhaps not

On a hard rock, a kâkoli has died

as if the morning dew has drawn a print of her.


Nothing can resist against death, and every attempt to skip over it is in vain:


In vain her eyes remained half-opened

And the light casts upon her, as if to the rock, in vain

After each singing, she used to pause 

Now her body has paused after singing.


In every silence, there is a voice hidden, and in every death, life is covered:


In the grave, she cannot sing again

After so long that she was listened to 

The memory of her singing has remained in the air

A silence is replacing that singing


In the last stanza, the poet comes back to the opening:


Life moves on and the dead bird remains still

No change, everything has remained the same

Only an old oak has peaked up from an opening

like the day before, a calm Mimraz

has put his leafy head on a rock.


In this poem, the plants embody the eternal force of life and sarcastically exhibit the insignificant life of the animal world, including mankind. After all, a forest consists of trees! Comparing the earlier poem “The Swan” with this later one “The Death of Kâkoli” is significant. The openness of the sea in the former changes to the mysterious forest in the latter; the ambitious visionary swan to a dead little kakoli; and an epic to an elegy, which are both parts of life and Nimâ has created both successfully in his art >>> Chapter 4-I