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Chapter 4-I


6. Nature Poetry

During the forties and fifties, and to some extent even today, many poets imitated Nimâ's night poetry and a tremendous amount of night poetry came onto the market, which could pass censorship and convey revolutionary anti-dictatorship messages. Nevertheless, in most cases the artistic value of this type of poetry is low, because the poet does not treat words poetically, that is as an end in themselves, but rather he or she makes use of words as a political essayist or propagandist, that is, as a means for conveying messages. 

It is usually said that cheap political literature is the price that a society under the yoke of censorship and political tyranny has to pay, since the writers and poets are obsessed with conveying political messages that cannot be conveyed through democratic channels and as a result ignore more universal, deeper discourses, and above all the techniques of their craftsmanship are neglected. Political coercion undoubtedly triggers political symbolism in literature. Nevertheless, the intelligentsia of countries under repressive rulers should do more than just blame the political situation, shirking responsibility. In Tsarist Russia only in the second half of the nineteenth century did writers such as Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoevski, Turgeniyev, and Gogol emerge, who in the face of tyranny were able to create a rich literature, which at the same time was not apolitical. 

The emergence of “night poems” may be related to the political repression of Rezâ Shâh, who at the time that Nimâ wrote his first poems of this type in 1938 was collaborating with the Nazis and was forced to abdicate by the Allied Forces in 1941. However, the peak of the political symbolism of “night” occurred in the forties, a decade in which a fragile political democracy existed and both the nationalists under the leadership of M. Mosaddeq and the Soviet-oriented Tudeh Party often enjoyed freedom of press and association, and the repressive monarchy did not have enough power to crush them. Therefore, the question which comes to mind is why Nimâ and other poets did not write their political ideas in a direct fashion, (though Nimâ did in a few of his poems), but rather vehemently continued to write in a metaphorical style. 

To this question, there can be two answers: On the one hand the unilinear leftist literature fed by the Soviet Union in that time reduced all social tensions to a struggle between “us” and “them”, which inevitably leads to the triumph of “good” (that is “us”) and the defeat of “evil” (that is “them”). The socialist realist literature within the Soviet Union itself was full of the same dualistic struggle between “good” and “evil”, and as a result, its imitators in other countries could not do otherwise. On the other hand, the conflict between “light” and “darkness” is the primary motif of all dualistic pre-Islamic religion in Iran, especially Zoroastrianism, Manicheanism, and Mazdakism. Even in Mithraism and the Cult of Stars, which probably dominated Iran before Zoroastrianism, the sun, the source of light and day, is worshiped and darkness is cursed. As was mentioned before, the province of Tabarestân, where Nimâ was born, was the last bastion of all pre-Islamic Iranian religions against Islam. Therefore, these beliefs were rooted more strongly in this area and could not be easily eradicated. Nimâ, especially in Rojâ, refers to the sun many times. He portrays worship of the sun and Mithraism as the native religion of his homeland, Mâzandarân, and he places it as one of the foundations of the ideology of Tâti nationalism. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to think that he had picked up the battle of “night” and “dawn” and their accessories from the local culture, and then had found it suitable for unilinear social realism. 

In the second half of the forties, the Iranian Titoists called “The Third Force” (Niru-ye sevom) departed from the Stalinist Tudeh Party and attracted many writers, including Jalâl آl-Ahmad, a prominent figure in literature. Nimâ published poems and articles in this group's publication. آl-Ahmad gives the account of this friendship as follows:


Then separation from that party occurred and Mardom magazine was abandoned and I did not see him again until they went to their Shemiran house perhaps around 1951. Once or twice, I went to visit them with my wife. Around their house, once, we had received the piece of property from the department of culture and we wanted to make a nest for ourselves. Frankly, if he were not in that neighborhood that nest would not have been built up and we would not have our present house. We went to visit them until our house was built up and neighborly relations formed. The neighborhood was still a desert, and the houses were coming out of naked earth. In such an isolation, knowing someone was a privilege especially with a person like Nimâ.

     It was in these years that the struggle of the third force occurred against that [Tudeh] party. We had published three or four issues from Science and Life (Elm o zendegi) that it occurred to me that in order to grab the old man from their [Tudeh Party] claws, we organized a gathering in his honor.


However, Nimâ did not adhere to the party line of The Third Force, and this made Al-Ahmad angry. Al-Ahmad, in an open letter to Nimâ, which was published in Science and Life (‘Elm o Zendeghi) under the pseudonym “Kadkhodâ Rostam” (Rostam, the village chief), criticized Nimâ for signing a flier for a festival in Romania. Nimâ writes a letter to Al-Ahmad in which he expresses his concern about the whole socialist movement in a metaphorical and beautiful style. In a letter, dated May of 1953, he writes,


The most necessary of all is living itself. I pity for the eglantine boughs which have just given white flowers, and has laid their head on the wall of my room. I am afraid that the storm will destroy my eglantine flowers. I will have to find another way out for them. This is my effort in life which is filled with all kinds of deprivations. 


Although he never abandoned his leftist mentality and kept his social ideas to the end, as can be seen from his diary, letters, and poems, Nimâ gradually distanced himself from the superficial previous “night poems” and created poems of nature poetry, per se, which in my opinion should be considered his best works. Nimâ, himself, has called his book of this type of poetry Mâkhulâ after a river which runs near Yush, where he often went in his youth and used its boulders as a support for his paper to write his poetry. The main characteristic of this type of Nimâ's poetry is that the images do not have a mere metaphorical value, but rather are open to different interpretations. In a talk presented in a conference held in Los Angeles by The Center for Iranian Research and Analysis in April 1992 on “Poetry and Politics”, I elaborated on this issue by comparing “sign” and “symbol”: 


For me there is a demarcation between this one-sided allegorical language and symbolism. Jung, who has done a great deal of research on archetypical symbols, distinguishes sign from symbol; that sign represents something known whereas symbol is an arrow towards knowing of something unknown. Let us consider “bird” as an example. In some cultures, dove signifies “peace” and this convention is clear to everyone, but having birds in dreams is subject to different interpretations. For example, in the story of Joseph, the birds that steal bread crumbs from the wooden tray are considered inauspicious and represent the impending execution of the dreamer. Also, when I usually feel helpless in my dreams, I change into birds. Therefore, bird in the first case has a one dimensional meaning whereas in the second case it is a multi-dimensional symbol. And my friends! In poetry, this is the whole issue. A poet, who trusts his insights and in search of something unknown, at the moment of poetic inspiration becomes naked, will create a poem as deep and multi-dimensional as life itself in whose mirror everyone can see himself.


Moreover, in Nimâ's nature poetry natural scenery is not merely descriptive, but rather the poet has a point of view, and a reciprocal connection exists between his internal emotions and the impression which the natural objects make on him. For example, in the poem “Mâkhulâ” from the book borrows its title, the story of a river is told which runs through a mountainous pass, surrounded by high boulders. It is said that an elder witch lives there and anyone who goes to that pass becomes mad. It reads,


Mâkhulâ, the body of a long river

Goes unknown

Roars ceaselessly

Thrusts his body from rock to rock

Like a run-away 

(Who does not seek a flat path)

Rolls down

Rushes to the heights

Goes without order

Along with the dark night, like one mad with another


In the second stanza, the poet clarifies why in the opening stanza he placed emphasis on the “body” of the river. Because it has a “soul” too, which touches the very existence of the poet:


He has been following his own path for a long time 

Has made union with many creeks 

For a long time, he has no one to care about him 

He keeps singing his vague song

The people do not look up to him anymore

He has taken the path of this deserted slope


The word that Nimâ uses for “singing” in Persian is sorâidan which also means composing poetry. As a result, it is not hard for the reader to find the voice of the poet, himself, in the river. The next stanza shows that the poet-river figure, though abandoned, looks for intimacy:


With his vague singing water

Mâkhulâ is the harbinger of friendship

Speaking of a clear destination

But he goes 

To any path that crosses him

like a stranger with a stranger


The last stanza seems to be more the voice of the poet than the river. The word “âbeshkhor” which means a spring or a part of the river from which animals drink water, implies that thought. However this word also means “portion” and “residing place” and can be attributed to the river:


Goes unknown

Roars ceaselessly

Towards somewhere to rest

Like those who have left home.


In “On the Riverbank” which was written in 1952, three years after “Makhuala”, the poem deals with vision and reality, the actual sun of a turtle and the visionary sun of the poet. First appears the familiar scene of the country-side in northern Iran:


On the riverbank dawdles the old turtle

the day's a sunny day

the arena of the paddy is warm

the old turtle lolls in the warm lap of the sun,

soundly sleeps

on the riverbank


Then the poet realizes his own loneliness and the fact that the sun for which he has been waiting so long has not appeared:


On the riverbank there's only me

crushed with the pain of desire

waiting for my sun

but my eyes

don't see her.


The poet disappointed by the rising of his sun in the sea, now comes to terms with his actual situation, identifies with the old turtle and sees the turtle's sun as his:


My sun

has hidden her face in distant waters

Sunshine everywhere, sunlit everything

But for my delay

or else for my haste

There is no sun, my only sun is

on the riverbank


If in “On the River Bank” the poet learns submission to actual life from nature: there are poems like “The Cold Fire” in which the poet finds loss and defeat in nature:


From nights, long ago

In a quiet trail in the forest

remain stones of a camp fire

with cold ashes inside >>> Chpater 4-J