Prayers for Iran’s Lioness

Iran’s national poet, Simin Behbahani, known as the “Lioness of Iran” and a champion for women’s rights is in intensive care in a hospital in Tehran. Her son has denied the rumors of her passing on social media.

Meanwhile, many on Twitter and Facebook continue to reflect on her legacy.  I too am saddened by the news of her ill health and wanted to share these thoughts while she is still with us:

For millions of Iranians all over the world, Behbahani represents the invincible power of the Iranian psyche. Her words are piercing and fierce, lamenting on the lack of freedom of expression through the ages.

For six decades, many Iranians have found refuge in her poetry as a way to nurture their hunger for dialogue, peace, human rights and equality.

University of Virginia’s Farzaneh Milani has been translating Behbahani’s poetry for decades. She has said that so much of Iran’s history can be studied through her poetry as Behbahani’s words stir the mind and quench the thirst of those who can only whisper their laments away from the public eye.

One of the most famous of Behbahani’s poems reflects on the paradox of fear and hope.

/”My country, I will build you again, if need be, with bricks made from my life. I will build columns to support your roof, if need be, with my own bones. I will inhale again the perfume of flower favored by your youth. I will wash again the blood off your body with torrents of my tears.” /

Professors Farzaneh Milani and Kaveh Safa have been the primary translators of her poems.

Born on July 20, 1927 in Tehran, she IS Iran’s nightingale having published 19 books of poetry over the course of six decades. Her first book,/Setar-e Shekasteh/ (referred to in english as Broken Lute) was published in 1951. Though Behbahani has been banned on leaving Iran for the past four years or so, her words continued to permeate and enlighten beyond the borders of her homeland. In March 2011, President Obama recited one of her poems as part of a Persian new year greeting to the Iranian people:

“I would like to close with a quote from the poet Simin Behbahani – a woman who has been banned from travelling beyond Iran, even though her words have moved the world: ‘/Old, I may be, but, given the chance, I will learn. I will begin a second youth alongside my progeny.  I will recite the Hadith of love of country with such fervor as to make each word bear life.’” – President Obama March 20, 2011/

I had an opportunity to interview Simin Behbahani on Friday June 26, 2009. You can hear the full interview here on YouTube and NPR.

Simin’s illness brings stillness to our eternity… I want her to keep singing.

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