Poetry in Context: Reza Farmand

Art work by: Shadi Ghadirian

She tiptoes around the stairs / deep in the thoughts of her patient’s vegetable and soup / but she is surrounded by a dark halo, she has died and yet remains so nurturing / in our lives, she wriggles everywhere / every corner of the house narrates her story / even in her funeral, she was immersed in her work / O my miserable mother!

The stanza above is a free translation from the Persian, excerpted from a long poem by Mohammad Hossein Shahriar (1906-1988) published in Peyk (#118). The main character in Shahriar’s “mother-praising” poem is the embodiment of “mother-women,” women who idolize their children, worship their husbands and grow wings as “angels in the house.” Shahriar praises and pities his mother’s selfless devotion to her children, but what about her individuality? Will the poem reveal her inner “self,” which is buried under numerous layers of social conventions? Or has her individuality been lost in the “bubblings” of the vegetable soup? Shahriar’s “mother” is almost interchangeable with house possessions. She is bereft of character interiority.

“My Mother Did Not Become Beautiful” by Reza Farmand sets itself apart from Iran’s “mother-praising” poetry tradition. Farmand depicts a mother who is enchained within the walls of the house; her potential not realized by a generation that had so little to offer to women. With respect to the outward life, “motherhood” in Farmand’s poem shares many similarities with Shahriar’s depiction of motherhood. However, Farmand employs a de-constructive approach to the role of patriarchy on motherhood: “My mother could not open the trapdoor of her life unto love, was not master of her beauty.” Farmand is concerned with motherhood’s interior world. The mother in his poem struggles to discover her personal impulses and remains “programmed” by the “rational categories of motherhood” defined by the society: “My mother was not able to avoid bearing children / My mother was not able to learn a spell.” She is not awakened to a new life, to all illusions. “My mother was born in exhaustion, didn’t see dawn or dusk.”

We often hear someone is beautiful. In poignant contrast, the poem’s title suggests that beauty is rather a process. What could this mean? The concept of be-coming beautiful bestows an internal quality upon beauty, a quality gained by the individual through traversing all that is socially constructed, all that is “holy,” as opposed to the external quality of beauty measured by ideals set by humans. The title’s playful and ambiguous approach toward beauty is a parody of social and religious conventions that keep women in an “abyss of dusty beliefs,” distant from personal enlightenment: “My mother was not able to win her wings and breathe the boundless air of knowledge in her.” She attempts to be beautiful in the eyes of society through conforming to the role of the “perfect mother.” Paradoxically, her efforts pull her back from be-coming beautiful inwardly, from an awakening that could rouse her “magnificent senses,” and detach her from “dogmas,” “herbs,” “rice,” and “beans.”

On a metaphorical level, Farmand’s poem could bring broader implications about what ‘motherhood’ is. The paradox lies in the notion of having the power to give birth, and yet having little control over one’s own fate. Reza Farmand explores a new road, previously untrodden by most poets in Iranian poetry. Farmand chooses not take pity in “motherhood.” He does not glorify “the angel in the house,” but rather draws attention to all that was lost in trying to “win her wings” in the hope of finding “self-hood.” With respect to motherhood, one cannot help but ask: what if there is a possible awakening? What if the “self” is unclothed of all illusions and social conventions, existing in its naked and natural essence, will women’s “radical individuality” survive in the face of social forces.

“Angel in the House” is a poem by Coventry Patmore, describing the perfect Victorian wife.

My Mother Did Not Become Beautiful

My mother
Did not become beautiful

My mother could not

Open the trapdoor of her life unto love

Was not master of her beauty.


My mother was not able to

Avoid bearing children

Or secretly

One night

Feed her uterus

To dogs.


My mother

Could not scour away

The thick crust

Of human ignorance

As she could the burnt

Hardened rice

On the bottom of the pot.


My mother was not able to

Win her wings

And breathe the boundless

Air of knowledge.

In her,
Stews repeated themselves

Teas repeated themselves

And the bubblings of meat soup.


I still remember your silent gaze

I still see the large print words
In the adult education books

That the listless hands of your mind

Picked out from among herbs, rice and beans and lentils.


My mother was not able to

Learn a spellBecome a bird

And one dawn of dayBreak out
Of the kitchen window.


My mother

Did not become beautiful

My mother could not

Dance on the rooftop

Of the century, freedom-drunk.


My mother did not have

The chance to take flight

With the wing-span of wisdom

From the abyss of dusty beliefs

To the apex of stars and letters,
With the wing-span of wisdom

To fondle the world

To crack Being wide open

And to become a believer

Of her dear
And magnificent senses.


My mother

Was born in exhaustion

Didn’t see dawn or dusk

The chariot of time

Wheeled her by the hair
In the thorny desert of life.

No one heard her voice!
No one saw the look in her eyes!

And her faceWas ground
To death.


My father

Coming to my mother

From the mosque

Strapped her

To the wheel of his life

With dusty accounts and traditions

And she couldn’t enter

His ancient fortress

To oust the doctrines
And dogmas.


The mirror they consider holy

The one they say
Is the brightest of all,

I’m talking about the Koran,

Why is my mother’s beaming face absent from it?

My mother had heard

From the minaret

That her eyes were wrong

And her mind a wasteland.

What if she had
Endless roads?

Translated by Niloufar Talebi, retrieved from BELONGING: New Poetry by Iranians Around the World. 

Reza Farmand: was born in 1956 in Tabriz, Iran. He studied Social Sciences in India and English Studies in Denmark. His first volume of poetry, The Eternal Dance, was published in Iran in 1984 but was censored and banned for containing words like “breast” as well as addressing social issues. He has lived in Denmark since 1985. He has published eight volumes of poetry outside of Iran. His most recent volumes are, My Mother did not Become Beautiful, White Nights, and Polar Poems.

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