Poetry /

Ahmad Shamlou's raz


In this lesson, we introduce the iconic Iranian poet Ahmad Shamlou, and talk about his poem ‘Raz’ or راز, meaning ‘the secret’. Shamlou was born in 1925 in Rasht, and he died in 2000, after a few years of health problems. He went through a few revolutions, he was put in jail and he was a journalist for a while. He wrote about politics and was part of the Toudeh party. And so he did live through a lot of turmoil in Islamic Republic, and he stayed in Iran- he didn't leave, like so many others. For a few years after the Islamic revolution happened, he did go silent. But he emerged after that, and did tours of Europe and he did tours of the US. He was nominated for a Nobel Prize in 1984. He remains one of the most famous contemporary poets from Iran to this day.


how are you?

Note: In Persian, as in many other languages, there is a formal and an informal way of speaking. We will be covering this in more detail in later lessons. For now, however, chetor-ee is the informal way of asking someone how they are, so it should only be used with people that you are familiar with. hālé shomā chetor-é is the formal expression for ‘how are you.’

Spelling note: In written Persian, words are not capitalized. For this reason, we do not capitalize Persian words written in phonetic English in the guides.


I’m well

Pronunciation tip: kh is one of two unique sounds in the Persian language that is not used in the English language. It should be repeated daily until mastered, as it is essential to successfully speak Persian. Listen to the podcast for more information on how to make the sound.

Persian English
salām hello
chetor-ee how are you?
khoobam I’m well
merci thank you
khayli very
khayli khoobam I’m very well
khoob neestam I’m not well
man me/I
bad neestam I’m not bad
ālee great
chetor-een? how are you? (formal)
hālé shomā chetor-é? how are you? (formal)
hālet chetor-é? how are you? (informal)
khoob-ee? are you well? (informal)
mamnoonam thank you
chetor peesh meeré? how’s it going?
ché khabar? what’s the news? (what’s up?)

Leyla Shams:  Hello, and welcome to lesson 88 of Learn Persian with Chai and Conversation. We're back with our poetry series of lessons. In this lesson, we'll be going over Ahmad Shamlou's poem Raz, which means secret. And in this first lesson, I'll be discussing the poem with a very special guest, Tehran von Ghasri, an extremely funny and insightful comedian that you're hopefully already familiar with. In this lesson, we'll be going over the entirety of the poem. And I'll be releasing a few more lessons after this going over the poem, word by word, phrase by phrase. So you can add new Persian words and phrases to your vocabulary phrases you can use in everyday conversation, you can get the full transcript of this poem to read along with us in English phonetic and in Persian script, and also the translation on our website at Chai and conversation.com. I'll go over this app more after the lesson. But if you're looking to follow along with us right now, go to Chai and conversation.com slash lesson 88. And it'll take you right to where you need to go. And now the interview. Enjoy. So Teheran, thank you so much for talking with me today.

Tehran: Yeah, you kind of made me do this. I love how you thank me for-

Leyla: I know I've been badgering you.

Tehran: Yeah, you're like, yo, we're gonna do this. And you're not even asking nicely, you're like Tehran, we're doing this, like, well, you're doing it.

Leyla: Well. The thing is, so we recorded a Raising Neem Roonis, nice episode about you growing up half Iranian. And you said this one part of a poem in there. You said, 'kesee keh khab neest.' Do you know that quote? What was the quote?

Tehran: It's a Persian saying, 'kesee keh khab hast, meesheh beedar kard, vali kesee vali kesee keh khodesho meezaneh beh khab, beedar nemeesheh.

Leyla: That's right. You said that, and you explained it. And I've been getting emails about this. Seriously, it's several emails of people saying, that was such a nice quote, it really made me think, you know, what Tehran said was really interesting. And so I've been doing this poetry series and, and I wanted to add some new voices to this series. And so you were one of the first people that came to mind. I was like, he has a poetic way of thinking about things. So it might be interesting to talk to you. So I'm excited to see what we come up with.

Tehran: "Hendooneh zeereh baghal gozashtan meedoonee yanee chee?

Leyla: Like flattery?

Tehran: Yeah, the literal translation is putting a watermelon under someone's arm. Basically, you're just like giving them something that's very big. But it's not expensive. But it's like very sweet. That's what you're doing.

Leyla: Yeah. Okay. Let me add to it. I also think that in Persian poetry, so you suggested that we do Shamlou, which is what we're gonna do spoiler alert, and I was reading about him. He was not only a poet, he's a journalist. He's an activist. He's very involved in the culture of Iran. And I also see you as this type of person to I feel like that you studied law, right?

Tehran: Yeah, yeah. So I studied economics and law and and now I do comedy, which is basically the same thing,

Leyla: Right and listening to you, when I listen to you on the podcast with Maz Jobrani or listen to your comedy, I can see that you're drawing from all of these into into your work into your art.

Tehran: I can't carry this many hendoones, it's heavy, bro. I'm down. I appreciate it. Because you know, Leyla, you're honestly one of my favorite people. You're this, like self autodidactic person who's like self taught yourself a lot of things. When you didn't have to growing up in America. Neither one of us had to be extremely Persian or Iranian totally or immerse ourselves in understanding. It's not just being in the culture, it's actually understanding the culture, why things are done, the way they're done, or why people say the things they say, and the history so many Iranians just think that because they're Iranian, they know, they don't. We all should study- studying is something we should all do, educating ourselves on our culture, our heritage, should be a very important part of all of our lives.

Leyla: Definitely, definitely. And the goal of this series is to make poetry more accessible to more people. Either people like us who have grown up here, or people from other cultures that want to learn about Persian poetry. It's very hard to find online or anywhere about Persian poetry, unfortunately, so I'm excited about doing this. So can you tell me a little bit about what was the role of poetry in your upbringing? Did your father read you a lot of poetry? Or did he was he like most Iranians just spouting off masnavi all the time?

Tehran: My father and my aunt on my dad's side are the kings and queens of Iranian phrases and sayings. So I heard all the zarbol masal, all these sayings and phrases and colloquialisms we use. They were the kings and queens of this from moosh too soorakh nemeeraft jaroo beh dombesh meeraft, which is like the concept of a mouse trying to fit in the hole. But it also it barely fit in the hole, but it also tied a broomstick to its tail. Which means like, if you don't really get in somewhere, don't do too much. You know what I'm saying? Like don't do the most. You're barely getting in here. Like let's tone that down. So I learned all of these like harchee maymoon zeshttar, bazeesh beeshtar, like the uglier the monkey, the more it's a goofball or plays around, which is basically like, whenever someone is knowledgeable about something, or should it be speaking on something, they're the ones who speak the loudest and they talk the most, which is something we see in modern day exponentially. So definitely, Persian poetry was a must in my home simply because my father decided, you know, he was going, he was going to be the next he was going to be the next Khashayar Shah. In my home, at least he carved his Persian Empire, conquered the family. Oh, we had a lot of poetry. From Hafez to I had to read the Shahnameh. I had all these as part of my Iranian learning. And it's not like my dad's a big professor or a teacher. But when it came to me, and honestly, I know that he didn't read a lot of these things before me either.He was the teacher who was one page ahead of me.

Leyla: Well, that's good. Well, so you I asked you to choose three poems. And so today we're going to do the first of the poems that you chose, and it was a poem by Shamlou. So what draws you to him?

Tehran: Not only was Shamlou one of Iran's most prolific poets, but he was so immersed in Iranian culture, and basically a thermometer or a gauge of everything that's going on all the way until khoda beeyamorzatesh he passed in the year 2000. So basically lived through two, almost three revolutions, and decided to conjure up all his creativity to write about these experiences in every single way possible, whether it's journalistically poetically, or as an author, he decided to make sure that we should never forget these experiences on a variety of subjects love life, politics, principles, philosophy. So it's just that profoundness is something that draws me to this guy. Hey, look like vegan plus, yes, it's like vegan. Yes. Like, you know, when he was young, he got all the girls when they saw Shamlouness. Like he was like, the man, Shamlou.

Leyla: And so just a little biography. So he was born in 1925, in Rasht, and he lived until he died in 2000, after a few years of health problems, and so like you said, he went through a few revolutions, he was put in jail, he wrote, really, he was a journalist for a while. So he wrote about politics. He was part of the Toudeh party. And so he did live through a lot of turmoil in Islamic Republic, and he stayed there. He didn't leave. For a few years after the Islamic revolution happened, he did go a little silent. But he emerged after that, and did tours of Europe. He did tours of the US. He was nominated for a Nobel Prize in 1984. Yeah, and I and I was actually watching this TED talk that this woman who knew him personally did, and she was saying, you know, he was nominated for this Nobel Prize, like how many of you know of this guy and like, nobody raised their hands? And so I think that's a shame that, this was an American audience.

Tehran: I'm saying, I am an American audience. That's what I want people to understand. I am an American audience. So the same way that we know in America of Shakespeare's work, and and it's not always just, it's not only just American authors, we know about, you know, Marquez and all these other writers as well. We should know about Shamlou.

Leyla: We really should. And so he was the person who's credited most he there was a poet named Nima Youshij whose stuff was the first one to break away from classical Persian poetry. We all know Saadi, Hafez,

Tehran: By the way, they're all the same. Listen, I think it's very interesting that people think Persian poetry is just not a morph into this new, it's basically it's basically in the same way. They, as much as I love Iranians, and they're amazing with their imagery and their creativity, thoughtfully. They're not big on change. Like if something works, like the miniature painting works. Let's all keep miniature painting, fashion unique. It's all the same way. I don't even want it from anywhere else. It is all like Hafez made it. Look, that's how we all do it.

Leyla: It's true. It's true. But they had some very strict rules that they were adhering by. And he was the one who really popularized free verse. And so him and I guess Forough Farrokhzad are the two most famous- well, I don't know if it's just me, but I feel like Forough Farrokhzad is a lot more in the current lexicon of in the United States than Ahmad Shamlou even right?

Tehran: I don't think that I could go to my homeys and be like, Hey, what are you listening to?

Leyla: I think I have one American friend who's somehow discovered that his own and so I'm just like, ah, she made it. She made it.

Tehran: But here's the thing I always advocate to other Iranians just don't wait for quote, unquote, Western acceptance. That's not what we should be waiting for. That shouldn't be the meter of success, when something's important or value to us, than everyone else will also learn to value it as well. That's what we should be inspiring where these poets are so important to us, and our individual lives. And it's things that we quote, that people in and it resonates with others just the same way that I simply came across with the the khab saying basically, the sleep saying. And it resonated with people because it's about universality, it's about being able to connect and realizing that no matter where in the world we are, we all have so many similar experiences, so many similar opinions. And once desires needs. We're basically so alike, much more alike than we are different. And this is one of the ways to explore that.

Leyla: Definitely. And on that same note, when we were trying to schedule this, you know, it's right now as we're recording, it's October 2020. The United States is going through a really difficult transition period, a really difficult time. And I feel it was it was very comforting for me to read about Shamlou at this time, because he went through all this he wrote beautiful poetry about it, but he you know, we feel like everything is just crazy right now. He went through the most crazy times in,,,

Tehran: the United States, we should clarify difficult for the United States, like honestly, we still have hot water, we still have electricity, people are still eating for the most part.

Leyla: That's important to remember.

We love this is what I say is like first world problems like no my political parties, right? Like, yo, we can kind of figure this out. It's a conversation.

Leyla: Yeah, it's totally right. Okay, so let's get into the poem. So, as we have done in the past, if we could, let's just read the entire poem. And the poem is called Raz and Raz is the word for a secret. So dar man razee bood. That is the poem. And so Tehran is going to read the whole thing. These are intended for either people who can speak Persian already and understand it or people that do not speak any at all. So just listen to him and read it, get the feeling of it, and then we'll go over it before lines at a time and translate it do a rough translation, literal translation and talk about the meanings.

Tehran: Dar man razee bood, keh beh kooh goftam

Leyla: That was really nice.

Okay, so let's go over this poem. So it's a great poem. It's very simple language. So this is another thing that Shamlou is known for, is to get the very common imagery. It's simple language to talk about these really deep concepts, which of course all poets do. But let's look at the first four lines, and we'll roughly translate them. So dar man razee bood, keh beh kooh goftam. So there is a secret with me. And I told the mountain. Dar man razee bood, keh beh chah goftam. So there was a secret and I told the well, so these are two different very different bodies of things, that tall thing, short thing, and inanimate objects, or nature, I guess.

Tehran: Yeah. But at the same time, it's like I contain the secret but I was dying with it. I had to tell someone, I'm telling the mountains, and I'm telling the Well, I'm telling things that can't tell. But they're out there. I'm putting it out in the universe. Nature know that this is it.

Leyla: And it was with me like, ba man razee bood, like this thing was with me- I didn't have a secret. The Secret was with me. It was like encompassing me. And this, you know, obviously, this right? Like it has a lot of rhyming in this poem, too.

Tehran: Actually, they kind of use the same word over and over. A very Persian thing to do when they're arriving. They just kind of, hastam, mastam. Farsi as a language tends to rhyme. That's why when we speak, it sounds like we're singing.

Leyla: It's true. Do you want to read the next four lines and give a kind of rough translation?

Tehran: Sure. I mean, too raheh deraz, beh asbeh seeyah goftam. Beekas o tanha, beh sanghayeh rah goftam. So he's basically saying in on the long road on the long road or long journey in a way he told a black horse meaning telling, you know, this royal object this this, you know, animal this strong, beautiful  beast, right? And then alone, bee kas o tanha. It's like that whole alone and afraid but it's just alone. With no one it was loneliness with without anyone there. I told the rocks. I told these rocks too. I told the pathway. So it's like, important to note. He's clearly at this point. The secret can be anything but we're starting to feel that it must be a love. It must be an energy of some sort.

Leyla: I love that bee kas o tanha. That's so dramatic. Bee kas, like, without anyone. Bee kas o tanha.

Tehran: But it's even deeper than without anyone- like Farsi is such a deep language.

Leyla: Yeah, it's hard to translate. Bee kas is just a being so without any beings. You're just getting this like, I mean, I'm just imagining this person with these mountains, like not seeing anyone for days. He sees this black horse. But even that is just such a like desolate ,elusive.

Tehran: Yeah. It's just because Persians are so dramatic. They're dramatic people. I'd be like, Baba, what's wrong? Where's my pencil. Where's your pencil? We can just get you another pencil. Right?

Leyla: Sounds like the beginning of a poem. It is. You need to explore that. So he brings up the sanghayeh rah, the stones on the path. That seems like he's at rock bottom. And so they're there, the poem kind of reaches a turning point. So now all of a sudden the next line is

Tehran: Ba razeh kohneh, az rah reseedam, harfee naroondam, harfee naroondee.

Leyla: So let's go back to this wod kohneh, what is kohneh-

Tehran: Kohneh is used.

Leyla: Weary, like worn, like, weathered. So he's weathered the secret. So the secret has not changed, he's just been like telling it and telling it and telling it. He's worn out by telling all these inanimate objects and this horse and this just all these different things.

Tehran: And also we have the saying in Farsi that does not translate to English all day, all day is when your like heart is full deleh por. And we have this concept of like, oh, that'll Holly can like, let go of this. This desperation, this depression, the suppression, this oppression, this regression, any shun in your heart, you need to just let it out.

Leyla: And then az rah reseedam, I arrived from the path. I like that a lot. So he reaches his destination. So so there's this like path that he's been going down just telling everyone telling everyone talking, talking, talking, talking. But then all of a sudden he reaches his death destination. And then he stops talking.

Tehran: He doesn't speak because now it's awkward. Now it's something like if he says it, it's too real. If he does it, it's too real. We've all been in that situation. And by the way, az rah reseedam, we say that for everything, don't take it like, Oh, I completed the journey of my life, I found myself we say that when we come back from 7/11. When I say dramatic Persian people, right. And that's why I love it so much. So az rah reseedam, harfee naroondam. I didn't even drive, I didn't drive the conversation. I didn't like I didn't bring this up, I didn't. I didn't extol the concepts that have been weighing on me so heavy. And then harfee naroondee, which means you also didn't, you didn't say anything, you didn't bring anything up. Because in Farsi, whenever something ends with an am, for the most part, it's referring to me. And then when it's ee, it's for the most part referring to the other you whoever the other person is. I am Farsi which I think is a beautiful concept is a gender neutral language. So there is no masculine and feminine, there is no he or she so I can literally not know if the person I'm speaking to as a male or female by just speaking, and that was meant by design. By the way, I want to remind people that in ancient Persia, men and women were completely equal is actually one of the tenants of not only Persian culture, but of Zoroastrianism, the original religion of the Persian Empire, the concept of good words, good thoughts, good deeds, that whole thing and a lot of later, Abrahamic religions derived many of their ideologies from Suresh arianism, out of all of the major religions of the time, including the Egyptians, and the Babylonians, and the Mesopotamian. So they utilize the ideas of Paradise angels, God, the devil heaven in hell, all of these concepts actually come from the the Zoroastrian religion, which is the major religion of the Iranian Persian Empire at the time, even the three wisemen that visit Jesus aren't three Zoroastrian priests. They're a Maji, Zoroastrian priests. So there's a lot of connections of Western civilization, and especially ancient Persia, but the concept of not having a masculine and feminine. Yeah, is beautiful to me.

Leyla: I love it. And you really you have to go out of your way in Persian language to specify like, Oh, I'm talking to a woman or I'm talking to a man, it's very awkward. It's like not something that you too, and so it changes the way we think about people for sure. So now let's let's reach the last four lines where we've really picked up the pace at this point. So it's like reached this little this point where they're, he's facing or he or she is facing this other person. They're just not talking.

Tehran: Then what happens?

Ashkee feshoondam, ashkee feshoondee, labamo bastam, az chesham khoondee. Hey, do you know what shah bayt is?

Leyla: No, no, no, I don't think

Tehran: So shah bayt is a king verse basically it's the most powerful verse in any poem and Hafez is infamous and famous for having shah bayts- a line that just stick out right and as labamo bastam az chesham khoondee. That's such a powerful verse. It's so strong, and we'll get into the meaning-

Leyla: So you let out a tear or tear, more of like an outpouring or is it just like a tear?

Tehran: the that's the that's the dramatic part. Right? So technically speaking, we're thinking that it's but it could be a part but no, no, no, no. And this is could be literally a single tear, like a single tear is the storm, right? That's right. That's how powerful the imagery is. Right. And then, and then the other person who were at this point assuming is a significant other. And given Shamlou's propensity for dating multiple women and being married three times, we're gonna assume it's a woman speaking to also let out a tear like I understand. It's a it's a empathetic tier, it's the we're sharing this connection without speaking.

Leyla: We haven't spoken yet. And then they've just been, he's just been talking, talking, talking, talking. And at this point, labamo bastam, I closed my lips. And then az chesham khoondee, you read it in my eyes,

Tehran: Exactly. Like it was so prevalent that you could just, it was exuding from my essence and my day, and you were able to read from my eyes, which is something we also say in Farsi az cheshmat khoondam, az chashat maloom bood. Az cheshmat maloom bood means like, it was aware, it was apparent from your eyes, we read into the eyes, the eyes are the window to the soul. Another very Persian concept. So here you have like, I could tell by your eyes what you were meaning to say and do. And this case, it's love and a fight in a combination in a way, right? Because that's the interpretation of the meaning is like, here we are, in this moment. Joy and sorrow, basically asking for forgiveness, and asked him to reciprocate love,

Leyla: Right. But like you said, like that concept of, that wasn't something that this person kept inside, they did deal with it. And they they dealt with it on their own way. Just walking, telling, telling, telling,

Tehran: They dealt with it in the most Persian way, where they told anything that didn't count, or couldn't talk about it or give advice. And they they basically, they, they like yelled at, and it could be because it had to be a secret, right? So this is this is unrequited love. This is love, where it may not be possible for them to reciprocate physically or even emotionally, but it exists. And that's what the key is. But they did the Persian thing of like, not really dealing with it, right? Like, oh, I dealt with it, but you just punched a hole in the wall, like you didn't actually deal with it in the way you're supposed to, which is communicate with one another. But it was unsaid, it was unspoken love. And it exists. And it could be because these two people came from at the time different class levels or different families that didn't have the Romeo and Juliet or different the, you know, Aladdin and Jasmine, whatever the situation may be. It may simply be unrequited love as well.

Leyla: It could be but also I think that that whole, like saying 'ba razeh kohne', I think that's a big clue in it, if it was something that this person did have to deal with, you know, I was listening to something where it said like, the truth will eventually come out. And if you don't deal with the truth, at some point, it eventually like ruins you, you know. And I think like in our culture in the American culture, it's a lot about like talking to each other and like figuring things out and this whole like, I don't know, working out things between people, but maybe, maybe this is a secret a raz that needed to just be worked out within this person. You know, maybe it was some sort of like, dark thing that they had to deal with on their own. And by just talking about it over and over again. It like took the legs away from this from the secret

Tehran: or cheated. Who knows. Baby Forgive me.

Leyla: Like I told them, I told the black horse

Tehran: told the black have told the black horse. It was a black horse. It was in a dark corner. It was a blast. I know what I did. I told him I told them Did you tell the Well, did you tell him? Do you want me to? Do you want me to tell your sister? No, no, that's too much.

Leyla: But overall, I mean, it's a poem that has a lot of different interpretations. Again, it's like easy to understand anyone can relate to it, I'm sure we'll we've all had this secret that we've gotten, you know, we've worn out our shoes, going walking around the village trying to deal with this within ourselves. And I do have to say, one of the things that I know about Shamlou, he had this great he was married three times, but he had this great love of his life, near the end of his life, who he is with for what, 17 years, I think they were married for a long time. And he had a lot of health problems that she was like, nursing him all the time. But he that there's this, like, great love of Ida and shampoo that he

Tehran: Yeah, and actually, it was very, it was a very controversial marriage at the time, because I believe she was Armenian. And her Christian family didn't accept and being Muslim, which could be like, very meaningful to this is that they didn't, right. Her family didn't accept him. And he also he was older, he had been married twice, it was a whole thing, especially in that time, it wasn't like, you know, it was like in the 60s, so there was still a lot of differences than now. And, and, you know, that love lasted until his death.

Leyla: Well, cool. I think that's, that's good, unless there's any final thoughts. I think that was a great poem to start with. Like we said, we have two other poems that we're going to talk about in the future. And those are more classic poems. So this is our modern poem. There's a lot of good vocabulary to learn here. It's short poem, so it's easily memorized, which is another goal of these lessons. Now, they're not different. Thank you so much. That was a lot of fun. Thank you. Actually-

Tehran: Persian poems in general, are meant to be memorized, which is by design. And I'm sure we'll get into that, especially when we start speaking about Hafez simply because that's where his name even came from, and why at the time, so we have so much more. Thank you, Leyla for having me on your show.

Leyla: Definitely. And actually, so for the other ones, basically, to tell you to run what I do is, after this, this is the introductory lesson. After this, I'll produce maybe three more lessons where I go over this line by line, teach some words and phrases that go along with each with the with, you know, these, there's a lot of good vocab to know here. And then the students send us videos of them reciting these poems.

Tehran: So I can't wait to see that.

Leyla: That's a it's a lot of fun. We've had some really good videos in the past. And so I will be sure to keep you updated on that.

Tehran: Can't wait for the remixes.

Leyla: Exactly.

Tehran: Maybe you can get Kanye to do it. I'm telling you right now. That's how it works. Anyway, thank you so much for having me.

Leyla: Thank you, Tehran, until next time. So like I said in the lesson, this is an introductory lesson to the poem. I'll be releasing a few more podcasts where we go over the whole poem line by line, go to our website at Tryon conversation.com slash lesson 88 to get the notes for this lesson. While our podcast is always free, you can sign up for a free 30 day trial to become a member of Titan conversation to take full advantage of our resources including including vocabulary lists that correspond to the poem and a video of this lesson that make learning easier and more enjoyable. In addition to poetry lessons, we also have other conversational Persian lessons that take you from complete beginner level to advanced and also reading and writing immersion lessons. So check it all out at our website, trying conversation.com thanks so much for listening. And until next time, khodahafez from Leyla.