In this lesson, we introduce Sohrab Sepehri, and read his iconic poem dar golestāné. In this lesson, we are joined by friend of the show Fared Shafinury. You may recognize Fared as the composer and performer of our theme song. For this initial conversation about the poem, we listen to Fared recite the portion of the poem we'll be discussing, and talk generally about the overall meaning and feeling behind the words. In the next couple lessons, we will be reviewing the vocabulary and phrases learned in the lesson.
We also reference a few sources for listening to and learning this poem. The first is Shahram Nazeri's version of the poem set to beautiful music composed by Kayhan Kalhor. You can hear this version here.
Fared has also composed music to Sohrab Sepehri's poems. You can hear many of his songs here.
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.
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.
|chetor-ee||how are you?|
|khayli khoobam||I’m very well|
|khoob neestam||I’m not well|
|bad neestam||I’m not bad|
|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)|
|chetor peesh meeré?||how’s it going?|
|ché khabar?||what’s the news? (what’s up?)|
Leyla: Hello and welcome to lesson 61 of the learn Persian with Chai and Conversation podcast series. My name is Leyla and we are joined today by our dear friend Fared Shafinury. Hello
Leyla: If you listen to the last podcast, podcast 60, you don’t have to have gone through all those to understand this lesson, but we said that we are going to transition to poetry. The first 60 lessons focused on language learning, grammar, culture, vocabulary ,the Persian language, and as we said in lesson 60 a big reason that people leanr the Persian language is to understand our rich rich history of poetry, something that Fared is very familiar with, because it comes up in his music a lot
Fared: Yeah, and you and I took a poetry class at UT with Dr. Hillman
Leyla: That’s right, we did. That was many years ago
Fared: I even think this poem was spoken of and discussed with Dr. Hillman, dar golestaneh is one of sohrab sepehri’s most distinguished and iconic poems.
Leyla: And I thought this was a perfect first poem because it has really simple language, you’ll hear, really simple nouns, really simple phrases, that a lot of you will understand if you’ve been studying Persian for a little bit but it’s such a deep and beautiful poem. Before we get into the actual poem though, let’s talk for a second about Sohrab Sepehri. So this is a contemporary poet, he wrote poems in the last century, so a lot fo you are familiar with you know, hafez and saadi and rumi, which are classical poets. Today we chose to do a contemporary poet. He was very well versed in Sufism just like those other classical poets were. It’s a mystical sect of Islam. But he was also well versed in western philosophies like transcendentalism, and also eastern philosophies like Buddhist, he really was well learned in all these traditions, and he inserted that into his poetry which was all about nature and understanding the one-ness of nature and
Fared: also the visual arts, he was a great painter as well. And he would mostly paint trees. Once I read this letter he had written to one of his lovers or friends, he had gone to New York and he became so utterly depressed because sohrab sepehri couldn’t handle not seeing the vast meadows and the tall mountains, for him the claustrophobia of the city was problematic. He had a plight against modernity. In some ways he is also coined as the modern day Rumi.
Leyla: So for this episode we’re going to read the first two lines of the poem and then we’re going to go to what I think is the meat of the poem, which is the last few lines and we’re going to have Fared read that to us. In Sohrab Sepehri’s poems, he always takes us through this journey, he starts with a very strong image, he takes you on a journey, and then he lands you at the place he wants you to be at the end, the feeling he wants you to have in the end, which in this poem is the fullness and richness of life that can be seen in simple things. But without further ado, we’ll have Fared read the first two lines
Fared: A couple lines in the beginning, to get that strong image where he’s placing you somewhere. Right now Sohrab Sepehri is going to take us to a place in Iran, which was probably in Kashan where he used to reside, Golestaneh. Golestaneh means the garden of flowers, or where flowers are bountiful. and dar, dar golestaneh means to be in the flowers, where the flowers exist.
Leyla: The point of this lesson is not to get into the details of the language
Fared: It’s the musicality, and the flow
Leyla: And loose translation too, so we can get the flow.
Fared: Dar Golestaneh
Dashthayee cheh faragh,
koohayee cheh boland,
dar golestaneh cheh booyeh alafee meeyamad.
Fared: Three simple sentences. We can start with the first one.
Leyla: Sure, Dashthayee cheh faragh. This just means meadows that are so vast and spacious. Faragh means spacious.
Fared: Koohayee cheh boland. Kooh means mountains mountains, Koohayee cheh boland which means
Leyla: mountains that are so tall
Leyla: so tall. So grand so tall
Dashthayee cheh faragh,
koohayee cheh boland,
Fared: The flow of the vowels and the sounds how they’re accentuated, where the plateauing of ones silence, that’s where the poetry exists Dashthayee cheh faragh,
Leyla: koohayee cheh boland,
dar golestaneh cheh booyeh alafee meeyamad. So this line is an interesting line. Dar golstaneh like we said within the garden of flowers, cheh booyeh alafee meeyamad. What wonderful sweet smells of the grass do I sense. Now, alaf, this has been an interesting word because it could mean two types of grass, the sweet grass that you go roll on or sit on, and the sweet grass that has now been legalized in many states across the United States. So, many people actually joke about this because Sohrab Sepehri was a very vocal and candid user of the grass.
Leyla: Yes, but I have to say, you have to be very careful when you talk about, I mean, I think we’re going to get into this as we talk about interpreting poetry. A lot of Persian poetry is about things like this type of grass, or alcohol, wine, and a lot of times when you’re talking to Iranians, they’ll say it’s all symbolic.
Fared: But according to Dr. Hillman, our professor from the early 2000’s, he would say, and this is a non Iranian who lives in Iran, his interpretation is what they say is exactly what they say.
Leyla: And we think it’s on every level. So you can interpret it literally, and take the words as they are, or you can say they’re speaking metaphorically.
Leyla: But we like to understand the entire meaning, literal and metaphorical.
Fared: So if we jump further in the poem, we arrive at where his main message, where he’s trying to tell us, well I’ve taken you to the meadows, I’ve taken you to the high mountains, and dar golestaneh, and let me tell you what this all means. He goes
Zendegee khaali neest
Ta shaghayegh hast
zendegee bayad kard
dar deleh man yek cheezee hast
mesleh yek beesheyeh noor
mesleh khaabeh dameh sobh
va chenan beetabam
keh delam meekhahad
bedavam ta taheh dasht
beravam ta sareh kooh
keh mara meekhanad
Leyla: Great. So that was the last part of the poem. And now let’s just go through it. This next part, zendegee khaali neest
Fared: zendegee, life, khaali, empty, neest, isn’t. Life isn’t empty.
Leyla: Which is one of my favorite lines of any poem, it always gives me chills, zendegee khaali neest, life is not empty.
So these three things, mehrabanee is kindness
Fared: warmth and kindess
Leyla: seeb hast, there are apples, eeman hast, there is faith.
Aree, ta shaghayegh hast, zendegee bayad kard.
So, aree is just an affirmative yes. and it’s by itself in one line, so YES
Ta shaghayegh hast- shaghayegh is a type of flower
Fared: A poppy.
Leyla: So while there are poppy flowers, one must live.
Fared: It’s interesting again, we went from marijuana flowers to opium, because poppy as you know is where opium comes from. So there again we have that dual meaning again, where it’s like what is this guy talking about. But he’s saying ‘until the poppy flowers exist, you must live.’ You must live, he’s pleading you, he’s demanding you, he’s leaving you no choice, of thought, you can’t waiver on this. If there’s beauty in the world, if you can see the tall mountains, if you can see the vast meadows, life isn’t empty. This is all warmth, this is all kindness, this existence, and this is where his transcendentalism comes in. He’s like, sheer existence needs to be experienced, like every raisin, every morsel.
Leyla: Right, to me this is the best antidote to depression. You wake up every morning, you wake up in the morning and you say as long as life is in existence we must live.
Fared: We must live.
Leyla: For simple things like flowers. As long as there are flowers, we must be alive.
Fared: And this is a poet that was battling leukemia, he lost his life in the 70s. Ta shaghayegh hast, zendegee bayad kard
Leyla: Beautiful. So now let’s go to the last part. Dar dele man cheezee hast. So just this- in my heart, there is something.
Fared: There’s something in my heart.
Leyla: There’s something in my heart. Mesleh yek beesheyeh noor
Fared: Like a bucket of light.
Leyla: Mesleh khaabeh dameh sobh
Fared: Like the early morning nap that we take.
Leyla: So that sleep where you’re kind of asleep and kind of awake. Va chenan beetabam.
Fared: And I’m so
Leyla: and impatient. beetab impatient. Keh delam meekhahad bedavam ta taheh dasht. So my heart wants to run to the end of the meadow.
Fared: beravam ta sareh kooh. To go to the highest point of the mountain.
Leyla: So there we are in that first imagery
Fared: That’s right, he takes us back. brings it right back. and just to go back to this part where he says ‘va chenan beetabam’ he’s saying and I have these butterflies in my stomach. Keh delam meekhahad bedavam ta taheh dasht, beravam ta taheh kooh. And again these are simple images, but what makes it poetry is the way it feels coming off the tongue. Why is French so beautiful.
Fared: Doorha avayeest.
Leyla: In the distance there is
Fared: Avayeest. There is a voice coming from the distance. Ava. Doorha avayeest keh mara meekhanad
Leyla: that calls to me
Leyla: and again, we have this very simple call to living, to being alive. and it has nothing to do with politics, and all these things we think we want, fame, fortune, it’s about simple things like flowers. Simple things in life that make life worth living.
Fared: What’s interesting is that Kamkar, when he composed music for this, he composed it in a minor key, and in the end, in the beginning of it starts in minor, and it goes from a minor space to a major space. So that kind of journey, the minor key generally evokes contemplation and sadness, and when you come to a major scale, you become more happy and alive. It’s funny he begins, it seems like a sad march to death, and then he talks about being in the garden of flowers
Leyla: Beautiful. And just to end, we’ve gone through the poem, and like we said, the next couple of lessons, I’m going to be going through the words more in detail, but I wanted to end by talking about the tradition of poetry. Poetry is something that’s ingrained in the Persian culture- you cannot understand the culture without understanding poetry, and everyone from the most educated person to the most rural villager in Iran has these poems memorized. So I want to encourage, like we said we’re going to link to the music, listen to the music, look at this poem, we’ll have it written out in phonetic English, and start memorizing this poem.
Fared: Memorize this poem, and you know, something that I just thought about, something on my mind this very instance, recite it poetically. Give it that flow, play with the vowels, what’s interesting about language, what makes it beautiful, not because I’m partial to it, Farsi is a beautiful language, the flow of the language itself, the vowels, it’s giving you the keys and the instruction to what poetry is, so listening to it, reciting it over and over, you know, maybe taking little videos of yourself and sending it to Chai and Conversation,
Leyla: That’s a good idea,
Fared: Reciting the poem.
Leyla: We’d love to hear your feedback. We’ll be getting together and talking about more poems. If you have any poems that you’re curious about, let us know, we have a list going already, but we always welcome suggestions. Just go on the website, to chaiandconversation, with chai spelled CHAI, and there you’ll find out more about Fared’s music, he has some music written with Sohrab Sepehri’s poems, that’s a great place to start as you’re starting your journey into Persian poetry. And we’ll stop there for now, and thank you Fared for joining us.
Thank you for having me, and good luck guys, let’s hear you recite these poems.