simin behbahani
“My poems and the wild mint
bear messages and perfumes.
Don’t let them create a riot with their wild singing.
My heart is greener than green,
flowers sprout from the mud and water of my being.
Don’t let me stand, if you are the enemies of Spring.”

These lines are from the poem “It’s Time to Mow the Flowers” written by the late Simin Behbahani, who was considered by many to be Iran’s most influential poet. Born on July 20, 1927, Behbahani lived and wrote through much of 20th century Iranian history.

She worked from within Iran for six decades and wrote over 600 poems.

Her words became a part of social resistance against a strict and oppressed Iranian culture. Behbahani wrote openly against the repression following the 1979 revolution, as well as about many other issues ranging from egalitarianism to women’s rights to sexism, prostitution, peace, violence and even poverty.

Her poems were well known as some even made their way into popular Iranian love songs. For this she was given the nickname, the “Lioness of Iran.”

Despite censorship and even restricted travel from a government that feared her, Behbahani continued to write and share her ideas with her fellow Iranians. She remained part of Iran’s Writers Association despite the murders of several of its members during the 1990s.

She addressed the social issue of poverty in her book “From the Street”, which is a series of poems she wrote between 1983 and 1985. The poems discuss concerns of homelessness and hunger. One covers the sadness of a hungry boy, while in another a pregnant woman gives birth while she waits for rationed food.

In 2009 she won the Simone de Beauvoir Prize for Women’s Freedom. This was for her tireless efforts in fighting for women’s rights, as many of her poems delve into women’s freedom.

For example, her poem “The Ballad Of The Brothel” talks about the issue of prostitution in Iran, an issue that continues to be prominently ignored by Iranian society.

Behbahani also spoke out against the controversial elections of 2009, in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad returned to the presidency and protests occurred in Tehran. She wrote a poem titled “Stop Throwing My Country To The Wind.”

The poem points out Ahmadinejad’s dishonesty, pride and his recklessness. At the end she writes—“You may wish to have me burned, or decide to stone me. But in your hand match or stone will lose their power to harm me.”

It was Behbahani’s life’s work to spread the word of justice and freedom—to fight from within the country she loved to help promote social change. She believed that “We [writers] will be truly honored the day when no writer is in jail, no student is under arrest, when journalists are free and their pens are free.”

– Eleni Marino 

Sources: BBC News, NPR, The Guardian, Simin Behbahani Poems, PBS,
Photo: 1000 Kitap