Tag Archives: Iran

Day of the Imprisoned Writer: a letter to Mahvash Sabet

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Alberto Manguel is a well known and celebrated Argentine-born Canadian anthologist, translator, essayist, novelist and editor. Below is the letter he wrote to Mahvash Sabet, a Bahá’í and prisoner of conscious in Iran. During her incarceration, Mahvash has published a wonderful and inspiring book of poetry about her experiences in prison. (See below.) The letter was published in the British newspaper The Guardian  on Monday, November 10th in recognition of tomorrow, November 15th, the Day of the Imprisoned Writer. This is one of many open letters by leading authors written to defend persecuted writers.

I find his letter both touching and sincere and hope that it, in some degree, alleviates and comforts Mahvash Sabet and all her sister and brother Bahá’ís—and indeed all prisoners of conscious—in their unjust imprisonment.

Dear Mahvash Sabet,

It’s almost an impertinence, I feel, to write to a poet who is being kept behind bars for her words and beliefs. King Lear, imprisoned at the end of the play with his daughter Cordelia, tells her that they will become “God’s spies”. That is what you as well have become, bearing witness to society’s injustices, prejudices and inability to understand that no matter what society might do to a poet, the poet’s words will still be free in the minds of the readers, and continue to conjure up ideas, engage the mind in conversation. Perhaps there’s consolation in this.

You end one of your poems saying that “You can’t see the sorrow after lights out,” and that you therefore “long for the dark, total black-out.” I hope, for your dear sake, that the end of your sorrow is near but not as that “total black-out” you speak of: instead, as a resolution of freedom, as the free sunlight that is every person’s natural right, a right no one is entitled to take away.

I don’t know if you can find comfort in realising that you have now been welcomed into a vast and honoured company of imprisoned writers, from all centuries and all tongues, from Boethius to Abu Nuwas, Cervantes, Yevgenia Ginzburg, Nazim Hikmet and hundreds of others, and that generations of readers to come will remember your name as they remember theirs, long after the names of your jailers have been swept off the memory of the earth.

I can’t offer you anything in your cell except my devotion as your reader, my trust in better times, and my distant but sincere friendship. I hope that in the very near future we will meet in person, not only on the page.

With very best wishes of hope and courage,

Alberto Manguel

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Mahvash Sabet, teacher and poet, is one of over 150 Bahá’ís currently serving long term prison sentences in Iran. She has been detained since 2008 for her faith and activities related to running the affairs of the Bahá’í religious minority in Iran. I have previously posted several of her poems, all taken from her book, Prison Poems:

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available both in the US and UK.

A great thanks to Pete Hulme of Everybody Means Something for his post on this subject and for bringing this letter to my attention.

– john

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Mavash Sabet’s “At Such a Time You’ll Come”

Mahvash Sabet is a Bahá’í prisoner of conscience currently serving an unjust 20 year sentence in Iran. Read more of her story here.

At Such a Time You’ll Come

I fear that time
when patience will no more be mine
when brittle hope will have been blown away,
it’s kindness gone,
when the wind will have scattered me
and my eyes will have strayed from the path–O!
if no door opens to me then, not one–
I will know for sure it is that time
when you will come again.

 

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I am amazed at the strength and constancy that this poem radiates! Especially for one who is unjustly in prison and ill, such utter resignation is like a blade of grass which bends to the storm, unlike a strong tree, which is uprooted and thrown down.

Please consider purchasing Mahvash Sabet’s poetry as an act of solidarity in the fight for human rights: in the US, from Amazonin the UK, directly from the publisher.

john

This English edition of At Such a Time You’ll Come is ©2013 by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, who adapted the original Persian text into English; all rights reserved.

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Mahvash Sabet’s “The Prayer of the Tree”

Mahvash Sabet is a Bahá’í prisoner of conscience currently serving an unjust 20 year sentence in Iran. Read more of her story here.

The Prayer of the Tree

That hapless tree that sat through all the winter months out there
naked in the snow and ice, it’s shivering branches bare,
broken, wind-torn, bleak and dreary,
bent by the changing seasons, weary,
has finally had an answer to its prayer.
See how the kind Creator full of loving care
has decked it in new garments, fresh and rare!
Have you seen how green it is at last, how finally dressed, how fair?

 

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Can one not but be amazed that anyone, sick and unjustly imprisoned for their faith, could still find the tenderness and gentleness in their heart to write such a delicate and joyous poem? Shame to the Iranian authorities for such an injustice!

Please consider purchasing Mahvash Sabet’s poetry as an act of solidarity in the fight for human rights: in the US, from Amazonin the UK, directly from the publisher.

john

This English edition of The Prayer of the Tree is ©2013 by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, who adapted the original Persian text into English; all rights reserved.

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Mahvash Sabet’s “The Imaginary Garden”

There was once a woman
green as the spring,
who planted her hands in a garden.
And another woman,
red as her heart
who plucked light from the bars of a prison.
And now here I am
with my own patch of soil,
growing a garden
in this tiny cell,
with poppies of love for each pane.

You need just one flower–
that’s all it takes–
to open the windows of sight.
A single verse
is quite enough
to illumine the eyes with light.

So I’ll tie my bags to the foot of the breeze
and soar high up to the top of the trees
in my garden that grows inside.
And I’ll spread wings to reach you
and soar high to teach you
how windows can open wide.
You don’t need much:
one poppy is all
it takes to open to love.
One verse is sufficient
to fill the eyes
with that shining beam from above.

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Mahvash Sabet is a Bahá’í prisoner of conscience currently serving an unjust 20 year sentence in Iran. This is another heart-rendering poem smuggled out of her prison and translated and published in the west. Read more of her story from my post of her poem Fire.

Mahvash is not well and languishes in prison without proper treatment. Please pray for her strength.

Please consider purchasing Mahvash Sabet’s poetry as an act of solidarity in the fight for human rights: in the US, from Amazon; in the UK, directly from the publisher.

– john

This English edition of The Imaginary Garden is ©2013 by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, who adapted the original Persian texts into English; all rights reserved.

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The Letters of the Living

Burst


There, then, on that Purest Spot,
with the night pregnant with the day,
Shiva the Destroyer lifted up
and threw down on the knee of His love
the entire world and the heavens thereof,
breaking them then, all that lay therein
so that they fell, cast deep into darkness and doubt.

There were left but Twenty still living:
the First, the eighteen and the Second,
witness unto Himself. What Word
in that day did those eighteen say
so that the reunion could finally begin?
“Yea!” they cried, voices flung in abandon,
high unto the heavens.
“Yea!” they cried, necks bared to the blade,
arms lifted taut with joy.
“Yea!” they cried and thus they died
leaving only their echoes to recall them.
But here in my place, God help me,
I think I hear them still.

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This is a poem that is steeped in the history of the Bahá’í Faith and the allusions will be unclear to non-Bahá’ís, so let me explain very briefly:

Much like John the Baptist came first to prepare the world for Jesus Christ, the Báb (“the First” in the poem) came to prepare the world for Bahá’u’lláh (“the Second” in the poem), the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith. The first eighteen brave souls—martyrs all, as was the Báb Himself—who declared Their belief in Him are referred to as the Letters of the Living.

This concept of “living”  i.e. spiritual rejuvenation through belief in a new Manifestation of God, is developed also in the first stanza, where Shiva—a Hindu deity—fulfills one of the roles of God and “destroys” the world (everyone is metaphorically dead upon His arrival) and then transforms it, through giving “life”, i.e. spiritual rejuvenation through faith in Him.

Thank you for reading The Letters of the Living. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph is entitled Burst and was taken in Washington, DC on Memorial Day, several years ago. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

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Mahvash Sabet’s “Lights Out”

Mahvash Sabet is a Bahá’í prisoner of conscience currently serving an unjust 20 year sentence in Iran. Read more of her story here.

Lights Out

Weary but wakeful, feverish but still
fixed on the evasive bulb that winks on the wall,
thinking surely it’s time for lights out,
longing for darkness, for the total black-out.

Trapped in distress, caught in this bad dream,
the dust under my feet untouchable as shame,
flat on the cold ground, a span for a bed,
lying side by side, with a blanket on my head.

And the female guards shift, keeping vigil till dawn,
eyes moving everywhere, watching everyone,
sounds of the rosary, the round of muttered words,
fish lips moving, the glance of a preying bird.

Till another hour passes in friendly chat,
in soft talk of secrets or a sudden spat,
with some snoring, others wheezing
some whispering, rustling, sneezing—
filling the space with coughs and groans,
suffocated sobs, incessant moans—

You can’t see the sorrow after lights out.
I long for the dark, the total black-out.

I am not sure what breaks my heart more: the difficult circumstances of Mahvash’s life, health and incarceration or the beauty and sublimity of her poetry under such difficult circumstances! Please keep Mahvash in your hearts; she is gravely ill in prison, suffering from tuberculosis of the bone.

Please consider purchasing Mahvash Sabet’s poetry as an act of solidarity in the fight for human rights: in the US, from Amazon; in the UK, directly from the publisher.

john

This English edition of Lights Out is ©2013 by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, who adapted the original Persian texts into English; all rights reserved.

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Mahvash Sabet’s “Bear This in Mind”

Mahvash Sabet is a Bahá’í prisoner of conscience currently serving an unjust 20 year sentence in Iran. Read more of her story here.

Bear This in Mind

When you pass by
a heap of rotting rats
bear this in mind:
they might not all be dead.
They might just be lying there,
lying and pretending.
Because no one bothers
the dead round here.

This is, I believe, an poem from the early part of Mavash’s incarceration. Please keep her in your hearts and prayers; she is gravely ill in prison, suffering from tuberculosis of the bone.

Please consider purchasing Mahvash Sabet’s poetry as an act of solidarity in the fight for human rights: in the US, from Amazon; in the UK, directly from the publisher.

john

This English edition of Bear This in Mind is ©2013 by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, who adapted the original Persian texts into English; all rights reserved.

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