Copyright, Bashiri 2001
Mehdi Akhavan Saless was born in 1928 in the city of Meshed, in northeastern Iran. There he grew up, received his early education, and graduated from the Meshed Technical Institute with a degree in metallurgy. After holding a couple of temporary jobs in his hometown, in 1948, he moved to Tehran and was employed as a teacher. He also became involved in Iranian politics as early as 1951 As a result of this latter he, like many prominent artists of his time, was thrown into prison (late 1960's). Some of his poems express his sentiments, which had many sympathizers at the time, regarding the regime's incarceration of the best flowers of Iranian society.
On the whole, however, barring his literary activities, Akhavan Saless's career was tied to the regime's radio and television. Indeed, writing for the regime, many of his admirers thought, belittled the high stance that he had taken socially and philosophically. Saless, however, like Sadeq Hedayat before him, did not have many options open to him to earn a living.
Although Akhavan Saless's poetic career began as early as 1942, he did not acquire the degree of recognition necessary for breaking into the literary circles of his time until the publication of his third volume of poetry in 1957. Called "Zemestan" (Winter), this volume boosted Saless's career and placed him among the top runners for the mantle of Nima Yushij. In fact, for many circles, Nader Naderpur and Mehdi Akhavan Saless were equally recognized as worthy successors of the Bard of Mazandaran. The fact that like Nima they both had started as traditionalists and had worked their way into new realms of New Poetry through individual initiative itself deserved praise for singular effort.
Akhavan's forte, like the bard of Tus, is epic; more precisely, he chooses themes of epical proportion and expresses them with the same zeal that Firdowsi uses in the Shahname. The difference is that they write for two diametrically different audiences. Akhavan Saless need not engage his poetry in gavel by gavel battles of Iranian and Turanian chiefs. Rather, he can focus on the theme and illustrating aspects of it with diverse, often far-fetched similes, metaphors, and symbols.
Finally, Saless's language is complex. While translating his verse, one cannot ignore the impact of the internal rhyme, the interconnection of images seemingly disparate images, and the ubiquitous presence of the theme. Saless's "Winter," translated here as a third attempt, I believe, is a good example for understanding the depth of his conviction as well as the dexterity and the finesse that distinguish his work compositions.
Akhavan Saless's last work was composed in 1991. It is entitled "Toro ey Kuhan Bumu Bar Dust Daram" (I Love You, Oh My Ancient Home).
Mehdi Akhavan Sales died in 1991 in Tehran. His body was transported to Meshed where it was buried in Tus by the mausoleum of Abu al-Qasim Firdowsi.
Mehdi Akhavan Saless
"Arghanun" (The Organ), 1951
"Zemestan" (Winter), 1955
"Akhar-i Shahname" (The Ending of the Shahname), 1959
"Az in Avesta" (From this Avesta), 1965
"Shekar" (The Hunt), 1966
"Pa'iz dar zendan" (Autumn in Prison), 1970
"Shush-ra Didam" (I Saw Susa), 1972
"Guyand Ki Ferdowsi" (It is Related that Firdowsi), 1976
"Darakhti Pir va Jangal" (The Ancient Tree and the Forest), 1977
"Dar Hayati Kuchek-i Pa'iz dar Zendan" (In Autumn's Small Yard in Prison), 1977
"Inak Bahar-i Digar" (Now a New Spring), 1978
"Bejang, Ey Pahlavan" (Fight on, O Hero), 1978
"Bed'atha va Badaye'I Nima Yushij" (Nima Yushij's Innovations and Aesthetics), 1979
"Duzakh amma Sard" (Hell but Freezing), 1979
"Zendegi Miguyad Amma Boyad Zist" (Life Dictates, but Life Must Go On), 1979
"Ata va Laqa-i Nima Yushij" (Nima Yushij's Bequest), 1983
Your greetings they'll ignore.
With their heads resting on their chests,
They seek warmth from their breasts,
None affords to lift a head to greet the guests.
Vision is limited,
The road's dark and slick.
Your extended friendly hand is refused,
Not because they are confused;
They rather keep their hands where they are warmed.
It is frightfully cold. Do not be alarmed.
Observe your breath,
Leaving the warmth of your breast;
Turns into a dark cloud
Before it rests
On the wall before your chest.
If your breath is this unkind,
What is amiss; if
Distant and near friends,
Were to keep you out of mind?
My manly Messiah,
Uncompromising man of faith!
Winter is cowardly and cold,
You keep the words warm,
Sustain that stance bold.
Accept my greetings.
Let me in.
Your nightly guest:
The pedestrian rock,
The curse of creation,
The uneven melody.
Allow this pest, a moment of rest.
I am not from Rome or Africa.
Allow the Africans the south,
North, the Romans.
Colorblind I am,
Enough for both.
Let me in!
Let my sorrow in!
Be a good host,
To your ever-present guest,
Who shivers behind your door.
Have mercy on the poor.
There is no hail.
You may have heard a tale,
There exists no death,
Only chattering teeth and a short breath.
Tonight I intend to pay back
The account for which I lack
It is not too late
It is not midnight
There is no morning
Don't be fooled by the dawn's false trap.
My frozen red ears
Bespeak winter's harsh slap.
And your universal sun
At the mercy of each breath,
Rather than your coffin
Brightens the hidden cave of death.
Dear friend, with wine,
Illumine the sight;
Night is day
Day is night.
They'll ignore your greeting
Amid this depressing weather
Doors are shut
Heads on chests
Hopes are cruelly cut.
Trees are but
The sky's moved closer;
The land is devoid of life,
Dimmed are the sun and the moon
Winter is rife.
The stone lay there like a mountain
and we sat here a weary bunch
women, men, young, old
all linked together
at the ankles, by a chain.
You could crawl to whomever your heart desired
as far as you could drag your chain.
We did not know, nor did we ask
was it a voice in our nightmare and weariness
or else, a herald from an unknown corner,
"The stone lying there holds a secret
inscribed on it by wise men of old."
Thus spoke the voice over and again
and, as a wave recoiling on itself
retreated in the dark
and we said nothing
and for some time we said nothing.
Afterwards, only in our looks
many doubts and queries spoke out
then nothing but the ambush of weariness, oblivion
and silence, even in our looks
and the stone lying there.
One night, moonlight pouring damnation on us
and our swollen feet itching
one of us, whose chain was the heaviest
damned his ears and groaned: "I must go"
and we said, fatigued: "Damn our ears
damn our eyes, we must go."
and we crawled up to where the stone lay one of us, whose chain was looser
climbed up and read:
"He shall know my secret
who turns me over!"
With a singular joy we repeated this dusty secret
under our breath as if it were a prayer
and the night was a glorious stream filled with moonlight.
sweating sad, cursing, at times even crying
again...one...two...three...thus many times
hard was our task, sweet our victory
tired but happy, we felt a familiar joy
soaring with delight and ecstasy.
One of us, whose chain was lighter
saluted all, then climbed the stone
wiped the dirt-caked inscription and mouthed the words
(we were impatient)
wetted his lips (and we did the same)
and remained silent
cast a glance at us and remained silent
read again, his eyes fixed, his tongue dead
his gaze drifting over a far away unknown
we yelled to him"
"Read!" he was speechless
"Read it to us!" he stared at us in silence
after a time
he climbed down, his chain clanking
we held him up, lifeless as he was
we sat him down
he cursed our hands and his
"What did you read? huh?"
He swallowed and said faintly:
"The same was written:
"He shall know my secret
who turns me over!"
stared at the moon and the bright night
and the night was a sickly stream.