Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Majid Naficy: A Return to the Garden of Goethe

If your son asks you 
When was the best day of the Revolution 
What will you tell him? 

Will you say instantly: February 11, 1979? 
The day you opened the gate of Evin Prison alongside the people 
And saw  huge colanders of steaming rice in the kitchen  
Which old jailors had rinsed for their lunch 
And new jailors cooked for their dinner, 
And you with your lover Ezzat Tabaian 
Stepped into a labyrinth of solitary cells 
And for a few endless minutes 
Were trapped behind an electronic door
From where Ezzat three winters later 
Was sent to the execution field. 

Perhaps you will say: January 16, 1979 
When the Shah fled Iran for the second time 
And the statue-breaking rebels at a Tehran square 
Dismounted his father from his horse
And in the dark, you picked up a piece of his hat 
From the ground as a keepsake
And told Ezzat at your side 
That you did not know if you were awake or asleep 
Just as the night when you made love 
For the first time 
And you rubbed your eyes in disbelief.

No! No! 
You miss neither of these two days 
Because the new prison is more horrific than the old one 
And the new tyrant more ruthless than the previous one. 
You miss only one night 
When in October 14, 1977 
At the fifth night of Ten Nights of Poetry 
With your novelist friend Hooshang Golshiri
You walked to the Garden of Goethe in the rain 
To listen to “Songs of Prison” of Saeed Soltanpour
Who had just been released from prison 
Roaring like a wounded panther. 

In those bright ten nights 
Sixty members of the Iranian Writers’ Association 
Gathered from four corners of the country in Tehran 
To speak of truth and beauty polyphonically.  
Omran Salahi read a poem in Turkish 
And Tahereh Safarzadeh an ode to Islam. 
Neither the first enraged the Persian speakers 
Nor the second provoked the leftists. 
Thousands and thousands of lovers of poetry 
Had gathered there from across the country 
To testify that poetry 
Demands freedom of expression. 

In those ten bright nights 
Did the novelist Islam Kazemiyeh know that two decades later 
He would suffocate himself in Paris?
Did the scholar Mostafa Rahimi foresee 
That years after suffering torture and prison 
He would jump off the roof of his house? 
Did the novelist Behazin predict that after arrest 
He would incriminate himself on state TV? 
Did the poet Saeed Soltanpour know 
That on the night of his wedding 
He would be arrested and executed soon after? 
Was the poet Siavash Kasrai aware that at his end 
He would perish powerless in Kabul…no, in Vienna?
In the Nights of Poetry the discourse was freedom and equality 
And nobody spoke of the “divine” law of stoning.
No one knew that on January 7, 1978
The clergy would raise their flag in Qom 
And gradually the slogan of Islamic Rule 
Would replace the slogan of Housing and Freedom. 

Come, return to the Garden of Goethe’s Poetry 
Sit again under rain-laden trees, 
Oblivious to riot police 
Talking to each other on their walkie-talkies 
Behind the walls of the Garden, 
And listen to Maryam, the daughter of the translator Mohammad Qazi 
Who is reading her father’s speech for you. 
Alas! A  surgeon’s knife had severed her father’s vocal cords  
But thankfully did not remove the essence of his speech. 

Come, return to the house of science and art 
And regard only the heart of the individual 
As the House of Faith. 
Come, and from the refreshing Garden of Goethe 
Return to the best days of the Revolution. 
Perhaps in this journey 
Your son will accompany you.


Majid Naficy is author of many books in Persian and in English, including Father & Son, published by Red Hen.

Copyright 2019 Majid Naficy

Garden at the Goethe Institute in Tehran


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