The Arabic word for poet is sha`ir شاعر literally means “one who perceives,” for poets are often sensitive to things that others might not perceive, and they are capable of expressing their insights in beautiful and moving language. Among the themes that have long drawn the interest of poets is social commentary and critique, including economic imbalances and the ethical violations that lead to them.
The English Romantic poet William Blake, in his famous Auguries of Innocence, said,
The prince’s robes and beggar’s rags
Are toadstools on the miser’s bags
The poem presented in translation in this post contains a similar idea, but expressed in its own powerful way.
Parvin Etesami (پروين اعتصامي / Parwin I`tisami, 1907-1940) was the first published female poet in Iran. Her father was a man of letters, and he educated her in Arabic and Persian literature. He would also give the young Parvin his own prose translations of Arabic, Turkish and French poems and ask her to convert them into Persian poetry. She wrote almost entirely within the conventions of classical Persian poetry, and often addressed socio-ethical and moral themes. Shortly before her death, she is reported to have destroyed many of her poems because she was not satisfied with their quality. She died from illness at the age of 37, and her anthology (divan) was published a few years later with an introduction by poet laureate Taqi Bahar.
Below is my translation of Etesami’s Persian poem The Orphan’s Tear ( اشك يتيم ), a social commentary that issues a scathing condemnation of financially corrupt and exploitative leaders. The poem opens with the scene of a pompous royal procession through town, and then zooms in on a young orphan and an old woman, upon whose exploitation and/or deprivation the king’s wealth has been built. The closing predicts that some people will probably be offended by, and remain unaffected by the admonition.
I have opted for a poetic (rhymed pentameter) translation, and in the process have compromized on accuracy in order to preserve meter and rhyme, so this is not a literal translation. For example, compare the literal and poetic translations of line 11 below:
Literal: That pious one who acquires villages and realms is a brigand
Poetic: The saint who craves control is but a rogue
Each English line corresponds to a hemistich (half-line) of the original Persian, and the first and second half-lines have been switched for easier rhyme. The original Persian poem can be found here.
The Orphan’s Tear (English Translation)
From every street and roof rose joyous shouts;
The king that day was passing through the town
An orphan boy amidst this speaks his doubts,
What is that sparkle that’s atop his crown?
Someone replied : that’s not for us to know,
But it’s a priceless thing, that’s clear!
A crone approached, her twisted back bent low,
She said: that’s your heart’s blood and my eye’s tear!
We were deceived by shepherd’s staff and robe
He is a wolf; for many years he’s known the flock.
The saint who craves control is but a rogue
A beggar is the king who robs his flock.
Upon the orphan’s tears keep fixed your gaze.
‘Til you see from where comes the jewel’s glow.
How can straight talk help those of crooked ways?
And frank words will to most folk deal a blow.
— Suheil Laher
PICTURE CREDIT: OpenClipartVectors, https://pixabay.com/en/blood-drop-slime-glossy-water-151531/