Translators’ Note

Kayvan Tahmasebian and Rebecca Ruth Gould

Nima Yushij, better known simply as Nima, challenged the inflexible abstract forms and structures of classical Persian poetry that were still dominant when he began writing through his objective descriptions and symbolist narrative poems. Nearly all currents of modernist Persian poetry have defined themselves in terms of the new poetics Nima developed in his letters and diaries, entitled Harf-ha-ye hamsayeh (Neighbor’s words). Nima’s poems were only gathered into a collected edition after his death, first by Sirus Tahbaz in 1991 and later by Sharagim Yushij in 2018.

“Before My Cabin” is one of Nima’s last poems, written circa 1956-1957. The poem bears the traces of the poet’s disillusionment following the CIA-orchestrated coup of 1953, which resulted in the replacement of democratically-elected Prime Minister Mosaddeq by Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. It is typical of several other poems the poet wrote after the coup and in the years leading up to his death, including “It is night [Hast shab]” and “My Steel Heart [Del-e fuladam].”

The poetic aura of “Before My Cabin” — and the translational challenges that it poses — is created by the echoing of the key word bikhod (literally “without self”) throughout the poem. The word is multivalent, meaning “in vain,” “self-less,” “inane,” and “emptily” at the same time. All of these meanings cannot be captured in a single English word. We have opted for “inane” because it mirrors the syllabic structure of bikhod, and incorporates a negative prefix into its internal structure just like the original term. Apart from these denotations, bikhod also has an undertone of resentment, ennui, and lack of interest.

With this word choice, the poet masterfully enacts the tension between narrative voice and the poetic description in which the former intervenes to cancel out the latter: as soon as an image of beauty and nostalgia is formed, it is immediately dispelled by the peremptory bikhod. Two words — lam and ayish — are taken from the local dialect of northern Iran and evoke Nima’s Mazanderani origins. We have translated them by the non-dialectal English words “prickly vine,” and “fallow.”


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