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The Art of Stepping Through Time

Iranian poet H.E. Sayeh (né Houshang Ebtehaj) was born February 25, 1928 in Rasht, Iran. Unlike many other literary figures during Shah Reza Pahlavi's reign, Sayeh refrained from being involved in politics and left-leaning activities, while staying true to his social and political consciousness. However, after the 1979 Iranian revolution, he did not refrain from expressing the deep sorrow felt by a nation whose social revolution was kidnapped by an Islamic and repressive regime. He was arrested in 1981 and spent a year in jail. Many other poets in his circle were also imprisoned and some were executed. In "Black and White", a poem he wrote in 1991, Sayeh laments:

I don't know who sold our loyalty
What he earned or bought with the money

But I see that black hand above the bar
Pouring poison in the people's wine
In 1987, he moved to Germany.

A slim volume of his selected poems is being published in English translation in November 2011 under the title The Art of Stepping through Time.  


The Art of Stepping Through Time
by H. E. Sayeh
translated by Chad Sweeney and Mojdeh Marashi

The world does not begin or end today
Sad and happy hide behind one curtain
If you're on the path don't despair of the distance
Arrival is the art of stepping through time
A seasoned traveler on the road to love's door
Your blood leaves its mark on every step
Still water soon sinks into the earth
But the river rolling grows into a sea
Let's hope that one reaches the target
So many arrows have flown from this old bow
Time taught me to fall out of love with your face
That's why these tears are tinted with blood
Pity this long game of decades
Plays the human heart as a toy
A caravan of tulips crossing this meadow
Was crushed under-hoof by the riders of autumn
The day that sets spring's breath in motion
Will birth flowers and grasses from shore to shore
Mountain, you heard my cry today
The pain in this chest was born with the world
All praised brotherhood but did not live it
God, how many miles from tongue to hand?
Blood trickles my eyes in this corner of enduring
The patience I practice is squeezing my life
Come on, Sayeh, don't swerve from the path
A jewel is buried beneath every step


House of Ghazal
Tehran, Summer 1975

What love is this love? We don't know what it is.
It's sane and insane, yet neither sanity nor insanity.
How can a madman or sage understand
The drunkenness of this grail increases every day?
When the sea is wild, the moon's reflection is obscured
By this wave of mercury rising up, sinking down
Imagination and feeling hold the intellect captive
Like a deer in whose presence the lion is helpless
Where is the blade that opened the vessel of the soul
And can no longer hide the twilight of the wound?
When you arced your eyebrow I almost lost my mind
Imagine what your whole eye could do, your house of ghazal
What would I make with a lock of that hair?
The strands of such thread are beyond comprehension
Sayeh, we're not talking about delicacy of the body
But she who is all soul inside her clothing
So get up in a frenzy, clasp onto her hair
This is what you've been waiting for
Wearing earth-rags, you're trying to charm the sun
Hold up your face until she is your mirror


Red Dawn
Tehran, 1971

O dawn!
The messenger's happy news!
To honor your visit tonight
a rooster is beheaded at the front door.

A few more poems from Sayeh's The Art of Stepping through Time, trans. by Chad Sweeney and Mojdeh Marashi.


A sketch the rain strikes
in dirt, one uncertain runnel
depicting the dark story of a cloud--
a vagrant cloud, driven over mountain and plain
until one day, in whatever stream it finds itself,
it is returned to the sea.


A False Dawn

Night still hasn't passed.
Oh, prodigious patience, stay--
without you, I don't have the will to live.
The splendor of a false dawn might dupe us.
The seasoned rooster knows
this is not the time for singing.


Sunset on the Green

Tell me under dusk the grieving green of meadows.
This sadness of tousled grasses, tell.

Look to ashen dreams of the arghavaan tree,
Wordlessly confess the thoughts of the burned.

What became of her face leaned on the young tree sprout?
Tell the dirt's embrace. Tell the solitude of the rose.

The joy of first green left the old tree's memory.
Please, spring wind, tell of those days.

Water won't return to a dry creek bed.
Let wet eyes tell of the thirst of the jasmine.

Tell the crowds struck silent with sadness
Of the serving girls' festivals of morning wine.

Tell of the messenger, a hundred flowers on his chest
And this wave of blood that slaps him on the mouth.

The broken pine sketched my heart on the water.
Tell this story to the heart-breaker mirror.

That green and red shadow turned amethyst and bruise.
My dark pine, tell of sunset on the green.

The word "shadow" in the penultimate line is a play on the author's name: Sayeh means "shadow" in Persian.


My bed
is the empty shell of loneliness.
You are the pearl
strung from other men's necks.




What luster in the pupils of the night
Lit a new glow in my light
O owl, don't croon your ominous lullaby
Behind curtains the sun is still white.




Morning rose and the dawn bird called
The black sky spread her golden skirts
One of these evenings, you said you would come
The nights keep passing and my arms are empty.




Dawn stirred the flower's colors
But when I looked again she was pale
Just playing shy, I thought
I reached out to touch a stone




Another storm tonight.
Fright rattles its fist on the pane.
The flame trembles of loneliness.
The wind.




A night storm.
Danger raps its knuckles on the glass.
The wick quivers in solitude.
How can the lantern stay lit?



Song of the Sea

The chest should be open like the sea
To make the music the sea makes
Breath threshed like a wave
Drops a hundred times and wells up
A patient storm-weathered vessel
Not weary from rising and falling
The ballad of an oceanic heart
Not every chest can sing this way




Shadows sob under trees in the green sunset.
Branches read the story of clouds,
and like me, the sky is moody with dust.

Wind brings the smell of soil wet with storm.
Leaves agitate in the passing night.

The garden is anxious for rain--
my heart aches for a long green cry...




If I drank my heart's blood in vain, so I drank it
And counted so many moons and suns that I died
If it was all defeat, yes, my whole life
At least I touched your hair, yes I did




They cut the morning bird's throat
and yet

in the rolling river of sunset
his crimson voice
still flows...



Morning Wine

He lifted the sky
in an ebony bowl.
The red dawn
drank it down in one swallow.
In that moment the sun blazed
through his entire being.



The Bird Knows

Thoughts of flying in cloud light
like opening an eye into sleep
the bird in her cage
is dreaming.

From her cage the bird watches
the painted image of the garden
The bird knows this wind
has no breath--the paradise
an illusion!
From her cage the bird
is dreaming.



Apple's Cry

Night was falling.
I came inside and closed the windows.

Wind wrestled with branches.
Only me in an empty house.

The world's lament poured into my heart.

Suddenly I felt

beyond the window
in the garden

morning dew
dropped from the apple blossom.



From the Dance of Burning

Supple and delicate a sapling
Threads its head through the ice of the earth

Its green eye inclined toward the sun
Long ago dreamed of fire

In its center a sigh has waited
The sun's mane tossed in its breathing

The sun is drawn to this seed as well
A shard of her own heart of light

Through its season in the soil
The seed carries memories of the sun

And reading to the end
Finds the destiny of the tree it will become

Though it sways and flirts in the meadow
The destiny of the tree is to burn...



From Life

Time stretches without coastlines--
the steps of our lives can't measure it.
This shelter from pain is only a moment.




The house was ailing for the vanishing sun,
as now my heart is sick.

Father told us to light the lamp,
and night filled with night.

I was certain the sun was lost,
but Mother sighed,
Morning will bring it back.

A cloud drifted my young eyes
into sleep.

Who knew this much suffering
crept in ambush toward a child's heart?

Yes, in those days when someone left us
I had faith in his return.

I hadn't swallowed the meaning
of never.

O doomed word,
my heart has not grown accustomed to you.

Why haven't they come back?

After all these years I
still fix my eyes on the road


Thanks for reading The Art of Stepping Through Time

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