By Nima Yushij

Translated by Kaveh Bassiri

from Issue 21


Phoenix, sweet singer, renowned bird,
a refugee from the cold wind’s blast,
sits apart
on a bamboo stalk,
surrounded by other birds on their branches.

From the ragged cords of a thousand distant voices
he composes lost laments
and in clouds like a dim line over the mountain
conceives a wall for an imaginary building.

Since the sun, yellow upon the waves,
grew pallid, and the cry of the jackal
soared over the shores, and the peasant
lit the hidden light of home,
a small flame reflected in his red eyes
draws a shadow line
under the two large eyes of the night.
In the distance, people pass.

That rare song, still hidden,
the phoenix rises from where he settled
and passes through objects
with the light and dark of this long night.
He sees a flame ahead.

In a place where there are no plants, no air
the stubborn sunlight bursts upon the stones,
where no land or life is special,
he senses that the dreams of birds like him
are black as smoke, even if some of their hopes
like a fire’s harvest
sparkle in the eye and in their white morning.
He senses that if his life
ends like other birds,
sleep or eating
would be a nameless affliction.

That melodious bird,
in a place where fire is revered,
now a hell,
keeps closing his eyes
and shifting his sharp gaze.
Suddenly beating his wings in place,
a cry rises over the hills
from his heart, bitter and burning,
that the birds passing will not understand.
Drunk on his own despair,
he throws himself on the immense fire.

The violent wind blows, the bird is ablaze.
The bird has amassed the ashes of his body.
From the heart of his ashes, his chicks hatch.

Nima Yushij (1897-1960) was born in the small town of Yush in the northern province of Mazandaran in Iran. He is known as the father of Modern Persian Poetry and is possibly the most influential Iranian poet of the twentieth century.

Kaveh Bassiri is a recipient of Witter Bynner Poetry Translation Residency and Walton Translation Fellowship. His poetry won the Bellingham Review’s 49th Parallel Award and was recently published in Best New Poets 2011, Virginia Quarterly Review, Beloit Poetry Review, and Mississippi Review.

Original text: Nima Yushij. “Qoqnos,” from Journal of Music. Mehr: Majalleh-ye Musiqi, 1940.

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