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Shahnaz A'lami

Shahnaz A'lami

It is with great sorrow that we have to announce,
the great poet and cultural figure Shahnaz A'lami
passed away on 18th December 2003.
She will always be remembered by the many
whose lives she touched.

As a tribute to this important Iranian poet, we have added the following pages, which include two of her poems in the original Persian:


Like a Sonnet

Brief background on Shahnaz A'lami with one of her poems in English translation
from the book Modern Persian Poetry
by Mahmud Kianush.

Shahnaz A'lami, b. 1921, Esfahan. In 1954, one year after the Shah's coup d'etat and the overthrow of Mosaddegh's government, she left Iran and resided for many years in former East Germany. Berlin was her final home until her death in December 2003. Among her many and varied cultural roles, she ran an Iranian School, where pupils are taught Persian language and culture.

Poetical Works :

  • Cham Village [Dehkadeh-ye Cham, 1985, Germany];
  • Songs of Separation [Taraneha-ye Joda'i, 1991, Germany];
  • Mr. Now Ruz and Miss Manizheh [Now Ruz Agha va Manizheh Khanom, 1970, A story in verse for children].
  • She has also written biographical sketches and critical work on women's role in Persian Literature.



I took with me a suitcase,

light, very light,

Two or three sets of baby clothes,

A white georgette dress,

An indistinct photograph of my mother,

wearing a headdress,

And a complete list of traditional things

for the Noe-Rooz's celebrations, (1)

Lest a single thing should be forgotten;

These were what I had,

or rather, people thought I had,

in my suitcase

With which I left the land

of the generous sun.

My suitcase was,

or rather, people thought it was,

very, very light;

But what a big mistake!

You must have seen the shows

of professional magicians;

They put their fingers

up their sleeves,

And take out whatever you may name:

Birds, rabbits, kerchiefs of all colours,

Sometimes a crystal jug,

Sometimes a piece of stone,

Fire, water, soil,

Flowers, thorns and many other things;

So was my empty magic suitcase.


Now it has been almost a lifetime

That from inside the same suitcase

I have been taking out anything I want:

Wonderful springs of Isfahan

And its exhilarating groves

in the outskirts;

The colourful autumn of Shiraz

And the fragrance of its orange trees;

The ancient ruins of Persepolis; (2)

The Baghestan Mountain

with its historical inscriptions;

The Palace of Princess Shirin;

The poor village of Cham in Na'in; (3)

The tattered dress of Fatima,

a peasant little girl,

And a flock of other children like her,

Who are all in the same suitcase.


I take them out;

I sit and talk with them;

I live with them;

And the moment someone appears,

They all run back into the suitcase,

The very suitcase which people think

must be very light

and almost empty.


When I make my will

I will ask for my suitcase

to be buried with me.

No doubt they will say:

"Her life was madness;

And her will is foolish!

What sort of will is that!

Who needs a suitcase

in the other world?"


Let them say whatever they like;

After all,

who does know the secret

of the professional magician of love?


Is it not true that love

is the astrolabe of God's mysteries? (4)


(1) Noe-Rooz, or NowRuz, the Persian New Year's Day (21 March in the Western calendar) is followed by twelve days of celebrations and visiting relatives and friends.

(2) Persepolis was the ceremonial capital of Darius, Xerxes and other kings of the Archaemenid period. Baghestan Mountain, near Kermanshah in western Iran, has on its face a bas-relief depicting Darius I, with captive chiefs and a record of his reign. In the same province was the palace of Shirin, an Armenian princess who is said to have been the wife of khosrow Parviz (521 - 628), one of the greatest kings of the Sassanid period.

(3) Cham is a village near the town of Na'in, famous for its carpets.

(4) The words in italics are part of a famous couplet from the "Masnavi" of Jalal-od-Din Rumi, one of the greatest Persian Mystic or Sufi poets, who is also known as Mowlavi. He lived a good part of his life in Konya in Turkey, where his tomb is a shrine for a dervish sect known as "Mowlaviyyeh".


"Modern Persian Poetry"
(An anthology in English)

Modern Persian poetry
Click to purchase the book.


Iranian Women Poets

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Copyright shall at all times remain vested in the Author. No part of the work shall be used, reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the Author's express written consent.

Copyright© 1998 K. Kianush, Art Arena