Fereydoun Tavallali, the son of Djalal Khan, was a contemporary poet and political commentator born in Shiraz in 1917.
Even at a young age, he showed talent as a writer and poet, being taught and encouraged at school by writers such as M. Hamidi, B. Passargade and D. Torbati. In 1932, Tavallali completed his studies in archaeology and began working in his chosen field in the province of Fars. After twenty years of Reza Shah’s dictatorship, the arrival of the Allies permitted some degree of liberalisation in the artistic world.
At the beginning of this period, Tavallali published humoristic poems in the style of Golestan in Farvardin and Sourouch, two well-known journals. Both of these publications were so accomplished that they toppled another political idol.
Towards the end of 1944, faced with the misery of everyday life, an oppressive and unjust ruling class, and successive epidemics of typhus and typhoid, Tavallali, like many other young intellectuals, joined the Communist party (Hezbe Toudeh). He put his heart into fighting against injustice on the side of the poor, publishing hard-hitting articles in the journals Sourouch in Shiraz and Korshide Iran and Iranema in Teheran.
In 1945, Tavallali published Atafacil, a collection of political satires. It was so successful that a second printing appeared in the same year. With unprecedented boldness, he denounced the riots in Fars by means of which the Ghasghaie tribal leaders sought to seize power.
He also attacked Ghavam-Saltaneh, the powerful governor of Fars who had British support, as well as Seidzia-Tabatabai, who was at the origin of the autonomist revolt in Azerbaijan. He criticised these institutions openly without ever fearing for his own life. The poems Arradeh and Khan in Atafacil bear the marks of his combat in those tumultuous years.
In 1946, the province of Fars was subject to unrest stoked by the Ghasghaie leaders and all newspapers were prohibited.
Tavallali then left for Teheran where he continued to publish his writings and continue his outspoken political struggle while working in archaeology. In 1947, Tavallali, Khalile Maleki, Nima Youshidj, Nader Naderpoor, Ebtehadj and many other young Iranian patriots resigned from Hezbe Toudeh.
There were many reasons for their decision: disagreements between the party leaders, concessions made by the party to the Russians over petroleum resources in the north, support from the party for independentist factions on the orders of the Russian Communist Party. Tavallali began his sincerely-felt patriotic battle against Hezbe Toudeh. His poem Red Slaves and other satirical poems in the style of Atafacil were published in Andisheh No (New Thought), the journal of his friend and ally Mehdi Parham as well as in the review “Moyen Orient”.
1950 saw the publication of Raha (freedom), a collection of lyric poems in a revolutionary free-verse style. Some of these poems are still commonly recited in Iran: the river Karoune, Maryam, Afflicted love, etc. Raha is the poet’s most-widely known book due to its new and original style.
In the preface, Tavallali criticised the old-fashioned style of Persian verse. In the same year, he returned to Shiraz where he continued to agitate passionately against British imperialism and provided his support to Dr Mossadegh by writing articles for the highly influential journal Sedaye Shiraz (The voice of Shiraz). Câravân, published in 1953, was written in the same satirical-didactic style as Atafacil.
After the "coup d’état" against Mossadegh in 1952, Tavallali fled Shiraz for Teheran and his house was sacked and torched. He lived clandestinely for a year. The outcome of the coup was paralysing for the country’s democrats : he was unable to publish and was obliged to fall back on his own resources and keep quiet.
In 1958, he returned to Shiraz and became director of archaeology in the province of Fars.
In 1961 he was able to publish a collection of poems Nafeh (Musk), written in an inventive new style on psychological themes with an analytic tendency: “The Castle of Illusions”. The poem “Norouz” accurately expresses the spirit of this work.In 1964, he became an adviser to the University of Shiraz.
After four years of silence, he published Pouyeh (The Path), a collection of traditional poems (ghazals).
In 1973, another collection Shagarf (Wonder) appeared, accompanied by a long foreword on the purity and genius of contemporary poetry in which he gave a clear account of his own poetry and defended the poet’s right to total freedom of expression.
In the light of his biography, there are two distinct periods in his life:
- A first period from his youth until the "coup d’état" of 1952.
- A second period from 1952 until the end of his life.
Tavallali was a revolutionary young poet, confrontational and innovative. He nursed, above all, a great admiration for the poems of Nima, since Nima did not adhere to the traditional verse forms.
But he distanced himself when he thought Nima was not only neglecting rhyme and rhythm but allowing his poems to become incomprehensible. During this period, Tavallali composed poems in a new, measured style which respected rhyme and rhythm but without being tradition-bound. He was followed in this direction by many young and talented poets.
The collections Raha and Nafeh are written in this manner. The original composition, the clarity of meaning, the music of the words, the novelty and force of the ideas raise him to the summit of Persian poetry, alongside such great names as Ferdowsi, Nezami, Saadi, Hâfez. His works Atafacil and Câravân are not only of a great literary merit. Politically they can be considered the weapons of a patriotic poet fighting for freedom and are thus of great historical significance.
In the 2nd period, all the liberal leaders and those opposed to the Shah’s regime were assassinated, imprisoned or exiled, and the atmosphere in the country became stifling. Censorship had closed mouths and broken pens; and for twenty years, there was barely a glimmer of hope. That is why Tavallali was obliged to withdraw from the political world and isolate himself; like Hâfez, he sought refuge in love poetry (ghazal).
In his retreat, he composed poems critical of the dictatorship in force, but no review dared to publish them. His poems passed from hand to hand among friends and sympathisers.
Nevertheless, he managed to publish a few poems indirectly critical of the regime in the journal Bâhâre-e-Iran (Springtime of Iran), but this journal was rapidly impounded and allowed to appear only of it published nothing by Tavallali. His ghazals and didactic works free of any political references were tolerated in literary magazines such as Sokhan, Vahide, and Yaghmâ.
Tavallali is a powerful poet and accomplished writer, as well as a talented humorist. His Atafacil is, like Saadi’s Golestan, inimitable. The elegance of his lyricism recalls that of Hâfez. His satirical portraits have no equal in Persian literature. He is a master in the art of coining new words.
Tavallali died in 1985 after a long illness. He is buried in the family tomb at Shiraz, not far from the great poet Hâfez..
His three daughters, Nima, Fariba and Raha live in the United States and Europe. His wife Mahin, to whom he dedicated all his works, founded the literary circle “Khâne-ye-Fereydoun” (Fereydoun’s House) which regularly brings together writers, poets, historians and researchers.
Mahin Tavallali issued two collections of her husband’s unpublished poems: Bâzgasht (The Return) in 1991 and Kabousse (Nightmare) in 2008.
Translated from French by Iain Bamforth, poet and writer www.iainbamforth.com