14 June 2009

Doors and the Great Wall of China

Ahmad Shamlu (or Shamloo or Shamlou) was one of the greatest Iranian poets of the 20th Century. This poem, which gave the title of an anthology of his poetry published in a 1973, was written before the revolution of 1979. That does not stop it from saying a lot about today's Iran

I am agrateful to my dear friend Redwine who sent me this translation of the poem.

Door is an insidious thing… I have thought about it time and again.

It is only for the possible – or what is more, the positive – existence of a door that one keeps on looking around a walled area… If there were no doors, walls could utterly maintain and stand by the significance of the impasse, to wit the constraint, evermore. Still, if so, every wall could be a decisively negative certitude and knew well what to do confronting everyone…

If there were no doors, each wall could, without a hitch, resound with the inscription suspended by Dante at the entrance to hell; but, regrettably, one has to confess that doors have deprived them of so impeccable and sheer a sense.

More than that, a door is a full-blooded parasite.

Its personality is totally subject to that of wall; still one should suspect this point, in that though only walls can justify the existence of doors, they cannot sustain the finality and their arrant emphaticness I referred to before, in the presence of doors. But, there would not be after all anything more useless and ludicrous than a door if there were no walls. However I do not know a thing about painting, I can easily paint such a door:

What is more ludicrous than a door that – separate and independent from a wall – tries to have a personality?

Yet, a door that is not constructed in any wall has the astounding potentiality of provoking thought…

I have given my mind to such a door; and sometimes it has made my mind think about borders and passageways of borders, with no change in its form necessarily.

Actually, a free-standing door that can be nothing, is a good passageway for thinking, through which one can find way to many realms.

The necessity of walls is felt soon by observing a door. I ask if we sense accordingly the necessity of doors by observing a wall.

I do not suppose so. It may be so, but not that much to me, at least. I find walls more logical than doors, and believe that doors are vacuous hopes: they repudiate the character of walls when opened, and their ((own's)) when closed.

A wall is simply not more than an obstruction if there is no door in it; but nothing betrays its own entity as a door that bears a heavy lock… Maybe that is the reason why we cherish Roman and Greek castles more than old fortresses, and maybe that is the reason why we feel relieved and restful by recalling those sumptuous and colonnaded castles; and feel dubious and anxious by remembering those stealthy citadels; maybe... I do not know...

One more point: the uncertainty that makes us to construct walls…

The lofty walls before which we feel a dire need for doors…

And the doors which should be secure and specifically invulnerable, and have heavy locks...

As though life would be impossible but among walls and doors, but among this hurly-burly, this ambivalence, this opening, closing, and reopening:

Building a wall,
Constructing a door in it,
Closing the door!

Is it not a laughingstock? Why, yes. On the whole, it is hilarious.
The Great Wall of China has been a matter of discussion at times – and each time with a different outlook. It is said that the Great Wall of China was founded to fortify the country against the invading northern tribes.

It was an interesting point, having had one third of a Chinese generation victimized; let us say, a whole generation… because the graveness of such a matter is not weighed through the number of its victims.

The truth is that what immolated an innumerable group of people was not the main surmise of the theory i.e. the possible invasion.

It cannot be said that only the general principles of this theory are modified here; the blind spot of the theory is that the constructors of the wall (not indeed their commanders) did not construct a door in that wall! As a result, the main catastrophe they wanted to ward off beforehand by wall-constructing, changed readily and came forth more unsparingly in the same form and structure they had walled! Ah! And this is, I think, the destiny of all those who overlook the importance of doors. The northern did not invade but the southern did not find any door to escape through.

I would like to confess that I was ungrateful to doors in the beginning of this discourse.
In the history we human beings make, nothing is more remedial to us than a door to escape through.

Doors are essential; even a door constructed in no wall…

In this world – of no validity – we live in, doors are more requisite than everything else, even the Great Wall of China…

Ahmad Shamlu
Tr. by Mohammad Forough


Frank Partisan said...

Really good post. Great work.

Greetings to Redwine.

James Higham said...

Doors or locks?

jams o donnell said...

Shamlu was a great poet Ren. I will pass on your greetings if she has not seen this post

Or both James

Sean Jeating said...

Amazing poem / thoughts.
Thanks, Jams; and to Redwine, too.

jams o donnell said...

Glad you like it Sean!

Mohamad Forough said...

Hi, i am Mohammad Forough the translator of this text, and i was wondering how you got hold of it and who Redwine is?

jams o donnell said...

His there. Redwine is an online alias of a dear friend of mine who lives in Romania.

It is a superb poem.