Bijan Elahi


ELAHI, BIJAN (بیژن الهی, Bijan Elāhi, b. Tehran, 16 Tir 1324Š./ 7 July 1945; d. Tehran, 10 Āḏar 1389Š./ 1 December 2010; Figure 1Figure 2), modernist poet and translator.


Bijan Elahi was the only child born into the affluent family of ʿAli Moḥammad and Qodsi Elahi. He abandoned his secondary education at Alborz College, during his senior year and didn’t return to a formal educational setting again. While in high school he also attended the painting classes of Javād Ḥamidi (1919-2002), and became familiarized with the modern art movement in vogue in the West.  With Ḥamidi’s encouragement, he submitted several of his paintings to a biennale in France where two of them were published in the booklet of the biennale (Asadi Kiāras, 2013, pp.11-12). Although his involvement with the canvas came soon to an end, it had a direct impact on his aesthetics as a poet (Aṣlāni, p. 133)

Elahi married the novelist Ghazaleh Alizadeh, in 1969 (Figure 3). The marriage, which did not last long, provided Elahi his only child, a daughter, Salmeh, born in 1971. He married Žāleh Kāẓemi, a television producer and news anchor in 1988. The marriage ended in divorce in 2000.

In the last three decades of his life, Elahi increasingly immersed himself in Sufism, and took a leave from all literary circles, choosing a life of solitude into which only a few close friends were invited. He died on 1 December 2010 of heart failure. In accordance to his final wishes, he was buried in a small village near Marzan Ābād, in northern Iran, during which, according to Elahi’s will no recording devices were to be allowed. Masʿoud Kimiāʾi, the noted director, and Elahi’s life long friend who had intended to document the burial, deferred to Elahi’s wishes. Šamim Bahār, art critic, storywriter and Elahi’s colleague in Fifty-one Publications (Entešārāt-e Panjāh o yek), was appointed by Elahi as his executor to oversee the publication of his manuscripts (Figure 4).


Elahi’s first poem, “Barf” (Snow, 1964), was published in 1964 in the second issue of the Jong-e adabi-e Ṭorfa, a literary journal published by Ṭorfa Publications, which was co-founded by Esmāʿil NuriʿAlā, Aḥmad Reżā Aḥmadi, Moḥammad ʿAli Sepānlu, Ḡaffār Ḥosayni, and Nāder Ebrāhimi (Nuriʿalāʾ, 1994, p. 73).

… Nāmaš barf bud
Tanaš barfi
Qalbaš az barf
Va tapešaš
Ṣedā-ye čekidan-e barf
bar bāmhā-ye kāh-geli …

Her name was snow
Her body, snowy
Her heart of snow
And her pulse
Sound of dripping snow
On the thatched roofs …

Va man u rā
čon šāḵa-i ke zir-e bahman šekasta bašad
dust mi-dāštam

And I loved her
Just like a branch
Broken under the avalanche

(Javānihā, Tehran, 2014, p. 17; Figure 5)

Elahi was on the editorial board and a regular contributor to Jozva-ye šeʿr (Poetry leaflet; Figure 6), a poetry journal edited by Esmāʿil Nuriʿalāʾ and published in 1966 by Ṭorfa Publications (Nuri ʿAlāʾ). The journal was intended to be a conduit for new poets to present their modern yet formally experimental poetry, later known as the New Wave Poetry (Mowj-e now), to a wide audience. Bijan Elahi, Aḥmad Reżā Aḥmadi, and Bahrām Ardebili were frequent contributors to the journal. The last issue of the journal, which lasted less than a year, was published in 1967 a few days after the death of Forough Farokhzad and contained a tribute to her.

With the publication of Jozva-ye šeʿr having come to an end, Elahi severed his association with Aḥmad Reżā Aḥmadi and Esmāʿil Nuriʿalāʾ and joined Bahrām Ardebili and Parviz Eslāmpur to publish two volumes of Šeʿr-e digar (Other poetry) in 1966 and 1970 (Šams-e Langerudi, III, p. 562; Figure 7). In 1970, while Elahi was abroad, many of the contributors to the Šeʿr-e digar signed onto the manifesto of Šeʿr-e hajm (Spacementalism), which was coined by and inseparably associated with Yad-Allāh Roʾyāʾi and his poetry.

In 1972, Elahi joined the newly established Entešārāt-e Panjāh o yek, which was sponsored by ʿAziza ʿAżodi, an Iranian intellectual whom Elahi had met in Paris, and managed by Šamim Bahār. They published Šab-e yek, šab-e dow, by Bahman Forsi in 1974, as well as several books, translated from English, on the life and works of such noted directors as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Federico Fellini and Stanley Kubrick (Ṣabā, p. 135). However, Fifty-one Publications ceased operations in 1975, with many books still in its waiting list, including several of Elahi’s works of translation (Šākeri, p. 136).

Only several of Elahi’s translations were published during his lifetime, including T. S. Eliots Ash Wednesday, as Čahār-šanba ḵākestar (Tehran, 1972; Figure 8), and selected poems of Manṣur-e Ḥallāj, Sufism’s most celebrated martyr, which was published by Anjoman-e falsafa in 1975. His poetry collections, however, remained unpublished during his lifetime. Twice, in 1975 and 1978, he attempted to publish a collection, titled Didan (To see), but both times the process stalled before completion.

Elahi’s poems, rebuffed by traditional poets, on the one hand, and the apostles of the left and the committed poetry, a central issue for the literati who defined literature as a political vehicle, on the other (Aṣlāni, p. 133), were only sporadically reviewed by his contemporaries during his life. While appreciating the wide range of Elahi’s vocabulary and his ability to maintain a coherent line of thought in his poems, Reżā Barāheni contended that Elahi’s frequent manipulation of the conventions of rhyme and rhythm, and his urge to de-familiarize what is or has become familiar, has distanced his poetry from its intended audience, and has robbed his language of poetic subtlety (Barāheni, pp. 1241-42).

Barāheni was not alone in his opinion. Other poets and critics also followed suit, including Esmāʿil Nuriʿalā, the theorist of New Wave Poetry, who argued that Elahi’s disregard of the “principle of creating a connection between the poet and the reader,” has bound his poems in an “abstract game with words.” (Nuriʿalāʾ, 1994, p. 89) Elahi’s “ʿAql-e sorḵ,” offers a rewarding example (see Šams-e Langerudi, III, p. 603):

Safar čerā konam, čerā
Safar konam?
Man ke mitavānam
Sargardān bāšam
Sālhā ḥavāli-e ḵāna-am

Why should I travel? Why
Should I travel?
I, who can bewilder,
Years around my house

Ḵāna; divānegiyam-čerā
ke birun-e ḵāna-am-
Ḵāna-ye peydā dar nur
peydā dar nok-e nur
Paranda-ye peydā
ke foru midahad be mehr
sib-e ādami
jā be jā mišavad dami
va češmhā-ye u
ke farāmuši miāvarad

Home: my longing- because
I am out of it –
The house, which appears in the light
appears on the peak of light …
The known bird
that swallows out of kindness-
the Adam’s apple
moves for a second –
then its eyes
bring forgetfulness.

(Didan, Tehran, 2013, p. 190)


Posthumously, however, Elahi is praised as one of the canonical figures of the Other Poetry in Iran, with an effectual influence on two literary movements that developed later, namely, Mowj-e nāb (Asadi Kiāras, 2008), and Šeʿr-e goftār (Speech poetry; Ṣarrāf). He is also credited as a poet with direct impact over the works of such poets as Parviz Eslāmpur (1943- 2013), Bahrām Ardibili (1943-2006), Hušang Čālangi, and Firuz Nāji (see Andiša-ye puyā, 33, Farvardin 1395Š./March 2016, pp. 128-39)

Not all critics, however, concur with this posthumous revisionist reevaluation of Elahi’s poetry, calling it a “historical tourism”, or rather an ahistorical narrative of the history of modern Persian poetry, in which Elahi is refashioned as the period’s “Idealized Other” (Saṭvati Qalʿa, 2015, p. 43). Two of Elahi’s poetry collections were published as Didan (To see), and Javānihā (The salad days) in 2013 and 2015, respectively.

  • Birthday: July 7, 1945
  • Death: December 1, 2010
  • Birthplace: Hassan Abad, Tehran, Iran

Poet and Translator

4.5 2 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments