Simin’s Gypsy

This article explores the trope of the gypsy in the poetry of Simin Behbahani. It argues that although both Eastern and Western literary traditions have recognized the figure of the gypsy as a site of identification and contestation, the figure takes on a unique specificity in Behbahani’s poetry. Behbahani identifies the gypsy in her poetry as a woman, and imputes to her nine salient features: her oppression by mainstream society, and her contingent denigration by that society; her self-confidence; her close ties with nature; her love of freedom; her insubordination; her homelessness; her ultimate status as society’s “other;” and her happy ebullience and freedom of choice in spite of all this.

These features distinguish Simin Behbahani’s gypsy from classic figurations of the gypsy in works by such European authors as Pushkin, Hugo, and Baudelaire, and Iranian authors like Hafez, Rumi, and Sa’di. Within the Iranian context, the trope has recurred since the Book of Kings and other works of literary antiquity, and it is recognition of this tradition that lends Behbahani’s gypsy her particular signifying power. Behbahani’s gypsy is not without precedence. For instance, she bears a striking resemblance to the rend, the crafty trickster figure in the poetry of Hafez, but she stills manages to respond adequately to the specific social, political, and emotional conditions experienced by Behbahani and her readership.

Ahmad Abu Mahbub
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