The “Khoosheh”’s Interview with Basij Khalkhali
Date: June 19, 1966
Photos & Persian Interview Courtesy of Ms. Farahnaz Basij.
The Woodcutter’s Epic:
The Overflow of Feelings from a Peaceful Iranian Poet
Translation: Dr. William D. Pederson & Shahab Ghobadi
The Woodcutter’s Epic is a poetic book by Basij Khalkhali, which has recently been published, some of its pieces have been recited on TV and is the talk of the town in literary and political circles. Readers may know that it was written in honor of the peaceful intentions and acts of Abraham Lincoln, the US President, who emancipated the slaves; these days when blacks are actively fighting for equal sociopolitical rights and have started their historical march, the importance of this book is felt more than ever. I visited the poet’s house, in which he has created The Woodcutter’s Museum with pictures from the book hanging on the walls. What follows is my impression of the house and my interview with the poet.
I wish my pen was able to do justice to the real impression I received from the humane soul found from the poems in this book, during a time, when unfortunately the cry of bullets, stench of blood, and smoke of gunpowder fill the ears and nostrils of the world, and victimize human values. Iranian literature and art may reconcile us with genuine human feelings and ideals.
Ten centuries ago, the passenger to the City of Love; Attar Nishaburi, seven centuries ago, a great grafter like Saadi; and finally Nizami and other great poets called for human peace and brotherhood. Their works still show the path to believers in peace and fraternity.
Persian literature’s mission is to reproduce the gentlest concepts and the noblest feelings in poetry and make them pleasing to the reader, works that invite the children of the Family of Adam to peace, fraternity and above all, divine justice.
When one sits in The Woodcutter’s Museum and reads the poem “Conscience knocks on the Door”, with Iranian music playing in the background, you think that only the tender voice and gentle wit of an Iranian poet can narrate the voice of conscience in a way that the reader is reminded of the softest impressions and internal intuitions. Or when you read “A Voice from Athens,” you feel it is setting stage for two historical figures separated by more than twenty centuries, to meet: on one hand, Socrates released from jail with a cup of hemlock in hand, and on the other hand, the Woodcutter coming out of his log cabin with his axe in hand, to compare and contrast their ideals and solutions for human salvation.
For its uniqueness and magnificence, the Woodcutter’s Epic has been nominated for the Noble Prize in Literature of the year.
Now, let’s begin our interview with Mr. Khalkhali:
Q: Would you please introduce your book briefly?
A: For the last fifteen years, the poems in this book have been living in the sanctuary of my soul and thought. Whenever feeling overwhelmed with emotions and readiness, I have worked on it. Within the magnificent realm of Iranian literature and poetry, I am just a first-grader and crumb-eater on the table of the great poets. Persian literature is a boundless ocean, and I am merely a child frightened by its waves and storms, have not braved it, and could not go beyond the shore.
Q: Why did you choose Abraham Lincoln for your book’s hero?
A: If one is familiar with the history of slavery and has heard about the sufferings, one quickly gives credit of their emancipation to Abraham Lincoln.
You likely know that slavery has been one of the most shameful taints on humanity for centuries. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation with his own blood and in doing so, he joined the caravan of the red-shrouded martyrs of liberty.
The Lincoln you find in my book is an individual who rises above a miserable, unstable life in the depth of the woods. The champion of the slaves underwent all kinds of adversities, wrestled with poverty, however, without the filthy dust from the passage of time, without an obsession to take revenge marring his soul. Neither was he arrogant with power, nor yielded to its baseness and corruption. Toil is a file that smooths steel characters, and reveals the true metal of one’s nature; however, this file may only undermine weak wills caught in the wind of adversities.
Q: What is your take on Lincoln’s character and thoughts?
A: It goes without saying that great figures who have spent their life so selflessly for humanity, belong to everyone. I believe Lincoln is a character without borders and an asset to the entire human family.
Q: Would you please explain the form of The Woodcutter’s Epic?
A: In poetry, a writer finds a form that suits the content and feeling of the work; for example, you cannot choose a lyrical form to express an epic content and vice versa. In writing this epic, I have chosen a variety of forms to express my different feelings.
Q: Any idea about making your work known abroad and its future?
A: As I told Iranians in my television interview, I have dedicated this work to my homeland and plan to, God willing, create a foundation for the Woodcutter through its sales, and in doing so, perform a service to humanity, which has been found since the beginning of time in the soul of Iranians.
I appreciate the special generosity of His Highness Reza Shah, who has led the battle with illiteracy, and is promoting universal peace and welfare; if it were not for his special interest, The Woodcutter’s Epic would have never appeared in such shape and form.
I am also thankful to that humanitarian art patron, a benevolent, enlightened scholar Dr. Manouchehr Iqhbal who encouraged me through the ups and downs of this journey.
Q: If you follow the news, you know that right now, in the land of Abraham Lincoln, the hero of your book, blacks are facing increasing discrimination. As a poet who has been inspired by the great soul of Lincoln to write the poem “I am a Negro,” how do you feel about these current events?
A: For sure, there is no one in the world who does not feel sad to learn about such discrimination. As a sensitive human being, the role of leaders and the law astonishes me in such tragedies.
If American leaders and other influential figures show a noble and peaceful position in defending blacks against the white’ discrimination, they have carried out one of the aspects of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation; when a black student is beaten and humiliated by his white brothers at a university, it hurts human conscience all over the world; the law and government should support that single student against other students, so that such leaders may demonstrate the dignity of their soul and adherence to Lincoln’s precedents.
Unfortunately, modern technology and materialism have outpaced culture, almost blurring the soul and emotions of white people; they fail to recognize the rights of their black brothers and sisters who have happened to have a different color than themselves.
It is the duty of universities to refine the minds and human sentiments of students along with academic and technological progress.
Q: Sir, I see a magnificent picture on that wall which is from the Pyramids of Egypt. Any connection between that picture and your epic?
A: The hero of my epic book was aware of the tortures and suffering of slaves in world history, his feelings were truly hurt by such accounts; “The Pyramids of Egypt” is a poem in my book which, as you see in that picture, are made from the slaves’ bones and blood. For example, the poem opens:
The Pyramids of Egypt
What are they, the Pyramids of Egypt? Structures in which,
The image of the soul of devils has been carved,
The pit of death and altar of the victims of ignorance,
They are a demon that has sat on the loin of Satan,
The pyramids are the complexes of the hearts of the slaves,
That have brought out the head from the graves of their chests,
They are the old men that have bowed down on the grave of the youth,
Or are the scars of lupus left on the cheeks of humanity,
Are the pyramids the pile of the skulls of the slaves? Absolutely!
Are they a heap of the smashed bones of the dead? Absolutely!
Are they the signs of the hatred of the miserable? Absolutely!
Are they the stack of creatures’ sins and the wrath of God? Absolutely!
They are a hand stretched out of the shirt-sleeve of crimes,
The ghoul of tortures whose life has been elapsed,
They are the full list of the tortures awaiting the sinners in Hell,
They are an iron sledge hammer that beats the sinners on the head,
Q: I see a picture of Heaven on another wall. What’s that?
A: The Prophet, Mohammad, once said that if you free a single slave, God will provide you with a chamber in heaven. The picture depicts the Woodcutter’s travel to Heaven while passing over torn chains and fetters and wearing a bloody shroud. The residents of heaven have decorated its chambers and await his arrival.
The Lincolnator is a publication of the Louisiana Lincoln Group (LLG), which is dedicated to pre-serving and promoting the legacy of Abraham Lincoln.
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