My language is not that of ice
my language is of sand and flame
is a whisper from strong roots
giving life to the great trees of the desert.
my language is of sand and flame
is a whisper from strong roots
giving life to the great trees of the desert.
Every language that gives me the freedom to express myself against injustice is the language of my heart.
The language of my mother and the language of my heart exist side by side within me and ebb and flow with each other when needed.
I left my homeland to be able to live in freedom and had no intention to stay long. We all
thought that we would soon be back and that the regime
Unfortunately, we realized after a few years that the Mullahs would remain. Entirely too long!
That was when I woke up and understood that the North would become my grave
and that I would never again lay eyes upon my homeland.
Then I decided to buy curtains and answer in Swedish instead of English.
I allowed myself to get curious about the literature of this new country! And I dared to enter a world that had
no memory of my existence! Its nature did not recognize my scent and I was unknown
in the memory of its people!
I came from a geographically dry land and carried thorns in my luggage. My task was to transform
thorns into fragrant flowers. Desert into forest.
It took time and it takes time!
After ten years in Sweden, I decided to change languages and began to write poems in Swedish.
An existential attempt to bear witness to my situation in the world and articulate the reasons for what took place
beyond our power. I wanted to endure, not just in the present but also in books, in the future
of literature. A journey that seemed impossible because of my devotion to the Persian language and because
I was 38 when I met this new one.
Writing poems is something I’ve done nearly my entire life,
but being able to express myself in Swedish was
First my brain would have to learn how to orient my fingers to write from left to right
and not the other way around. The primordial metaphors that we poets have used in Persian poetry for more than a thousand years
faded colorlessly and lacked meaning. Those linguistic labyrinths full of secrets that were themselves full of myths and
legends, that were enriched by ancient Islamic philosophy, in the poems of Attar, Rumi and Hafez, created a
secret language that appeared so mystical.
Persian poetry has always been under surveillance and overshadowed by religions or the tyranny of kings.
Language bowed before the power of destiny and determinism
dictated by higher powers.
The longing for freedom, love, joy on earth against the spiritual and the religious was deeply powerful
in the poets’ verses.
Wine, music, song, the bodies and beauties of lovers, joy
all stroll along small streets stuffed with secrets that with time become labyrinths of language.
Such is the language needed by these poems that would otherwise be burned to the ground by those in power.
It would never work and be accepted in Swedish poetry.
Or so I thought.
All the words I had played with in my poetic world needed to change clothes.
They queued up in my brain and waited for a long time to be dressed. I opened the doors of my mind to
the stimulation of a new language. A language that looked like a little garden.
I wanted to take my Persian jasmines and roses and plant them together with bluebells and lilacs. An
exciting but excruciating journey.
The powerlessness before my future, loneliness, a spiraling descent down the class hierarchy. To possess no voice that
could take action and change my condition instilled within me a urgent need to change languages and
conquer the unfamiliar.
To tell of millions of people who were forced to choose a precarious and undesired road in order to
save their lives, and to speak of myself.
At first, it was truly a matter of pure suffering and I had tears in my eyes; my mother tongue stood like an ocean of
poetic words, one which I only needed to dive into to tame and choose the words I required.
Now I stood before a basin and felt confused. I knew hardly anything
about the history of the words, their influence, their light and dark sides. Nor about their
banality, sensitivity, and how they interacted with other words.
The images that rustled
somewhere in my head like contourless shadows and wanted to become
real, aspired to be dressed up in the finest words. It took time. I immersed myself in the literature and aimed
to do my best. My poems are like my children. I want to dress
them properly and beautifully.
During my linguistic journey I discovered as many similarities as differences. For example the moon--
it is a female symbol that is feminine and beautiful.
The moon that has been used as the symbol of beauty
and described the most ravishing women in Persian poetry and that in Swedish literature is a
I also read about Norse mythology.
Simultaneously I read with an unquenchable thirst all modern Swedish poetry. I read Pär Lagerkvist with curiosity and recognized his melancholy and darkness in my
self. Now and again I return to his poems even though there are so many other Swedish
poets who also inhabit my heart.
Yet nature, which every language employs tax-free, but each in its own way, cost me time and labor to approach, as if
I was learning to perceive new elements. New scents, new sounds that flutter through the dark trees, the
icy heavy breeze, the new twittering birds that would replace the beloved beautiful nightingale.
I listened to the blackbird, trod amongst the leaves, the branches, and asked them to taste the desert’s salt on my
palms. I was drawn to the Nix and was enchanted by the ominous attraction of the forest.
To write in another language, as I do, resembles a miracle. I was already an established poet and
extremely fond of the lustrous Persian language.
To begin to love the new language and deceive the old one made me afraid and sad for a long time.
Little by little, both Persian and Swedish ignited in me, and one language now gives me a broader and deeper
understanding of the other. Both have access to my poetic nerves and provide wondrous worlds of experience.
My poems in Persian are influenced by my life in Sweden.
My poetry fled
the fear that still dwells deep in the literary language of my homeland. My language has
become simpler, sharper, and braver. The geographic borders have been wiped away and the surface of language
has been transformed into a single gigantic land, where I can live freely, float, and take shape in both.
It is a triumph to be able to write in a foreign language.
These days my mind has two delightful doors. Both languages knock when they want to deliver the
most striking and precious things we have, namely: words.
All there is to do is accept and weave them together and write poetry from my heart.
Before the bashful, beautiful lake
I undress my words
pack up those that are hidden
Look at them
beneath the sunshine
beneath thoughts and feelings set free
Words like veils
O, what have they done with you?
It has now been 22 years since I decided to write in Swedish. Since 1986 I had buried myself in a stark sense of muteness.
I arrived in a refugee facility near Hagfors with my
new poetry collection in Persian in my handbag, I was forced to bury it
somewhere in secrecy. My life’s most valuable tool suddenly seemed meaningless here. It was
The desire to foster a voice was the driving force behind my journey in literature. A true voice that dared
to tell, enact, question the world events that caused my flight, a flight that will never
end, it lives on.
I wanted to bear witness to my strange unsought situation in the world.
I am not gifted with language, only an experienced poet. A rather sloppy poet when it comes to grammar and spelling, and even before the rules and regulations of language.
I want to embrace the words one by one and whisper life into them in my own way and I want to have the freedom
to form them according to my own rules. My heart pulsates for poetry.
I quieted down an incarnate, rich, and beautiful language in the depths of my being so that a new language could have more space.
When you carry the heavy luggage of words as a poet, it’s not easy to keep away from these influences. You are
deeply dependent on your native tongue. A thousand-year-old tradition of poetry with more than forty thousand ghazal poems
already exists as one treasure of my existence. I needed to cross a burning, blistering bridge to
save my soul which was threatened to be extinguished in silence. Cross the bridge to a new mother. A new language.
The Persian influence is strong and I still have unpacked luggage full of myths, symbols, metaphors, and stories.
To be able to show my historic primordial wounds as a woman and human I needed another
tool, a new instrument to sing out my words. I sunk myself into the poems of Zarathustra
and read about the cult of Mithra, the sun god, and discovered Anahita, the goddess of
love and water in ancient Persian mythology. I took the moon with me in my poetry collection The Moon and the Eternal Cow.
The moon and the bull that Mithra sacrificed came into my poems. The moon that takes the bull’s sperm to be then
purified and transformed into honey, giving life to all the plants in the world. The moon that guards
the earth’s plants in Mithraism.
I needed the myths to create a more solid ground beneath my feet. It would become the foundation of my
linguistic journey. To be able to describe for Swedish poetry that Mithra’s temple existed and still does beneath the great
churches in Europe made me proud. To discover that Mithra’s birthday was Jesus’s birthday
and that countless rituals have been transferred into Christianity made me strong and supported me on the way
towards a new mythology—my own—new metaphors, new linguistic experiences. A journey that would stimulate my
sensorial nerves, before nature, humans, and society’s norms.
To leave Hafez’s poems with all their chirping nightingales and rose gardens and go towards dark
foreign forests to apprehend new sounds, shadows, and beauties became my first steps.
In time the blackbird takes the place of the nightingale.
To live in exile means that you have to dare find replacements
for everything you wish you had from
I opened my heart and accepted them and invited everything that was new.
My writing began before I turned 15. My sensitivity to injustice holds fast from that
time. It is an important thread in my writing that has shaped my poetry regardless of which language I
write in. I want to enact and protect the truth. The necessity to write is perpetually great within me. The
constant inhuman and atrocious events in the world challenge me every single day. I have been and am
sensitive to hypocrisy, conspiracy, and oppression in my homeland Iran.
Poetry is my shield, my weapon, my calming remedy.
I do not confide in any prophets, nor
in any of the failing ideologies, my compass is my heart
that has become more faithful in
the goodness of humanity. I simply believe in humanity as in god. All good resources exist within us.
One only needs to look inwards into their heart and not seek out metaphysical powers up there.
Now it’s been a long time since I began to write in Swedish.
Now I’m used to playing with
the Swedish words and shape them the way I want in my poetry.
My poetry is in its truest state. I find myself within the house of language. In the heart of language. Standing on
stable ground and learning all the time.
To be able to write directly in Swedish was my goal from the beginning. I didn’t want to translate my poems into
Swedish. In my poems I have taken the Persian goddesses, flowers, deserts, the moon, my mothers
and I have left behind the fear that dwells deep in Persian poetry.
I play tricks
on the words
that are not even mine
sew them on my wild skirt,
take them with me into my innermost room.
Listen to me now,
I do not break when I love.
Jila Mossaed (ژیلا مساعد) was born in Tehran in 1948. Since 1986 she has been based in Sweden, and writes in both Swedish and Persian. In 2018, she was the first non-native Swedish speaker elected to the Swedish Academy. The recipient of many literary prizes in Sweden, her ninth poetry collection in Swedish, Delayed Words, appeared in 2022. Her work has been translated into several languages including English, Dutch, French, and Greek.
Brad Harmon is a writer, translator, and scholar of Scandinavian and German literature, philosophy, and film, currently a PhD candidate at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA and a 2023-2024 ASF Fellow to Sweden. A 2022 ALTA Emerging Translator Fellow for Swedish, his translations of Jila Mossaed’s writings have been featured in Poetry, LyrikLine, Loch Raven Review, and Swedish Book Review, where his essay on her poetry recently appeared.