In 1954, a nineteen-year-old poet walked unannounced into the office of the literary editor of Roshanfekr (The Intellectual), one of Iran’s most prestigious magazines. Her fingers were stained with green ink, and she trembled with nerves as she handed over three poems. One of them, the twelve-line “Sin,” described in explicit detail her affair with the magazine’s editor in chief. Different translations give different nuances to the opening of the poem: “I have sinned a rapturous sin / in a warm enflamed embrace,” (Sholeh Wolpé) or “I have sinned, a delectable sin, / In an embrace which was ardent, like fire” (Hasan Javadi and Susan Sallée) or “I sinned / it was a most lustful sin / I sinned in arms sturdy as iron, / hot like fire and vengeful.” (Farzaneh Milani) Across these variations, there are a few scandalous constants: the heat, the embrace, the pleasure, and the boldly unashamed I. The speaker declares herself as a sinner, but there is no repentance in the poem, no punishment. She is not her lover’s victim, but a joyous coconspirator, exhilarated by her power to arouse him: “Lust enflamed his eyes, / red wine trembled in the cup, / my body, naked and drunk, / quivered softly on his breast.” (Wolpé)
The magazine printed the poem. At a time when many Iranian poets wrote under pseudonyms, the author of “Sin” not only used her real name, but her poem appeared alongside her photograph and a short biography, which revealed her to be a married mother of a two-year-old son. It also described her physical appearance, in sexualized terms, drawing attention to her “disheveled hair” and “penetrating eyes.” Here was a young woman confessing to a sexual awakening in the arms of a man who was not her husband, a deliberate “reversal of a thousand years of Persian literature” written by men about their lovers, at a time when autobiographical writing by women was nonexistent in Iran. The biography collapsed any distance between the loving wife and the libidinous poet, implying that this was not a work of imagination, but a report on experience—making readers wonder what their own wives might be getting up to.