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Monday, 24 July, 2000, 15:32 GMT 16:32 UK
Iran's greatest poet dies
By Sadeq Saba

Iran's greatest contemporary poet, Ahmad Shamlu, has died in hospital in Tehran, aged 75.

As a lifelong campaigner for the greater freedom of expression, he was several times jailed by the former regime of the Shah.

He also criticised the Islamic regime, but devoted most of his later life to literature.

He was widely regarded by critics as a poet of world standing.

Shamlu's life
1925: Born in Tehran, father an army officer
1943: Arrested and jailed for political activities
1945: Faces firing squad before last-minute pardon
1953: Collection of poems The Iron and Emotion is burnt by police
1969: His magazine Khusheh closed by Savak, Shah's secret service
1977: Leaves Iran in protest at repression
1979: Returns home after Islamic revolution
Ahmad Shamlu contributed greatly to the modernisation of Persian poetry by introducing new techniques that gave greater flight to his imagination.

Across more than half a century, he produced some of the finest and most memorable poems in recent Iranian history.

His works have been translated into English and other languages.

Shamlu was prolific and a man of many talents: a playwright, critic, scholar, translator and journalist.

But it was his distinguished poems that set him apart in a nation where poetry is widely read, memorised and quoted in daily conversation.

His simple style, powerful imagination and vivid language attracted general readers, as well as the literary elite.

His themes were love, nature, conditions of man, as well as social and political issues.

Political activism

Shamlu was also a prominent campaigner for freedom of expression in Iran.

He was active in organising the Iranian writers to fight censorship imposed by both the former regime of the Shah and the Islamic government.

Harassed by the authorities, he left Iran in 1977 to publish a popular anti-Shah newspaper in Britain.

But when he returned home after the Shah was overthrown two years later he found the new Islamic regime as hostile as the previous one.

He was constantly vilified by hardline newspapers and accused of links with foreign powers.

In a celebrated poem entitled In This Dead End published a few months after the new Islamic government increased censorship, Shamlu wrote: "They smell your mouth, to find out if you have told someone: I love you... We must hide our love in dark closets..."

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