Sohrab Sepehri was born on 6 October 1928 in Qom, Iran (Most biographies show Kashan as his birthplace. His descendants were from Kashan and he grew up in Kashan, so he is from Kashan but born in Qom according to his posthumously published autobiography and the credible Encyclopaedia Iranica website).
Born with an artistic pedigree and having graduated in Fine Arts from the University of Tehran in 1953, Sepehri was a highly talented artist and a gifted poet. Well-travelled and well-versed in both the East and West worldviews, he became very famous and popular after the publication of The Water’s Footfall صدای پای آب, followed by The Traveller مسافر and The Green Volume حجم سبز.
Sepehri is so popular with the Iranians that he is usually known by his first name ‘Sohrab’. Readers can become so immersed in his poetry that they sometimes forget the world of realities and experience a fresh understanding of human and the universe.
Water’s Footfall poem is one such example. It is a long loosely autobiographical work that takes the reader on a silky subtle road through a journey of self-discovery. A journey to nowhere which nonetheless can culminate in lifting the veils of the familiar-self to intimately experience one as one with the nature and all that exists. It has the potential to put us hand in hand with our true nature in a poetic yet palpable earthly manner. As one of my favourites, I have translated a selection from it and offered it as: Little pond of “Now” .
His collection called “Eight Books” هشت کتاب is arguably one of the highest selling contemporary poetry books in Iran and can be found on many household bookshelves.
Sohrab travelled to many countries, with longer stays in some for study, personal research, and work (exhibits). He studied lithography in Paris in 1957 and took part in the Venice Biennale in 1958 staying there for two months.
Later, up until 1969, he travelled for his painting exhibitions to Germany, England, France, Holland, Italy, and Austria. In 1970 he also had a seven-months stay in Long Island, New York.
But, arguably, the more impactful of his journeys were to the East. In 1960 he travelled to Tokyo to learn Japanese woodcarving, followed by his first trip to India in 1961. He travelled again to India in 1964 and stayed in Delhi. On the way back he visited Kashmir, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
Sohrab also translated poems from French, English, Chinese, and Japanese into Persian.
As a prominent painter, some of his paintings have fetched record sales at art auctions in Iran.
On his character Iranica writes:
Sepehri never married and had no children. There are no records of a personal relationship anywhere in his writings or in any of his biographies published through 2008. For the greater part of his adult life, he lived with his mother and younger sister Parvāna in a two-story house in Tehran. He was a soft-spoken, calm, and unusually sensitive introvert with a high-pitched voice and an exceptionally captivating gaze. He was meticulous and orderly, as much about his daily life as his artistic production, never signing a canvas or sending a poem to print before he felt completely satisfied with it. As such, it was not uncommon for him to destroy paintings and manuscripts that, for him, never came to full fruition for one reason or another. He shied away from crowds and steered clear of personal confrontations, which is why he never attended opening nights of his exhibitions and never responded verbally or in writing to any number of negative critiques of his work.
Sohrab was the Child of Nature and saw Nature and the creatures within it like a lover who sees no faults in his beloved. He was a true worshipper who loved the Devine and all the creatures, believing that one must plant the flower of love in his heart for the entire universe.
On his works Iranica writes:
A panoramic view on Sepehri’s collected creative output reveals that he ranks among the poets and painters whose work is not only based on a particular set of aesthetic values, but is further informed by a consciously selected set of tenets appropriated from a broad range of cultures and worldviews.
Above all, he believed in the importance of people’s direct relationship with nature, one unencumbered by the anesthetizing effect of daily habits and preoccupations with preconceived ideas. Unwavering in his belief in a delicate yet essential unity between mankind, nature, and a greater cosmic order, Sepehri spent the length of his artistic life in search of the most effective expression of this central belief. To this end, he freely crossed over to a variety of myths and philosophies ranging from Zen Buddhism and Taoism to Sufism and European Romanticism, retaining from each those tenets most organically suitable to his vision.
And in accord with all of these worldviews, he came to believe that while a higher unifying truth was innate in all of creation and the knowledge of it intuitively available to all mankind, a conclusive understanding of it was impossible, and the search for it a life-long journey for all.
Sohrab never stopped painting and writing poetry. He died of leukemia in Tehran on 21 April 1980.