Ebtehaj was born February 25, 1928 in Rasht, Iran, and had his primary schooling there before moving to Tehran. His first book of poetry, with an introduction by eminent poet Mehdi Hamidi Shirazi, was published when he was 19 years old. During Iran’s open period following World War II, Sayeh got involved in various literary circles and contributed to various literary magazines such as Sokhan, Kavian, Sadaf, Maslehat, and others. Unlike many other literary figures of the time who got deeply involved in politics and left-leaning activities, Sayeh stayed true to his social and political consciousness but refrained from deeper involvement. He was employed at the National Cement Company for 22 years while continuing his literary activities. Later he was invited by the National Iranian Radio to produce the traditional music program “Golhaye Taze” and “Golchin Hafte.”
After the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the ensuing suppression, Sayeh spent a year in prison for his writings. After he was released, he began work on “Hafez, by Sayeh,” a verse-for-verse study of the various publications of Hafez. In 1987, he moved to Cologne, Germany, with his family and lives there.
Sayeh published his first collection of poetry while he was still a high school student in the northern province of Gilan, Iran. His total output, however, remains small because of his preoccupation with high craftsmanship and exact phraseology. In the political climate of the 1940s, Sayeh was an ardent advocate of the poetry of social commitment. His own early poetry reveals his concern with purposive literature.
Sayeh has also written a collection of lyrical poems (ghazal) in the classical style. Here, he reveals an easy mastery of traditional forms—the lyrical ode, in particular—which he uses to celebrate both the sacred and the secular moments of life. Sayeh’s poetry, at times highly emotional, is always remarkable for its convincing directness and unconcealed sentiment.
Sayeh’s poetry has been set to music by such artists as Mohammad Reza Shajarian and Hafez Nazeri, with his poem “Namadegano Raftegan” featured as a track in the Rumi Symphony Project.
- The First Songs, 1946 (نخستین نغمهها)
- Mirage, 1951 (سراب)
- Bleak Travails I, 1953 (سیاه مشق ۱)
- Nocturnal, 1953 (شبگیر)
- Earth, 1955 (زمین)
- Pages from the Longest Night, 1965 (چند برگ از یلدا)
- Bleak Travails II, 1973 (سیاه مشق ۲)
- Until the Dawn of the Longest Night, 1981 (تا صبح شب یلدا)
- Memorial to the Blood of the Cypress, 1981 (یادگار خون سرو)
- Bleak Travails III, 1985 (سیاه مشق ۳)
- Bleak Travails IV, 1992 (سیاه مشق ۴)
- Mirror in Mirror, Selected Poems, 1995 (آینه در آینه)
- (selected by M.R. Shafie-Kadkani)
- Dispirited, 2006 (تاسیان) (non-ghazal poems)
- Hafez, by Sayeh, 1994 (حافظ به سعی سایه)
Poems in translation
Translations by Mojdeh Marashi and Chad Sweeney:
- “Arghavaan.” Washington Square Journal, 2008
- “Search/Circle” and “Moan of the Mirror.” Poetry International 12, 2008
- “Kayvaan Was a Star,” “Sterile,” “The Fall,” and “Bird in the Cage.” Pingpong, Henry Miller Library Journal, Issue 3, 2008.
- “Sunset on the Green” and “Image.” Subtropics, Issue 6, Fall 2007.
- “Fright,” “Life” and “The Few Thousand Hopes of the Children of Adam.” Crazyhorse Issue 72, 2007.
- “Night’s Alley.” American Letters & Commentary 19, 2007.
- “The Art of Stepping Through Time” and “Black and White.” Indiana Review 29.2, Winter 2007.
- “Maybe,” “Story” and “Dove’s Wings” Seattle Review, Spring 2007.
- “Numbers” and “Red.” Fourteen Hills, Fall 2005.