Nader Naderpour’s friends gently hoisted his flag-draped casket onto their shoulders Thursday afternoon, carrying him past hundreds of tearful mourners unwilling to grasp that their beloved idol was gone.
But even in death, the contemporary Persian poet who inspired a nation couldn’t be silenced. His booming, melodic voice rang out over loudspeakers at Westwood Village Memorial Park, a taped recital of Persian verse that has stirred millions of Iranian souls over the last 46 years.
“This body, which frightened you with the sounds of its footsteps, is death in the form of another day,” his voice intoned in a reading of “The Sound of Footsteps,” one of many poems played during the funeral.
Naderpour’s death at age 70 from a heart attack last Friday left an expatriate Iranian community shaken.
Officially, there would be no mourning in Iran for the man many had called the greatest living Persian poet. His work is banned there because of his fervent opposition to the Islamic government and its death warrant against writer Salman Rushdie.
Naderpour’s signing of the petition against the warrant gave other expatriate Iranian artists the courage to follow suit, his friend, filmmaker Parviz Sayyad, recalled at the service.
“He loved Iran more than anyone,” sobbed mourner Suzy Yashar, clinging to white flowers she hoped to place on Naderpour’s grave. “It’s not fair that he died here, without seeing his beloved Iran again. I’m praying to get his body back there” for burial.
Naderpour was born in Tehran to parents who were fluent in French with a deep love for art, music and history. When he was a preschooler, Naderpour would sit on his father’s lap and be encouraged to read the newspaper every night, the poet told Persian Heritage magazine in an interview last fall. The elder Naderpour also had his young son memorize old and modern poetry.
“Persian poetry became part of my soul,” Naderpour told the magazine.
He wrote his first poem in elementary school, inspired during a walk home one evening by rain mist visible on the faces of passersby. His love of simple, easy-to-understand verse written in conversational Persian grew.
Inspired by more recent Persian poets, including Nima Youshij, he became a master of modernized, classical poetry that grabbed young and old alike.
“He made it very easy and approachable for younger people who’ve been away from their culture,” said Parastoo Izadseta, 25, of Anaheim Hills.
After graduating from the Sorbonne in the early 1950s, Naderpour returned to Iran and published his first volume of poetry, “Eyes and Hands.” It was the first of numerous collections published in Iran and, many years later, in the United States. Even popular Persian singers adopted Naderpour’s poems for their songs, including one titled “Stay, mother,” about the many women who lost their sons during the Iran-Iraq war.
For a time, he served as a consultant to the late shah’s Department of Arts and Cultures. But he prided himself on his independence, swearing allegiance to no government or group.
His free nature was captured in a poem written by Naderpour’s only child, Poupak, the day after his death. A close Naderpour friend, Mohammad Hassan Mostafavi, read the poem Thursday, his voice cracking at her description of Naderpour’s spirit flying free now in the skies of Iran.
The daughter could not be at the funeral because she couldn’t get a visa, he said.
Naderpour’s final collection of poems, called “Earth and Time,” is dedicated to her and his second wife, Jaleh.
But poetry was only one of his many talents, mourners said.
Naderpour’s eye-opening, balanced lectures analyzing current affairs also had a strong following, said student and friend Farhad Mafie, 40, of Irvine, who helped deliver the eulogy. The lectures helped reshape the beliefs of many expatriate Iranians of Mafie’s generation, which who grew up singing a national anthem heralding the shah’s accomplishments and learning history lessons shaped by royal censors.
Naderpour left his homeland in 1980, unable to bear the mullahs’ cracking down on the populace.
“He once told me, ‘I really felt for a moment I was living in a foreign land. I was living in exile already,’ ” Mafie recalled.
Even the recent changes in leadership would not have dulled his opposition, Mafie said, adding that Naderpour felt religion and politics should never mix.
Despite his popularity, Naderpour and his wife had lived a simple life in a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles since 1986. Mafie and fellow students would drive the poet to UCLA and UC Irvine, where he would spend hours reciting his works and sharing candid, meticulously researched views on life and politics.
“He would love to talk about what was going on in Iran as long as you would talk on the same level,” Mafie said. “If you wanted to argue with him, argue with him with data, with facts.”
Last Sunday, in what would have been the last lecture in a series, his students gathered at UCLA to listen to recordings of his poems, share stories and cry. Another memorial is planned at the campus from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, friends said.
“To us,” said Izadseta, “his death is the perfect definition of a tragedy.”