Celebrated Iranian Poet Esmail Khoi Dies in London At the Age of 83

By Kayhan Life Staff

Esmail Khoi, a prominent modern Iranian poet, and writer, died of pneumonia in London on May 25, aged 83. Khoi was one of the founders of the Iranian Writers Association and was twice elected to its board of directors.

Writing on her Instagram page, the poet’s daughter, Saba Khoi, said: “My father was hospitalized on May 21. His severe pneumonia caused a blood infection, damaging his lungs, heart, and kidneys.”

In an audio recording, Khoi recited one of his best-known poems Nowrouzaneh (“When I Was a Child”). The celebrated Iranian singer Dariush Eghbali has also performed the verses in a ballad.

Esmail Khoi was born in Mashhad, capital of the northeastern province of Khorasan, on June 30, 1938. After finishing high school, he moved to Tehran in 1957 to pursue his education. After graduating from the University of Higher Education in Tehran, Khoi moved to Britain, where he received a PhD in philosophy from the University of London.

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After returning to Iran, Khoi taught at the Teachers Training University. Khoi published his first collected poems in Mashhad in 1956.

He went on to publish several poetry books, including “Bar Kheng Rahvar Zamin” (1967), “Bar Bame Gerdbad” (1970), “Az Seday-e Sokhan-e Eshgh” (1970), “Faratar Az Shab Aknooniyan” (1971), “Dar Nabehengam” (1984), “Gozareh Hezareh” (1991), “Jahani Digar Miafarinim” (2000), and “Shaer-e Khalgham, Dahane Mihanam” (2000).

Khoi’s poems have been translated into several languages, including English, Russian, French, German, Hindi, and Ukrainian. In 2002, he published a collection of poems and essays written in English titled “Voice of Exile.”

Khoi divided poets into three categories.

“The first group consists of those who are born poets. They become better poets by studying and working hard,” he wrote. “The second group consists of those who do not become poets despite having the gift because they lack conviction. The last group consists of those who understand the principles and mechanics of writing poems, but whose works are cold because they lack poetic vision. Some university professors fall into this category.”

Khoi was forced into hiding after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and moved to London three years later, where he spent the rest of his life.

Khoi was a supporter of the Iranian People’s Fedai Guerrillas (IFPG) during the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (from 1941 to 1979), and after the revolution, joined the opposition against the Islamic Republic.

In an interview with BBC Persian on the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, Khoi said he regretted that he and the people ignored Shapour Bakhtiar’s warning against the emergence of a religious dictatorship. Bakhtiar was the Shah’s last prime minister and served from January to February 1979. He was assassinated in France in 1991.

Khoi was one of the first literary figures to condemn a fatwa by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini calling for the assassination of the Indian-born author Salman Rushdie for his 1988 book “The Satanic Verses.”

Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance removed Khoi’s works from bookshops and banned their publication.

Ahmad Shamlou (1925-2000), Mehdi Akhavan-Sales (1929-1990), and Esmail Khoi belong to the generation of literary giants that created modern Iranian poetry.

The following poem is from a published English translation of Esmail Khoi’s collected works:


When I was a child,

The flight of a kite,

Carried me from the rooms of early waking eye-lid


The sun’s orange grove.


That short distance.


When I was a child,

Goodness was a lady

Who smelled of cigarette;

And her big tears

Behind her magnifying glass,

Mixed with the sound of Quran.


When I was a child,

Water, earth and air were larger;

And the crickets


At nights

Within the melody of moon and a deep silence.


When I was a child,

Joy was to throw

A stone

At a howling sick and old dog.


Those criminal and innocent hands.


When I was a child,

You could see

That impotent pigeon

Whose wing

Flow to the air

From the other side of the scissors.


You could see,

And to laugh only

With pride, with savagery and without deceit.


When I was a child

Out of a thousand and one night,

There was a tale,

And the tales were brimful

Up to sleep and slumbering awakening.


When I was a child,

God was stronger.


When I was a child,

On the windows of smile

The tame starling of joy nestled.


In those days thinking carts

Were not many.


When I was a child,

Folk did not exit.


When I was a child,

There was sorrow,


A little.

Link to the Farsi page