While Hafiz’s lyrics have widely been considered the most nearly perfect examples of this genre, his poetry has an ineffable quality that seemingly eludes exact analysis. For that matter, specialists have contested whether cohesiveness may be found in specific poems and whether shifting levels of meaning may account for abrupt transitions in topical content. In a technical sense, however, the felicitous union of diction, metric length, emphasis, and rhyme is everywhere in evidence. Hafiz’s appeal is veritably universal: Romantic, often lighthearted, and alive to the joys of this world, his poems reveal sublime attributes in the experiences and perceptions felt on this earth. It is from this point of departure that metaphysical or theological speculation may begin, but while concerns of this sort are taken up in the author’s writings, they are far from obtrusive. Indeed, in some connections they may appear inscrutable. The poet’s philosophical interests, though immanent, do not impede the measured, melodious currents that guide his thoughts across specific series of lines.
In some quarters, Hafiz was reproached as a hedonist and a libertine; he has been charged as well with the use of blasphemous motifs, both in his attitude toward the clergy and for poetic symbolism suggesting affinities with mystical schools of thought. The cast of mind revealed in his verse is effulgent and slightly irreverent; in calling for the wine bowl or in depicting woman’s beauty, however, he shows little that is immoderate or overly indulgent. He may seem bedazzled, but he is not really helpless in the face of love’s charms or the lure of the tavern; at least the precision with which his verses are delivered would suggest controlled self-awareness. There are some rhetorical flights of fancy that most readers probably will tolerate. The features of women conjured forth in Hafiz’s poems point to an idealized romantic conception, the embodiments of which would appear now and again before the writer.
The poet seems wistfully conscious that this life is fleeting; but unburdened by fatalism, he has resolved to accept the world’s pleasures where they may be found. Literary and theological references crop up here and there; they suggest the author’s familiarity with learned works even as his own views on life’s deeper issues are recorded. When they make their appearances, reflections on death and ultimate designs to this existence reveal a thoughtful, broadly tolerant outlook that, for all its mystical, seemingly heterodox inspiration, complements and affirms the positive values the author has proclaimed elsewhere in his verse.
Command of imagery
The enduring qualities of Hafiz’s poetry are maintained in the first instance through his consummate use of imagery; indeed, memorable lines and passages are recalled specifically from these associations. Although classical Persian poetry to an extent depended on specific, fixed points of reference—the roses and nightingales that make their appearances in Hafiz’s works originated in prototypes handed down by generations of versifiers—his poetic vision placed these stock images in fresh and distinctively personal literary settings. The allegorical and the actual merge gracefully in the gardens where many of his poetic encounters take place; directly and through allusions, visions of orchards, meadows, and rose gardens are summoned forth. These settings, almost certainly taken from those in and around the author’s own city, are typically flanked by box trees, cypresses, pines, and willows. The wind, likened sometimes to the breeze of paradise, wafts scents of ambergris, musk, and other perfumed fragrances; at times there is jasmine in the air.
Roses also figure prominently in many of Hafiz’s lines, often as buds, blossoms, and petals; at other times hyacinths, lilies, violets, and tulips appear. The narcissus seems to have its own self-answering connotation. The nightingale, which at places alights on the roses, provides musical accompaniment to the poet’s fonder thoughts; at some junctures swallows or birds of paradise enter the poet’s landscape. Celestial bodies often mark transitions to metaphorical passages: The Pleiades sparkle but sometimes provoke tears; at times Venus or Saturn is in the ascendant. The moon mirrors and hurls back images of the beloved’s features.
Archetypal visions of women enter many of the lyrics, though generally by hints and partial references. Seemingly bemused by the eyebrows, the pupils of the eyes, the hair, the neck, or the moonlike visage of the loved one, the author must have readily conceived a host of similes. Tresses resemble a tree’s leafy growth; lips recall roses in the fullness of their blossom. Perfumed winds mingle with the lover’s soft voice. Hafiz seems to have been particularly entranced by the mole, or beauty spot (khal), to be found on the cheeks of some women. This fascination, and his willingness to place love above riches and power, led him to compose some of the most celebrated lines in all poetry: “If that beauteous Turk of Shiraz would take my heart in hand,/ I would barter for her dark mole Bukhara and Samarqand.”
In other moods, the author wrote from the standpoint of a rind, or vagabond; in this frame of mind, the cares of this world are gently shunted aside for the tavern and the bowl of wine. Many such lyrics at the outset are addressed to the saqi, or cupbearer; sad tidings and glad are greeted with the thought that the rosy glow of drink will set matters in perspective. The intrinsic pleasures of fellowship around the bowl are evoked; at times there are melancholy images as well, as when the poet’s heart-blood, or the ruby lips of an absent lover, are contrasted with the tawny drink before him. Poverty and the vicissitudes of romantic encounters could seemingly be offset by the mellowing reflections good wine could bring. There are occasions as well when the bowl suggests another quest, when the pursuit of enigmatic romance might be superseded by concern with the ultimate questions. Another image is introduced here and there, that of the cup of Jamshid from old Persian lore, which was supposed to provide magical visions of the universe. Another very famous ode begins with the lines
Long years my heart had made requestOf me, a stranger, hopefully(Not knowing that itself...
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Hafiz c. 1326-1389/90
(Full name Shamsoddin Mohammad Hafiz of Shiraz.) Persian poet.
Acclaimed as the supreme lyric poet of Persia, Hafiz is best known for his Divan (believed to have been compiled in around 1368), a collection of more than five hundred of his ghazals, or short lyric poems. The poems celebrate conventional subjects such as love and its pleasures and pains, and the drinking of wine, but Hafiz's subtlety has endeared him to scholars and the general public alike. Using simple, unaffected language, Hafiz took traditional themes and, with skill and artistry, arranged them in such a way that his work has never been bettered in Persion literature. He is credited with inventing the technique of combining two or more themes, sometimes incongruous ones, into a harmonious whole that can be read literally or metaphorically. His technical innovations allowed him to make mystery the focal point of many of his poems-mystery related to what A. J. Arberry has termed Hafiz's "doctrine of intellectual nihilism." In times past the poems' mystical element—Hafiz practiced Sufuism—dominated discussion of his works, but a more literal reading now prevails.
Little verifiable information is known concerning Hafiz's life. Shamsoddin Mohammad, Hafiz's given name, was born in Shiraz, in what is now Iran, to a merchant father who died when the boy was young. Hafiz was educated in the Arabic language, studied the Koran ("Hafiz" means one who has memorized the Koran), all the Muslim sciences taught at the time, and literature. Hafiz later worked as a teacher and a copyist of manuscripts. Once his own poems became recognized and admired, Hafiz acquired wealthy patrons. It appears likely that Hafiz lived some years at the court of Shah Mensour as an official poet. Although legend has it that Hafiz left Shiraz only once in his lifetime, there is some indication that he journeyed out of the immediate area on a few occasions. Nevertheless, Hafiz was devoted to Shiraz and refused offers from assorted sultans and princes to leave his land and practice his craft elsewhere.
Hafiz's work, consisting of more than five hundred poems, is collected under the title of Divan. According to tradition Hafiz prepared his own edition in about 1368. This manuscript, if it existed, is not the source of the thousands of extant variant transcriptions; they seem to derive from a posthumous edition published by Hafiz's friend Muhammad Gulandam. Editors have been plagued with doubtful or spurious poems attributed to Hafiz, because placing Hafiz's name with another's poem was an easy way to ensure a large readership. It is sometimes very difficult for scholars to decide which of Hafiz's poems are incontrovertibly genuine. The poems of Hafiz have received tremendous acclaim and have been translated into many languages. For example, Johann Gottfried von Goethe loosely rendered some of them into German. Translators have had some difficulty in doing justice rendering Hafiz's work in English. Arberry writes that it is generally agreed "that it is a mistake to attempt to reproduce in English the monorhyme which is so characteristic a feature of the original." Richard Le Gallienne writes that "so distasteful to English ideas are the metrical devices and adornments pleasing in a Persian ear that the attempt to reproduce them in English can only result in the most tiresome literary antics, a mirthless buffoonery of verse.… Rhythms which in Persian, doubtless, make the sweetest chiming, fitted with English words, become mere vulgar and ludicrous jingle." To combat this translators favor being faithful to the original idea and not concerning themselves with imitating rhymes or having the same number of lines.
Arberry asserts that "Hafiz is as highly esteemed by his countrymen as Shakespeare by us, and deserves as serious consideration." Much scholarly effort has been directed towards interpretation. J. Christoph Bürgel has summarized the problem: "The difficulty of understanding Hafiz correctly does not lie in his lexicon or grammar. He does not use rare or difficult words and his phraseology is simple and very clear. There is hardly any single verse of Hafiz posing a problem in itself. However, there is also hardly a ghazal not posing a problem of meaning and, consequently, of interpretation. In other words, the obfuscation of meaning is created by the juxtaposition of verses that seem to contradict each other, be it by their moral implications or by their belonging to different ontological layers." While some early critics went so far as to claim that Hafiz's poems are incoherent and lack unity, such comments can often be traced to faulty translations and cultural misunderstandings.
SOURCE: An introduction to The Poems of Shemseddin Mohammed Hafiz of Shiraz, E.J. Brill, Leyden, 1901, pp. xi-xxix.
[In the following essay, Payne discusses the limitations of various biographies of Hafiz before providing his own sketch of the poet's life which emphasizes his lack of religious belief.]
There are many so-called lives of the greatest of Persian poets; but they are all, without exception, mere collections of pointless and irrelevant anecdotes, mostly bearing manifest signs of ex post facto fabrication and often treating of matters completely foreign to the nominal subject1, and carefully refrain from touching upon the...
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SOURCE: "Hafiz and His English Translators," in Islamic Culture, Vol. XX, No. 2 and 3, April, 1946 and July, 1946, pp. 111-28, 229-49.
[In the following essay, Arberry, who has himself translated Hafiz's works, traces the history of English translations of the poems of Hafiz.]
A century and a half ago, when the East India Company had but recently stumbled into a great Imperial inheritance in Bengal, and its servants were concerned to equip themselves linguistically for the onerous responsibilities that had settled upon their shoulders, it was a mark of polite culture in the brilliant society of Calcutta to be able to illustrate a point or...
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SOURCE: "Verse and Translation and Hafiz," in Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. VII, No. 4, October, 1948, pp. 209-22.
[In the following essay, Schroeder discusses translations of the works of Hafiz, focusing on the importance of rhythm, repetition, and extensive annotation, and criticizing the rendering of Hafiz's poems by A. J. Arberry.]
Amodest book generally arouses gratitude and respect, and these are among the feelings with which one lays down Professor Arberry's selection from the works of Hafiz and his fifteen English translators. His explicit purposes—to provide a textbook for those beginning to read Persian poetry and to exhibit the variety of Hafiz'...
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SOURCE: "A Way to a Better Understanding of the Structure of Western Poetry," East and West, Vol. 9, No. 1-2, March-June, 1958, pp. 145-53.
[In the following essay, Bausani analyzes the text of many Persian verses, including those of Hafiz, discussing the styles and techniques displayed in the lyrics of seventh-century Iran.]
The scientific study of style in both European and Oriental lyrics is a comparatively recent conquest of our literary criticism. Unfortunately, the student of the form and historical developments of European, "Western", literary style does not have at his disposal sufficient materials for stylistic comparisons. "A thing is better known through its...
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SOURCE: "Hafez and Poetic Unity through Verse Rhythms," Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 31, No. 1, January, 1972, pp. 1-10.
[In the following essay, Hillman attempts to explain the musical elements of Hafiz's verse, contending that it is the inability of translators to adequately capture these rhythms in English that makes their work unsatisfying.]
The following is an impressionistic translation of a poem by Hafez (fourteenth century A.D.), the premier lyric poet in the Persian language:
(1) Your entwined tresses,
I'm ever drunk with the brought breeze of
Your sorcerer's eyes,
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SOURCE: "The Unity of the Ghazals of Hafiz," Der Islam, Vol. 51, 1974, pp. 55-96.
[In the following essay, Rehder critiques A. J. Arberry's analysis (see Further Reading) of the unity of Hafiz's ghazals and discusses his own conclusions on the subject.]
The study of the poetry of Hafiz is important not only in its own right and for the understanding of Persian (and Islamic) literature, but also for what it contributes to poetics, to the understanding of all poetry. Persian literature has only very rarely been looked at as literature, and this is true of Hafiz's poems as well, but one subject which has attracted some attention is the problem of the unity of his...
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SOURCE: "Ambiguity: A Study in the Use of Religious Terminology in the Poetry of Hafiz," in Intoxication, Earthly and Heavenly: Seven Studies on the Poet Hafiz of Shiraz, edited by Michael Glunz and J. Christoph Burgel, Peter Lang, Inc., 1991, pp. 8-39.
[In the following essay, Burgel argues that Hafiz's ghazals resist an easy understanding and must be examined as part of a large, complex, and ambiguous context.]
I. The difficulty of understanding Hafiz correctly does not lie in his lexicon or his grammar. He does not use rare or difficult words and his phraseology is simple and very clear. There is hardly any single verse of *Hafiz posing a problem in...
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SOURCE: "The Poet's Heart: A Polyfunctional Object in the Poetic System of the Ghazal," in Intoxication, Earthly and Heavenly: Seven Studies on the Poet Hafiz of Shiraz, edited by Michael Glunz and J. Christoph Burgel, Peter Lang, Inc., 1991, pp. 53-68.
[In the following essay, Glunz explores the many metaphorical meanings and functions Hafiz derives from the word "heart."]
When we look at the frequency-list of lexical items in Hafiz' divan1 we find that the item 'dil' (heart) ranks 19th in a field of 4810 items and is far ahead of any other noun. This alone would justify an inquiry into...
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SOURCE: "The Ghazal as Fiction: Implied Speakers and Implied Audience in Hafiz's Ghazals," in Intoxication, Earthly and Heavenly: Seven Studies on the Poet Hafiz of Shiraz, edited by Michael Glünz and J. Christoph Burgel, Peter Lang, Inc., 1991, pp. 89-103.
[In the following essay, Meisami argues for taking a literary—as opposed to a biographical or allegorical—approach to studying the relationship between speaker and audience in Hafzz's poetry.]
Since Roger Lescot called attention to the plurality of the object or addressee of Hafiz's ghazals, it has become commonplace to speak of parallelism between the ma 'shuq, mamduh and ma...
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Ahmad, Nazir. "A Very Old Source of Hafiz's Ghazals." Indo-Iranica XVIII, No. 1 (March 1965): 35-47.
Explores an early manuscript containing 126 ghazals of Hafiz, some of which have not generally been anthologized.
Arberry, A. J. "Orient Pearls at Random Strung." Bulletin of The School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. XI, No. 4 (1946): 699-712.
Examination of William Jones's classic A Persian Song that considers how faithful it is to Hafiz's strongly thematic original. Also describes the difficulties peculiar to translating Persian into English.
——. Introduction to Fifty Poems of Hafiz, edited...
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