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.
Principal English Editions
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 essential points of Hafiz's history. For instance, in none of these insipid compilations are we vouchsafed any particulars as to his family and extraction, nor is even the date of his birth stated; and indeed the only real biographical information, such as it is, which is to be gleaned from their jejune and wearisome pages, is that the poet was born and lived all his life at Shiraz and that there he died at some date, towards the end of the fourteenth century of our era, yariously stated as from A.D. 1384 to A.D. 1393. In this absence of official record, the only trustworthy data at our disposal, respecting the life and career of Hafiz, are those to be gathered from the study of his poems and from such painstaking and authoritative...
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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 adorn an argument with quotations from the Persian poets. War-ren Hastings was himself an early convert to the fashion, which continued well into the nineteenth century, until in fact Persian ceased to be the common medium of politics and business in the ruined Mughal Empire, and Macaulay was pleased to condemn the scholars of India because they were ignorant of Greek and Latin. In this interval the vogue of Persian poetry spread rapidly from India to England, and from England to the Continent. This was the background against which Edward Fitzgerald grew up; otherwise it could hardly have occurred to him to spend his time and convert his genius translating the quatrains of Omar Khayyam. Of the many Persian poets whose words were on the lips of...
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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' work and the variety of its translation by different hands—are accomplished. His Introduction contains a summary of the facts of Hafiz' life and times, a brief discussion of the Divan text, its variants, and the causes of corruption, two Persian appreciations, an outline of the history of the ghazal, and a most interesting provisional analysis of Hafiz' development as a poet. The texts of fifty poems are given cleared of interpolation; and the verse translations include nine eighteenth-century versions, others in similar style by Bicknell and Palmer, more modern versions by Bell, Le Gallienne, Leaf, and others, and sixteen new poetical translations by Professor Arberry himself. The notes give variants and some guidance to the...
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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 contrary" says an old Muslim tradition. One of the causes of the rather complicated and somewhat obscure language of many Western studies dealing with problems of stylistics lies, in my opinion, in the lack of comparing possibilities. Our critics considered the world of Western lyrics as the world of Lyrics, thus assuming a colonialistic attitude, which, strangely enough, they often succeeded in forcing upon some modern Asian critics. as well. Dislike for the alleged "euphuism" and baroque form of Muslim classical art, absolute appreciation of the "natural", the "passionate directness" of Western literary style are attitudes often taken even by contemporary Oriental littérateurs: one of these was for instance the famous Urdu poet...
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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,
I'm ever lost to self because of them.
(2) My long vigil—lord—oh,
Will it raise a night time vision
Of your brows, my vigil shrine,
Before which the candles of my eyes glow—
(3) Their black orbs I hold dear:
Mirrors of your midnight Hindu mole.
(4) The world is yours to immortalize:
Bid the breeze blow aside your veil.
(5) The world is yours to eternalize:
Pray the breeze rain down
Life down from among your hair.
(6) The breeze and I are one,
Homelessly blown about.
Drunk with your hair's fragrance
Is the breeze,
I with your sorcerer's eyes.
(7) Hafez's lofty love be...
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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 ghazals. The first discussion in any detail of this subject is A. J. Arberry's 'Orient Pearls at Random Strung,' Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies [BSOAS], xi (1946), 699-712, and I will take this article as my point of departure. I will (I) analyze Arberry's conclusions about the unity of the ghazals of Hafiz, (II) discuss the text of the poem he uses as an example (the famous and beautiful poem beginning: Agar an Turk-i Shirazi …), (III) examine Arberry's specific comments on this poem, and (IV) analyze the poem myself and make some general statements about the unity of the ghazals of Hafiz.
The following summary statement is made by Arberry: 'Hafiz'...
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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 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.
What makes Hafiz so difficult, then, is the complexity of his poetic universe. What is the message of this poet? We hardly face this problem when reading, say, Sa'di or 'Umar Khayyam, 'Attar or Rumi, even though they count among the main forerunners of Hafiz, and Hafiz' poetry bears many traits that can be traced back to the works of those predecessors.
Let us give just one striking...
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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 the special function or functions the heart fulfills in the type of poetry that has reached its perfection in the Diwan-i Hafiz, i.e. the ghazal.
For the purpose of our inquiry it would be enough to take examples from Hafiz only. I have, however, included examples taken from other poets writing either in Persian or Ottoman or Chaghatay Turkish. By doing so I wanted to illustrate my thesis that the ghazal in post-mongol Persian literature and in the literatures derived from it, is much more than just an outward form into which individual poets cast their own thoughts and feelings; it forms a whole system of poetic expression, it establishes a close-meshed network of interrelations, and it determines to a very large...
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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 'bud.1 While Lescot was primarily interested in the correlation between the ghazal's addressee and actual individuals, others, notably Gilbert Lazard, have discussed the problem in connection with the "symbolic meaning" of the ghazals. On the basis of the triad of potential addressees Lazard posited three "degrees" of Hafiz's use of language, one literal, according to which the ghazal may be taken at face value, and two metaphorical, in which the ghazal contains a panegyric or mystical subtext; although these three interrelated fields of meaning may be present simultaneously within a given poem, one will usually be dominant.2
These discussions are valuable as far as they go; but they do not go far enough, as...
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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 and translated by Arthur J. Arberry, pp. 1-34. Cambridge: The University Press, 1970.
Includes a biographical sketch, descriptions of extant manuscripts and possible models used by Hafiz, and assesses his overall contributions to literature.
Bashiri, Iraj. "Hafiz and the Sufic Ghazal." Studies in Islam, No. 1 (January 1979): 34-67.
Detailed study of two ghazals that attempts to provide evidence that Hafiz's poems are "unified pieces, composed around preconceived themes and written within the confines of predetermined structural descriptions."
Boyce, Mary. "A Novel Interpretation of Hafiz." Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University...
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