(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The Divan of Hafiz is one of the glories of Persian literature in its golden age and a classic of Eastern literature. Hafiz was the pen name of Shams al-Din Muhammed, a Persian who, early in his life, turned to the serious study of philosophy, poetry, and theology. The pen name he adopted means “a man who remembers,” a title normally bestowed upon persons who commit the Qur՚n to memory. In Hafiz’s case, the title was not unwarranted, for he was a dervish who taught the Qur՚n in an academy founded by his patron.

While The Divan is the best known of Hafiz’s works, he also wrote in various other patterns common to Persian poetry. The Divan itself is a collection of short poems, lyric in quality, in the form known as ghazals. In the original Persian, these poems consist of from five to sixteen couplets (called baits). The particular poetic form has been compared to the ode and the sonnet in English-language poetry because of the lyric qualities, the length, and the subject matter. One curious feature of Hafiz’s ghazals is that the last two lines normally contain the poet’s name. The first line of each ghazal introduces the rhyme, which is repeated in every other succeeding line within the poem.

Although relatively little known in the Western world, Hafiz’s Divan has remained the most popular poetry ever written in his native land. It has even been considered oracular, and Persians sometimes consult it by opening the book and placing a finger on a chance passage, hoping to have an answer thereby to whatever question has arisen. Such a procedure, or a variation of it, was supposedly done at the death of the poet. Because of exception taken to some of his poems, his corpse was at first denied the usual burial rites. To settle the question, some of his ghazals were written on slips of paper and placed in an urn, one to be drawn out by a child. According to legend, the verse drawn by chance from the urn said that Hafiz should be given appropriate funeral rites, as he would enter Paradise; thus the question was settled.

Through the centuries there has been debate over whether his poetry should be taken literally or symbolically, with those who see in The Divan a serious work by a great Persian philosopher and student of the Qur՚n taking one side of the question, and those who see it as a fine expression of a warmly alive human being taking the other. Western readers who cannot see anything religious in these superficially hedonistic poems should call to mind the religious expression, veiled in sensual imagery, in the poetry of John Donne and Richard Crashaw in England, Saint John of the Cross in Spain, and Edward Taylor in the United States.

Literal or symbolic, the imagery of Hafiz’s poetry is warm,...

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(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Further Reading

Arberry, Arthur J. Classical Persian Literature. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1958. An account by one of the most accessible translators of Hafiz, with a discussion of Hafiz in English.

Browne, E. G. The Tartar Dominion, 1265-1502. Vol. 3 in Literary History of Persia. Bethesda, Md.: Iranbooks, 1997. A new edition of the four-volume history of Iranian literature originally published in 1902. Chapter 4 in the third volume devotes more than forty pages to Hafiz’s poetry, and there are many other references to the poet listed in the index.

Hafiz. The Collected Lyrics of Hafiz of Shiraz. Translated by Peter Avery. Cambridge, England: Archetype, 2007. Avery, a scholar of Persian literature, has translated all 486 poems in The Divan, and his translations are published here with extensive annotations.

_______. The Divan-i-Hafiz. Translated by H. Wilberforce Clarke. Bethesda, Md.: Ibex, 1998. A new edition of Clarke’s English translation of The Divan, including extensive annotations to the poems, a biography of Hafiz, and an index of the figures of speech in the work. This edition features a new introduction by Hafiz scholar Michael C. Hillmann, who provides information about Hafiz’s life and the historical and literary characteristics of the ghazal.

Hillmann, Michael C. Iranian Culture: A Persianist View. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1990. An assessment of Hafiz and his place in the Persian literary tradition.

Meisami, Julie Scott. Medieval Persian Court Poetry. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987. Discusses Hafiz within the tradition of Persian court poetry and patronage.

Rypka, Jan. History of Iranian Literature. Dordrecht, the Netherlands: D. Reidel, 1968. Incorporates scholarship to 1968, especially by Iranian scholars. Emphasizes the social setting of the poems.

Schimmel, Annemarie. “The Genius of Shiraz: Sa’di and Hfez.” In Persian Literature, edited by Ehsan Yarshater. Albany, N.Y.: Bibliotheca Persica, 1988. The perspective of a distinguished scholar of Persian mysticism.