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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