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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Hafez (c. 1325–c. 1389)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by A. V. Williams Jackson (1862–1937)
 
HAFEZ, the famous lyric poet of Persia in the fourteenth century, is sometimes called the Persian Anacreon. Hafez sang the praises of the rose and of the springtide, and chanted the glories of spiritual beauty and love, or fluted in plaintive strains the sad note of the bulbul or nightingale in Persia, at a time not far distant from that in which England listened to the rhythmical conflict in minstrelsy between ‘The Owl and the Nightingale,’ or was entranced by the dulcet measures of the Chaucerian ‘Romaunt of the Rose.’  1
  Hafez, the tender and sensitive poet, was born about the opening of the fourteenth century. His full name was Khwāja Shams-ad-dīn Muhammad Hafez. We are told that he was of good family, and we know that he must have had an excellent education. His nom de plume “Hafez” (“retainer”: i.e., “one who remembers,” or “who knows the Qurān by heart”) is significant; and his native city of Shīrāz, whose praises he sounds, has become synonymous with poetic inspiration. Hafez stands almost as the last and greatest in the line of Persian poesy which can boast of Firdawsī, Nizami, Omar Khayyám, Jalāl-ad-dīn Rūmī, Sa’dī, and Jāmī. The charm of his style, the beauty of his language, the pure flow of his verse, and the passionate depth of his thought and feeling, whether it be in a lyrical outpouring of his own soul or in the veiled, mystic ecstasy of spiritual devotion concealed under the guise of material images, rightly render Hafez a poet’s poet.  2
  His life seems not to have been very eventful, and it is only surmise that presumes that his youth may have been Anacreontic. A tradition, however, is preserved which shows that his verse early won him worldwide fame. His name reached India and came to the ears of the Deccan prince, Sultān Mahmūd Shāh Bahmanī. His Majesty invited the gifted bard to visit his court, and sent him a handsome present to defray the expenses of his journey. Hafez, like Horace, if the story be true, seems to have been a poor sailor. In terror of shipwreck he turned back before he had fairly started on his voyage, and sent to the generous literary patron a poem or panegyric instead of presenting himself. He apologized for his absence on the ground of dread of the dangers of the deep; and his expressed preference for the quiet life and charming beauties of Shīrāz does not seem to have displeased the liberal-minded potentate.  3
  A pretty story is also told, regarding one of Hafez’s odes that became known to the Scythian conqueror Tīmūr Lang (Tamerlane). This was the ghazal beginning—
  “Agar ān Turk i Shīrāzī ba-dast ārad dil i mā-rā,”
which is below translated in the lines opening with—
  “If that beauty of Shīrāz would take my heart in hand.”
In this sonnet the passionate poet offers to give the cities of Samarkand and Bokhara for “the dark mole” on his favorite’s cheek. When the great Tamerlane subdued Farsistan, he is said to have summoned Hafez to his presence and to have sternly rebuked him for this lavish recklessness in giving away cities that were not a poet’s to bestow. The brilliancy of the minstrel’s wit was equal to the occasion: kissing the ground at the conqueror’s feet, he replied, “Sultan of the world, it is through such generosity that I am come to this disastrous [or joyous] day.” It is needless to add the happy result, and one wishes that the truth of the story were less uncertain. Like Pindar and other famous poets, stories are also not wanting as to how Hafez received the gift of song; fanciful as they may be, they all show the esteem in which he was held, not in Persia alone, but abroad.
  4
  Hafez was married, if we rightly interpret the pathetic lines that lament a home left desolate by the departure of a being for whom his soul breathed the Divine awe. (See below.) His own death occurred about 1389. It is said that the Moslem priests at first declined to perform the last solemn rites over his body, as exceptions were taken to the orthodoxy of some of his poetical compositions. It was determined to decide the matter by lot. A number of verses chosen at random from Hafez’s own poems were tossed into an urn, and a child was appointed to draw one out. The verse read:—
  “From the bier of Hafez keep not back thy foot,
For though he be immersed in sin, he goeth to Paradise.”
The body was at once accorded proper burial, and his grave in a fair shaded garden-near Shīrāz, with its beautifully inscribed alabaster slab, still forms a living monument, if one were needed besides the lovely odes that we have of this passionate poet.
  5
  Hafez was a prolific writer; the manuscript and printed editions of his works comprise more than five hundred ghazals or odes. A ghazal—ode, or perhaps rather sonnet—is a poem not exceeding sixteen or seventeen couplets. The last two words of the first couplet rhyme together, and with these also rhymes the second line of every couplet in the poem; all the odd lines are entirely independent of rhyme. The signature of the poet, as a rule, is woven into the last verse of the ghazal. Parallels for signatures thus inserted are not far to seek in the Greek anthology or in English, or even in Anglo-Saxon poetry. A series of ghazals, moreover, when gathered into a collection, is called a dīvān. The poems or odes in a dīvān are regularly arranged, alphabetically, according to the initial letter of the Persian word with which the poem begins. A parallel might be imagined if our hymn-books were arranged according to the table of first lines. Hafez also wrote quatrains and a number of other short poetical compositions. So popular was his dīvān that it came to be consulted as an oracle, by opening the book and putting the finger on any chance verse.  6
  As to the poetic merit of Hafez’s work, there is no question: his title to fame is acknowledged. As to the interpretation of his poems, however, there is much question and debate whether they are to be taken in a literal or in a spiritual sense. Some readers see in his praises of love and of wine, of musky tresses and slender cypress forms, merely the passion of an Ovid or an Anacreon. Other admirers of Hafez, however, and especially his Oriental worshipers, read spiritual thoughts of Divine love, of the soul and God, behind the physical imagery. Wine is the spirit, it is not the juice of the grape; and the draught from the tavern is but quaffing the cup of self-oblivion. There is undoubted truth in this interpretation, which is in accordance with the mystic doctrines of Sūfī-ism. The idea is Oriental, and the analogous interpretation of the Song of Solomon is familiar. In the Occident, moreover, mediæval poets employed similar physical images for religious awe and adoration; parallels even of English poets in the seventeenth century, like the Fletchers, Donne, and Crashaw, might be cited. But, as in the latter instances also, there can be little doubt that numerous odes of Hafez, perhaps those of his earlier youth, hardly allow of anything but a material and passionate interpretation. In any case, the grace, charm, beauty, and delicate feeling is never absent in Hafez’s poetry.  7
  The most complete edition of Hafez in translation is the English prose rendering by H. Wilberforce Clarke: ‘The Dīvān ī Hāfiz, Translated’ (3 vols., London, 1891). It also contains extensive biographical, bibliographical, and critical matter, and should certainly be consulted. Selections from Hafez have been translated into many languages. Sir William Jones, who was himself a poet, made Hafez familiar in English as early as 1795. Among other names might be mentioned H. Bicknell, ‘Selections from Hāfiz’ (London, 1875); and S. Robinson, ‘Persian Poetry for English Readers’ (privately printed, Glasgow, 1883). Robinson’s work has evidently been drawn upon by J. H. McCarthy: ‘Ghazels from the Divan of Hafiz’ (London and New York, 1893). The best complete German translation is by V. von Rosenzweig (3 vols., 1856–64), and the best in English by John Payne (London, 1901); there are also recent versions of the Odes by Leaf, by Bell, and by Le Galliene.  8
 
 
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