In the opening article of this blogue, the word is about Hafez. There are quite a number of people both in the east and west who effortfully tried to translate his work. Many studied his Divan and his life, which is full with miracles as well as his words.
Hafez was born in Shiraz and his birth date is estimated to be around 1319. The details of his lifetime are not known by many. He took the name Hafez because he could cite the Kuran, Sadi, Attar and Rumi by heart early on in life. Upon his father’s death, Hafez lived with his uncle in the years of war and famine. The story goes that while Hafez was working at the bakery, he fell in love with a beautiful maiden in the neighbourhood where he would deliver the bread. It is through this symbolic love that he would write about divine love in his gazelles.
At the time Hafez lived, Iran was governed by provinces and was connected to the Abbasi Sultan in Baghdad. The Mongolian attacks under the empreror Timur continued in the region. When Timur sieged Shiraz, the famous legend goes that he got upset with the following gazelle:
“Oh Turkish maid of Shiraz! In thy hand
If thou’lt take my heart, for the mole on thy cheek
I would barter Bokhara and Samarkand.
Bring, Cup-bearer, all that is left of thy wine!
In the Garden of Paradise vainly thou’lt seek
The lip of the fountain of Ruknabad,
And the bowers of Mosalla where roses twine.”
Timur asked Hafez how he could dare to give the two jewel cities of his crown for the mole on his lover’s cheek. Hafez replied that it is due to such foolish generosities that he became so poor. Though the timelines of Timur and Hafez are different, the legend might have been told in due respect to Hafez’ courage and intelligence.
Master of mystical knowledge and a clear vision, Hafez has written more than 500 gazelles. His Divan is read the most after the Kuran. One of the reasons f‚or this is because his gazelles are believed to tell the future and the fortune of the reader. That’s why he is known as the sayer of the secret and the hidden. Every reader finds a meaning of his own in his gazelles.
A great deal of effort is put into translating his musical and playful gazelles. Among names such as Goethe, Fitzgerald and Emerson; Gertrude Bell’s translations are regarded as one of the best english translations made since the 1820s.
The effect of Hafez spread from India to America still continues today. Having foreseen this effect in the beginning of the 20th century, G. Bell said the following : ” Although he is from a different epoch, and a different civilization, in his gazelles there is the melody of humankind who is the same everywhere…” and she gives the following example:
My beloved is gone and I had not even bidden him farewell.
The Divan of Hafız opens with the following verse:
Arise, oh Cup-bearer, rise ! and bring
To lips that are thirsting the bowl they praise,
For it seemed that love was an easy thing,
But my feet have fallen on difficult ways.
I have prayed the wind o’er my heart to fling
The fragrance of musk in her hair that sleeps
In the night of her hair-yet no fragrance stays
The tears of my heart’s blood my sad heart weeps.
According to various resources, Hafez lead the life of a mystical dervish. Though he did not have a master; he studied with Mahmud Attar for a while. It is said that he never became the follower of a strict religious doctrine. He is identified as a sufi, Zerdusht, gnostic, musician…maybe each or maybe none. May be all at once seeking for his unique love.
Here is what he says:
You who cannot leave your palace
How can you hope to reach the village of Truth?
Hafez looks at each individual, be muslim or not, according to the person’s intention and the soul’s substance. In one of his gazelles he asks:
“ Where is the music which the drunken and the sober both can dance?
He continues with the following verses:
None shall die whose heart has lived with the life love breathed into it; but when the day of reckoning comes, I fancy that the Sheikh will find that he has gained as little by his abstinence as I by my feasting.
Hafez believed that there is an inner path to God and God can fill the place emptied by the ego. What makes one dervish is the stage after: that is fighting against the vanity, ego and the impulses arising from the nefs –the imperious self. The imperious self as defined here is the source of illegitimate and harmful desires negatively affecting the soul’s progress. The symbolic axe and the bowl carried by the dervishes are a sign of being in this battle. On the path towards the Truth, they cut the excesses of the imperious self with the axe and they are humble enough to kneel with their bowl in front of God.
Serve not like a beggar in hopes of recompense
For the Lord Himself cares most for His servants
(Hafez Divan: 171)
Hafez died in 1389. He is burried in the rose gardens of Mosalla which he loved; and the Ruknabad river flows by his tomb. It is said that at every dawn, a rose blooms and the nightingale sings by his tomb.
[i] Bell, Gertrude Lowthian, (1868-1926). The Hafez Poems of Gertrude Bell. 1995. Maryland: Ibex Publishers. Library of Congress.