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Special Note: Hafiz

Mohammed Shams od-din was born to a poor family in the city of Shrz, in modern day Iran.  He was to become one of the most honored poets of the Persian language, some in the West referring to him as “Persia's Shakespeare”.  He adopted the pen-name “Hafiz” (or Hafez), by using this honorable pseudonym as a self-reference in all of his poetry.  Hafiz literally means “one who has memorized the Qur'an (Koran)”, a feat that legend tells us our poet accomplished while still a child.  He is often referred to as “Hafiz of Shrz”.

As is the case with most of the poets presented here at, these wine poems only offer a small taste of the depth and breadth of Hafiz' work.  His poems, some 500 in number, are collected in a compendium known as the Divan of Hafiz, a book widely distributed throughout the Persian-speaking world.  The memorization of Hafiz' poetry is a common discipline to be found in the schools and homes of his native land to this day.

Hafiz was a devout Sufi, a sect of Islam that dedicates themselves to mystical union with Allah.  Indeed, early-on, Sufi poets adapted common topics, practices, and experiences of the average Persian and imbued them with spiritual significance.  The hedonistic practices embodied in the Western phrase, “wine, women, and song”, as they appear in the poetry of Hafiz, are interpreted by some to be referring to “divine love” and a “spiritual intoxication”.

Hafiz, however (as evidenced by many of the wine poems presented here), is obviously critical and satirical toward those Muslim leaders whom he perceives as hypocritical.  To this writer, Hafiz reads as a marvelous mix of the sacred and the profane, a confusion that our poet may have intended (and relished).  That the lofty exists in the mundane, that the spiritual is to be found in earthly pleasures, that the sacred is discoverable in the profane . . . these are concepts that permeate Hafiz' work.

On the other hand, perhaps to imbue Hafiz's work with such metaphysical relevance is more of a “reading into” than a “reading of” his poetry.  The answer to the riddle of Hafiz' intent (a slippery slope to maneuver with any poet) is perhaps found in the observations of Samuel Robinson, made in 1883:

It is very possible that Hafiz, as a young man, may have indulged in some youthful excesses, and became a Sufi and an abstainer in later life.  But this question cannot be settled, because the peculiar arrangement of the Odes in his Divan does not allow us to ascertain the order of their production.  Neither would Hafiz be the only man who has written bacchanalian songs without living a bacchanalian life.

Regardless of your interpretation, Hafiz is a great read.  His use of language and imagery is masterful.  Of the the two major translators of Hafiz presented here (Getrude Bell and Richard Le Gallienne), I prefer the Bell translations.  Richard Le Gallienne's verse, which he himself describes as “liberal translations”, are imbued with a “Western feel” that is less prevalent in Bell.  Indeed, Le Gallienne's translations are "liberal" to such an extent that they may be best characterized as "inspired by" rather than "translations of" the poetry of Hafiz.  Le Gallienne's versions are charming and entertaining in their own right.  They can be characterized as more openly erotic versions of Hafiz.

- S. H. Bass   

Also see “special note”:  The Wine Poems of Persia

An Essay On Persian Poetry” by Ralph Waldo Emerson in Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and Salaman and Absal (1909).
Persian Poetry for English Readers (1883) by Samuel Robinson
Hafez entry in Wikipedia

more Hafiz at

Wine Poems from Poems From The Divan of Hafiz (1897)
translation by Gertrude Bell (1868-1926)

translations by Gertrude Bell
A flower-tinted cheek
Arise! and fill a golden goblet up
Arise, oh Cupbearer, rise!

Forget not when dear friend
From out the street of So-and-So
From the garden of Heaven
Hast thou forgotten
Lay not reproach at the drunkard's door

Mirth, Spring, to linger in a garden fair

My friend has fled
Not all the sum of earthly happiness

Not one is filled with madness
Oh Cup-bearer, set my glass afire

Singer, sweet Singer, fresh notes strew

The bird of gardens sang unto the rose
The breath of Dawn
The rose has flushed red
The rose is not fair
The secret draft of wine

What drunkenness is this
What is wrought in the forge
Where is my ruined life

Wind from the east

translations by Richard Le Gallienne 
Comrades, the morning breaks
Happy returns of this good day

Heavens! do you think this is a time

Last night, as half asleep I dreaming lay

My hermitage the tavern is

No! Saki – take the wine away

O, I've good news for you – the spring

Once more red wine

Saki, for God's love, come and fill

The Abbot of the Wine-House

Tis an unstable world

Two Gallons of old wine

What ails thee, Saki! Wine

When thus I sit with roses in my breast

With last night’s wine still singing

More English translations of Hafiz:
Song of Hafiz (unknown - 1875)
The Feast Of Spring (Whinfield - 1917)

The Rhyme Makers

c. 1320-1389

Gertrude Bell.
Gertrude Bell

Richard Le Gallienne
 (by Alfred Ellis 1854-1930)

Poems From
The Divan of Hafiz (1897)

translation by Gertrude Bell

The Internet Archive
Free E-Book from The Internet Archive

Free Audio Book From LibriVox

BOTTLED POETRY: Verses from the Vine

vinted and bottled by
Stephen H. Bass

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