Very little credible information is known about Hafez’s life, particularly its early part; there is a great deal of more or less mythical anecdote. Judging from his poetry, he must have had a good education, or else found the means to educate himself. Scholars generally agree on the following:
His father Baha-ud-Din is said to have been a coal merchant who died when Hafez was a child, leaving him and his mother in debt. It seems probable that he met with Attar of Shiraz, a somewhat disreputable scholar, and became his disciple. He is said to have later become a poet in the court of Abu Ishak, and so gained fame and influence in his hometown. It is possible that Hafez gained a position as teacher in a Qur’anic school at this time.
In his early thirties Mubariz Muzaffar captured Shiraz and seems to have ousted Hafez from his position. Hafez apparently regained his position for a brief span of time after Shah Shuja took his father, Mubariz Muzaffar, prisoner. But shortly afterwards Hafez was forced into self-imposed exile when rivals and religious characters he had criticized began slandering him. Another possible cause of his disgrace can be seen in a love affair he had with a beautiful Turkish woman, Shakh-e Nabat. Hafez fled from Shiraz to Isfahan and Yazd for his own safety.
At the age of fifty-two, Hafez once again regained his position at court, and possibly received a personal invitation from Shah Shuja, who pleaded with him to return. He obtained a more solid position after Shah Shuja’s death, when Shah Shuja ascended the throne for a brief period, before being defeated and killed by Tamerlane.
When an old man, he apparently met Tamerlane to defend his poetry against charges of blasphemy.
It is generally believed that Hafez died at the age of 69. His tomb is located in the Musalla Gardens of Shiraz (referred to as Hafezieh).
Hafez took ear to his immense popularity during his lifetime, and agreed with many others (then and now) when he wrote:
نديدم خوشتر از شعر تو حافظ
به قرآنى كه اندر سينه دارى
I have never seen any poetry sweeter than thine, O Hafez,
I swear it by that Koran which thou keepest in thy bosom.
Translation by Edward Granville Browne
Many semi-miraculous mythical tales were woven around Hafez after his death. Four of them are:
It is said that, by listening to his father’s recitations, Hafez had accomplished the task of learning the Qur’an by heart, at an early age. At the same time Hafez is said to have known by heart, the works of Molana (Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi), Sa’di, Attar, and Nezami.
According to one tradition, before meeting Attar, Hafez had been working in a local bakery. Hafez delivered bread to a wealthy quarter of the town where he saw Shakh-e Nabat, allegedly a woman of great beauty, to whom some of his poems are addressed.
At age 60 he is said to have begun a Chilla-nashini, a 40 Day and night vigil by sitting in a circle which he had drawn for himself. On the 40th Day he once again met with Attar on what is known to be their 40th anniversary and was offered a cup of wine. It was there where he is said to have attained ‘Cosmic Consciousness’.
In one famous tale, “a tradition too pretty to be trusted” says a noted historian,  the famed conqueror Timur the Lame angrily summoned Hafez to him in to give him an explanation for one of his verses
اگر آن ترك شيرازى بدستآرد دل مارا
به خال هندويش بخشم سمرقند و بخارا را
Belle of Shiraz, grant me but love’s demand,
And for your mole – that clinging grain of sand
Upon a cheek of pearl – Hafiz would give
All of Bokhara, all of Samarkand…
With Samarkand being Timur’s capital and Bokhara his kingdom’s finest city. “With the blows of my lustrous sword,” Timur complained, “I have subjugated most of the habitable globe…to embellish Samarkand and Bokhara, the seats of my government; and you, miserable wretch, would sell them for the black mole of a Turk of Shiraz!”. Hafez, so the tale goes, bowed deeply and replied “Alas, O Prince, it is this prodigality which is the cause of the misery in which you find me”.
So surprised and pleased was Timur with this response that he dismissed Hafez with handsome gifts.
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Works and influence
Hafiz’s mausoleum at night.
Not much acclaimed in his own Day and often exposed to the reproaches of orthodoxy, he greatly influenced subsequent Persian poets, and left his mark on such important Western writers as Ralph Waldo Emerson. His work was first translated into English in 1771 by William Jones.
There is no definitive version of his collected works (or diwan); editions vary from 573 to 994 poems. In Iran, his collected works have come to be used as an aid to popular divination. Only since the 1940s has a sustained scholarly attempt – byMas’ud Farzad, Qasim Ghani and others in Iran – been made to authenticate his work, and remove errors introduced by later copyists and censors. However, the reliability of such work has been questioned (Michael Hillmann in ‘Rahnema-ye Ketab’ No. 13 (1971), “Kusheshha-ye Jadid dar Shenakht-e Divan-e Sahih-e Hafez”), and in the words of Hafiz scholar Iraj Bashiri…. “there remains little hope from there (i.e.: Iran) for an authenticated diwan”.
The history of the translation of Hafiz has been a complicated one, and few English translations have been truly successful, in large part due to the fact that the figurative gesture for which he is most famous is ambiguity, and therefore interpreting of him correctly requires intuitive perception. Most recently, ‘The Gift: Poems by Hafiz the Great Sufi Master’ a collection of poems by Daniel Ladinskyand published in 1999, has been both commercially successful and a source of controversy. Although Ladinsky does read Persian, critics such as Murat Nemet-Nejat , a poet, essayist and translator of modern Turkish poetry, have asserted that his translations are largely inventions, that is to say, Ladinsky’s own inventions. Indeed, Hafiz often uses images, metaphors and allusions that assume fields of knowledge shared between poet and reader.
Though Hafizs poetry is influenced by his Islamicfaith, he is widely respected by Hindus, Christians and others. The Indian sage of Iranian descentMeher Baba, who syncretized elements of Sufism, Hinduism and Christian mysticism, would recite Hafiz’s poetry until his dying Day.
Sufi religious practice does not forbid the depiction of God in images, so Sufi poetry took on metaphorical language to hide what the real meanings were: intoxication with wine referred to spiritual intoxication, and so forth.
The meaning behind the poetry of Hafiz must, as with all art, be decided by the patron and observer of the work. Though credited as being “The Interpreter of Mysteries,” there remain many mysteries regarding Hafiz that have yet to be solved. As the poet himself had said:
- Am I a sinner or a saint,
- Which one shall it be?
- Hafiz holds the secret of his own mystery…
- اگرچه باده فرحبخش و باد گلبيزست
- به بانگ چنگ مخور مى، كه محتسب تيز است
- Though wine gives delight, and the wind distills the perfume of the rose,
- Drink not the wine to the strains of the harp, for the constable is alert.
- در آستين مرقع باده پنهان كن
- كه همچو چشم صراحي، زمانه خونريز است
- به آب ديده بشوييم خرقهها از مى
- كه موسم ورع و روزگار پرهيز است
- Hide the goblet in the sleeve of the patchwork cloak,
- For the time, like the eye of the decanter, pours forth blood.
- Wash the wine stain from your dervish cloak with tears,
- For it is the season of piety, and the time for abstinence.
Translation by Edward Browne
Four years afterward, finding prohibition unfeasible for the wine-loving people of Shiraz, the ruler Shah Shuja repealed that act and for that reason Hafez immortalized his name in verse.
Of course, Hafez’s fondness for wine was overshadowed by that of love:
- گفتم غم تو دارم، گفتا غمت سرآيد
- گفتم كه ماه من شو، گفتا اگر برآيد
- I said I long for thee
- You said your sorrows will end.
- Be my moon, rise up for me
- Only if it will ascend.
- گفتم ز مهرورزان رسم وفا بياموز
- گفتا ز خوبرويان اين كار كمتر آيد
- I said, from lovers learn
- How with compassion burn
- Beauties, you said in return
- Such common tricks transcend.
- گفتم كه برخيالت راه نظر ببندم
- گفتا كه شبروست او، از راه ديگر آيد
- Your visions, I will oppose
- My mind’s paths, I will close
- You said, this night-farer knows
- Another way will descend.
- گفتم كه بوى زلفت گمراه عالـمم كرد
- گفتا اگر بدانى هماوت رهبر آيد
- With the fragrance of your hair
- I’m lost in my world’s affair
- You said, if you care, you dare
- On its guidance can depend.
- گفتم خوشا هوايى كز باد صبح خيزد
- گفتا خنك نسيمى كز كوى دلبر آيد
- I said hail to that fresh air
- That the morning breeze may share
- Cool is that breeze, you declare
- With beloved’s air may blend.
- گفتم كه نوش لعلت ما را به آرزو كشت
- گفتا تو بندگى كن، كو بندهپرور آمد
- I said, your sweet and red wine
- Granted no wishes of mine
- You said, in service define
- Your life, and your time spend.
- گفتم دل رحيمت كى عزم صلح دارد
- گفتا مگوى با كس تا وقت آن درآيد
- I said, when will your kind heart
- Thoughts of friendship start?
- Said, speak not of this art
- Until it’s time for that trend.
- گفتم زمان عشرت ديدى كه چون سرآمد؟
- گفتا خموش حافظ كاين قصه هم سرآيد
- I said, happiness and joy
- Passing time will destroy.
- Said, Hafiz, silence employ
- Sorrows too will end my friend.
Translation by Shahriar Shahriari.
Drunk on the Wine of the Beloved
Hafez translations by Thomas Rain Crowe
Miniature of a wine boy
- I have learned so much from God
- That I can no longer call myself
- a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew.
- The Truth has shared so much of Itself with me
- That I can no longer call myself
- a man, a woman, an angel, or even a pure soul.
- Love has befriended Hafiz so completely.
- It has turned to ash and freed me
- Of every concept and image my mind has ever known.
The work of Hafez is inspired by the Sufi teachings of his time, in which the love of youths and the drinking of (forbidden) wine are metaphors for ecstatic religious states that cannot be otherwise described.
- What choices have I, if I should not fall in love with that child?
- Mother Time does not possess a better son. (Divan, no 396)
- دلبرم شاهد و طفلست و به بازى روزى
- بكشد زارم و در شرع نباشد گنهش
- My sweetheart is a beauty and a child, and I fear that in play one Day
- He will kill me miserably and he will not be accountable according to the holy law.
- I have a fourteen year old idol, sweet and nimble
- For whom the full moon is a willing slave.
- ميچكد شير هنوز از لب همچون شكرش
- گرچه در شيوهگرى هر مژهاش قتاليست
- His sweet lips have (still) the scent of milk
- Even though the demeanor of his dark eyes drips blood. (Hafez, Divan, no 284)
- And about the Magian baccha:
- گر چنين جلوه كند مغبچهى بادهفروش
- خاكروب در ميخانه كنم مژگان را
- If the wine-serving magian boy would shine in this way
- I will make a broom of my eyelashes to sweep the entrance of the tavern. (Divan, no 9)
- گل بىرخ يار خوش نباشد
- بىباده بهار خوش نباشد
- Without the beloveds face, the rose is not pleasant.
- Without wine, spring is not pleasant.
- طرف چمن و طواف بستان
- بىلالهعذار خوش نباشد
- The border of the sward and the air of the garden
- Without the tulip-cheeked is not pleasant.
- رقصيدن سرو و حالت گل
- بى صوت هزار خوش نباشد
- The dancing of the cypress, and the rapture of the rose,
- Without the nightingale’s song is not pleasant.
- با يار شكرلب گلاندام
- بىبوس و كنار خوش نباشد
- With the beloved, sugar of lip, rose of body,
- Without kiss and embrace is not pleasant.
- هر نقش كه دست عقل بندد
- جز نقش نگار خوش نباشد
- Every picture that reasons’s hand depicteth,
- Save the picture of the idol is not pleasant.
- جان نقد محقر است حافظ
- از بهر نثار خوش نباشد
- Hafez! the soul is a despicable coin:
- For sacrificing, it is not pleasant.
Translation by Henry Wilberforce-Clarke
The Tomb of Hafez
When Hafez died, controversy raged as to whether or not Hafez should be given a religious burial in light of his clearly hedonistic lifestyle and, at most times, unorthodox ways. His friends, however, convinced the authorities using Hafez’s own poetry to allow it. Twenty years after his death, an elaborate tomb (the Hafezieh) was erected to honor Hafez in the Musalla Gardens in Shiraz. Inside, Hafez’s alabaster tombstone bore one of his poems inscribed upon it – “profoundly religious at last” (Durant):
- مژدهى وصل تو كو كز سر جان برخيزم
- طاير قدسم و از دام جهان برخيزم
- Where are the tidings of union? that I may arise-
- Forth from the dust I will rise up to welcome thee!
- My soul, like a homing bird, yearning for paradise,
- Shall arise and soar, from the snares of the world set free.
- به ولاى تو كه گر بندهى خويشم خوانى
- از سر خواجگى كون و مكان برخيزم
- When the voice of thy love shall call me to be thy slave,
- I shall rise to a greater far than the mastery
- Of life and the living, time and the mortal span.
- يارب از ابر هدايت برسان بارانى
- پيشتر زانكه چو گردى ز ميان برخيزم
- Pour down, O Lord! from the clouds of thy guiding grace,
- The rain of a mercy that quickeneth on my grave,
- Before, like dust that the wind bears from place to place,
- I arise and flee beyond the knowledge of man.
- بر سر تربت من با مى و مطرب بنشين
- تا ببويت ز لحد رقصكنان برخيزم
- When to my grave thou turnest thy blessed feet,
- Wine and the lute thou shalt bring in thine hand to me;
- Thy voice shall ring through the fold of my winding-sheet,
- And I will arise and dance to thy minstrelsy.
- گرچه پيرم، تو شبى تنگ درآغوشم كش
- تا سحرگه ز كنار تو جوان برخيزم
- Though I be old, clasp me one night to thy breast,
- And I, when the dawn shall come to awaken me,
- With the flush of youth on my cheek from thy bosom will rise.
- خيز و بالا بنما اى بت شيرينحركات
- كز سر جان و جهان دستفشان برخيزم
- روز مرگم نفسى مهلت ديدار بده
- تا چو حافظ ز سر جان و جهان برخيزم
- Rise up! let mine eyes delight in thy stately grace!
- Thou art the goal to which all men’s endeavor has pressed,
- And thou the idol of Hafez’s worship; thy face
- From the world and life shall bid him come forth and arise!
Translation by Gertrude Bell
Nowadays, the Hafezieh is visited by millions each year and regarded by countless people to be a veritable shrine.
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Sassanid Shapour Inscription, Meshkin Shahr, Ardabil.