Profile of Hafiz
During the golden age of Persian poetry there was no poet more popular than Hafiz, the greatest lyric writer of Persia. The exact dates of his birth and death are unknown, but he was born in his beloved city of Shiraz, in the first part of the fourteenth century, and died, according to the inscription or chronogram on his tomb, in 13881 A.D. His biographers say that he did not live later than 1391, thus making him an exact contemporary of Chaucer.
Hafiz, from the Arabic word for memory, was his poetical name and signified that he knew by heart the Koran, his real name being Shams-ud-Din Mohammad, which means Son of Faith. There is very little accurate knowledge of his early or domestic life, but there is a tradition that he was the son of a baker in Shiraz ; at all events he seems to have lived a life of self imposed poverty, for he regarded it as necessary to genius.
In the following story we find the first evidence of his^ gift for song. His uncle began a poem on Sufism and could not get beyond the first line. Hafiz, during his uncle's absence, finished the verse, and when this was discovered, his uncle, although annoyed, ordered Hafiz to finish the poem, at the same time cursing him and his works, exclaiming, " They shall bring the curse of insanity on all who read them ! " and some people believe that this curse actually clings round his verses. Indeed, he has been compared to Anacreon "with his maddening spell, and even is said to have quaffed the cup of immortality. The legend is this:—
"About four leagues from the city of Shiraz is a place called Pir-i-sabz, or the 'Green Old Man' and a popular superstition prevailed that whoever watched there forty nights without sleep would become a great poet. Hafiz, when a youth, resolved to try the adventure; he was at this time in love with a beautiful' fair one,' whose name of Shakhi Nebat, expressed a ' branch of sugar cane; 'but he had a powerful rival in the Prince of Shiraz. Like Ferhad, the lover of Shirin, he was not to be daunted by the rank of him who pretended to the smiles of his charming favorite. Every morning he walked before the house of his coy mistress, anxiously watching for some sign of recognition which might give him hope ; at noon he rested, and at night repaired to the place of the i green old man,' and there took up his watchful station.
"This he continued for thirty-nine nights, and on the fortieth morning was charmed to observe that his mistress beckoned to him from the balcony, and invited him to enter. She received him with enthusiasm, declaring her preference of a bright genius to the son of a king. On the approach of night he hurried away, bent on finishing the adventure. Early on the morning, after his agitated fortieth night, the young poet perceived an aged man approaching. He could not see from whence he came, and could scarcely define his figure, which was wrapped in a green mantle ; in his hand he bore a cup containing a crystal liquor, which sparkled and foamed as if it would overleap its narrow bounds. The aged man held out the vase to Hafiz, who, seizing it with avidity, drank an inspiring draught, and found in it the gift of immortal poesy.
At one time Hafiz became a teacher of the Koran in a college in Baghdad, and here the poet read from his own verses, the fame of which drew great numbers of pupils to him. Indeed he himself says, "O Hafiz! the fame of thine enchanting witchery hath reached the bounds of Egypt and China, and the extremities of Kai and Rum.
On one occasion he started to visit India at the invitation of the Sultan Mahmud Shah Bahmeni, but fell among robbers and was stripped of everything. He was rescued by two merchants who knew of his fame. In their company he embarked for India at Hormaz on the Persian Gulf; but the ship was wrecked and Hafiz, escaping, returned to Shiraz. Hafiz wrote during turbulent times. Shiraz, which he seems to have loved no less than Dante loved Florence, was conquered five or six times ; kings came and went and the bloody drama moved on, yet there is hardly a reference to it in his poems. His first patron, Abu Ishak, was beheaded in front of the ruins of Persepolis, a tragedy evidently seen by the poet. In 1388 the great Timur (Tamerlane) overran ancient Persia, and, it is said, emphasized his victory by a tower of 90,000 human heads. And this terrible conqueror ordered Hafiz to be brought before him because of the following line in his famous ode:—
"For the black mole on thy cheek, I would give the cities of Samarkand and Bokhara."
"Art thou the man, Timur cried, " who has been bold enough to offer my two great cities, Samarkand and Bokhara, for the black mole on the cheek of thy mistress ?"
"Yes, sir," replied the undaunted poet, "and by such acts of generosity have I been reduced to my present state of destitution, and compelled to solicit your assistance. This reply so pleased the astonished ruler that he dismissed the poet with a princely gift.
Hafiz was married, and in an ode laments his wife's death, as he does that also of an unmarried son. Of his wife he writes, " Then said my heart, I will rest me in this city which is illuminated by her presence ; already her feet were bent upon a longer journey and my poor heart knew it not." And in the following expression of his love for her he has been compared to Shakespeare : " Open my grave when I am dead, and thou shalt see a cloud of smoke rising out from it ; then shalt thou know that the fire still burns in my dead heart — yea, it has set my very winding sheet alight. "
When Hafiz died in 1389 his enemies refused his body the customary religious rites of burial, because of his fear- less writings, and his early manner of living, which scandalized the orthodox. But the matter was settled by drawing lots from his own works. A child drew a slip of paper from a bowl, containing other slips, upon which was written:—
" Withdraw not your steps from the obsequies of Hafiz,
Though immersed in sin he will rise into Paradise."
And so Hafiz was buried in consecrated ground in Moscalla on the banks of the Ruknabad, about two miles from Sa'di's tomb. Sixty years later Sultan Baber erected over his grave a monument of white marble. On the oblong marble slab which marks the poet's grave are inscribed two odes from his Divan. One is in the Center, and -the other around the margin, sculptured in beautiful characters.
Hafiz's Divan has been consulted just as it were an oracle. Kings have travelled to the poet's tomb to read their fate in the beautiful volume which is kept there, and a certain formula is said to be used. The questioner first breathes over the book, and says:—
"O Hafiz of Shiraz, impart Foreknowledge to my anxious heart.”
Then with closed eyes the book is opened at random, and the first couplet he sees is read as an answer to his question. At Hafiz's grave are sometimes seen a merry carousing party who look upon Hafiz as their leader, who, Emerson says, " tears off his turban and throws it at the head of the meddling dervish, and throws his glass after the turban.1'' Again, penitent pilgrims seek his grave to beseech this Sufi saint to intercede for them. Assuredly he does "float luxuriously between Heaven and Earth, and this World and the Next, on the wings of a poetical expression, that might serve indifferently for either."
Hafiz left no complete volume of his works ; like Shakespeare's, they were collected after his death. There are five hundred and seventy-three Ghazels or odes, forty-two aphorisms, seventy-nine quatrains and several Qasidas and other forms. The principal themes of his odes are love, wine, and roses, — but these themes all have a secondary interpretation and a moral significance.
Although "not so learned as Sa'di or so scientific as Jami, he is the most natural and least egotistical poet of Persia. Persian of the Persians. Eastern critics say of him that he " may be condemned but he cannot be compared.”