1902 Encyclopedia > Hafiz

(pseudonym of: Shams ed-Din Muhammed)
Persian poet
(c. 1327-90 AD)

HAFIZ. Muhammed Shamsuddin, better known by his takhallus or "nom de plume" of Hanz, was one of the most celebrated writers of Persian lyrical poetry.

He was born at Shiraz, the capital of Fars, in the early part of the 8th century of the Mahometan era, that is to say, in the 14th of our own. The exact date of his birth is uncertain, but he is known to have attained a ripe old age and to have died in 791 A.H. (1388 A.D.). This is the date given in the chronogram which is engraved on his tomb, although several Persian biographers give a different year.

Very little is actually known about his life, which appears to have been passed in quiet retirement and literary ease in his native city of Shiraz, of which he always speaks in terms of affectionate admiration. He was a subject of the Muzaffar princes, who ruled in Shiraz, Yazd, Kirman, and Ispahan, until the dynasty was overthrown by Timur-lang (Tamerlane). Of these princess his especial patrons were Shah Shuja and Shah mansur.

He early devoted himself to the study of poetry and theology, and also became learned in mystic philosophy, which he studied under Shaikh Mahmud "Attar, chief of an order of dervishes. Hafiz afterwards enrolled himself in the same order and became a professor of Koranic exegesis in a college which his friend andpatron Haji Kiwam-uddin, the vizier, specially founded for him. This was probably the reason of his adopting the sobriquet of Hafiz, which means "one who remembers," and is technically applied to any person who has learned the Koran by heart.

The restraints of an ascetic life seem to have been very little to Hafiz’s taste, and his loose conduct and wine-bidding propensities drew upon him the severe censure of his monastic colleagues. In revenge he satirizes them unmercifully in his verses, and seldom loses an opportunity of alluding to their hypocrisy and religious pretensions.

Hafiz’s fame as a poet was soon rapidly spread throughout the Mahometan world, and several powerful monarchs sent him presents and pressing invitations to visit them. Amongst others he was invited by Mahmud Shah Bahmani, who reigned in the south of India, and set off with the intention of sojourning at the court of that sovereign. After crossing the Indus and passing through Lahore he reached Hurmuz, and embarked on board a vessel sent for him by the Indian prince. He seems, however, to have been a bad sailor, and, having invented an excuse for being put ashore, made the best of his way back to Shiraz.

Some biographies narrate a story of an interview between Hafiz and the invader Timur. The latter sent for him and asked angrily, "Art thou he who was so bold as to offer my two great cities Samarcand and Bohhara for the black mole on thy mistress’s cheek," alluding to a well-known verse in one of his odes. "Yes, sire," replied Hanz, "and it is by such acts of generosity that I have brought myself to such as state of destitution that I have now to solicit your bounty." Timur was so pleased at the ready wit displayed in this answer that he dismissed the poet with a handsome present. Unfortunately for the truth of this story Timur did not capture Shiraz till 1393 A.D., while the latest date that can be assigned to Hafiz’s death is 1391. of his private life little or nothing is known.

One of his poems is said to record the death of his wife, another that of a favorite unmarried son, and several others speak of his love for a girl called Shakhi Nabat, "Sugar-cane branch," and this is almost all of his personal history that can be gathered from his writings.
He was, like most Persians, a Shiah by religion, believing in the transmission of the office of Imam, or head of the Muslim Church in the family of Ali, cousin of the prophet, and rejecting the Hadith, or traditional sayings of Mahomet, which form the Sunneh or supplementary code of Mahometan ceremonial law. One of his odes which contains a verse in praise of Ali is engraved on the poet’s tomb, but is omitted by Sudi, the Turkish editor and commentator, who was himself a rigid Sunni. The same sectarian bigotry has influenced many other editors, and it is no unusual thing to find an Indian edition of the Divan emasculated by the excision of all the passages which can be construed as having the slightest allusion to the objects of Shiah veneration.

That his tendencies were towards a rather extravagant and heretical form of theosophy may be deduced from his writings, and in one verse he even goes so far as to speak in terms of admiration of one Mansur of Hallaj who was hanged, after being put to the most horrible tortures, on a charge of blasphemy, 309 A.H. This person professed a creed nearly approaching pure pantheism, and went about asserting that he was himself an incarnation of the omnipresent divinity, saying, Ana ‘l Hakk, "I am the Truth!" Hafiz in allusion to this says that his only fault was that he revealed the mystery.

These heretical opinions and the dissipated life of the poet caused difficulties to be raised by the ecclesiastical authorities on his death as to his internment in consecrated ground. The question was at length settled by Hafiz' own works, which had then already begun to be used as they are now throughout the East for the purposes of divination, in the same manner as Virgil was employed in the Middle Ages for the divination called Sortes Virgilianoe. Opening the book at random after pronouncing the customary formula asking for inspiration, the objectors hit upon the following verse -- "Turn not away thy foot from the bier of Hafiz, for though immersed in sin, he will be admitted into Paradise." He was accordingly buried in the center of a small cemetery at Shiraz, now included in an enclosure called the Hafiziyeh.

His principal work is the Divan, that is, a collection of short odes or sonnets called ghazals, and consisting of from five to sixteen baits or couplets each, all couplets in each ode having the same rhyme in the last hemistich, and the last couplet always introducing the poet’s own nom de plume.

The whole of these are arranged in alphabetical order, an arrangement which certainly facilitates reference but makes it absolutely impossible to ascertain their chronological order, and therefore deteriorates from their value as a means of throwing light upon the growth and development of his genius or the incidents of his career. These "orient pearls at random strung," as a version of a passage from Hafiz in Sir William Jones’s grammar calls them, are often held together by a very slender thread of continuous thought, and very few editions agree exactly in the order of the couplets which form the individual ghazals.

Still, although they often appear at first sight extremely disconnected, a careful study of them, especially from the point of view indicated by the Sufiistic system of philosophy, will always show that a single idea does run throughout the whole.

The nature of these poems has been the subject of much discussion in the West, some scholars seeing in their anacreontic utterances nothing but sensuality and materialism, while others, following the Oriental school, maintain that they are wholly and entirely mystic and philosophic.

Something between the two would probably be nearer the truth. It must be remembered that Hafiz was a professed dervish and Sufi, and that his ghazals were in all probability published from a takia, and arranged with at least a view to Suffistic interpretation.

At the same time it is ridiculous to suppose that the glowing imagery, the gorgeous and often tender descriptions of natural beauties, the fervent love passages, and the roistering drinking songs were composed in cool blood or with deliberate ascetic purpose.

The beauty of Hafiz’s poetryis that it is natural. It is the outcome of a fervent soul and a lofty genius delighting in nature and enjoying life; and it is the poet’s misfortune that he lived in an age and amongst a people where rigid conventionality demanded that his free and spontaneous thoughts should be recast into an artificial mould.

The system of philosophy professed by Persian poets and dervishes, and in accordance with which the poems of Hafiz are allegorically interpreted, is called Sufiism (Tasawwuf). It is derived usually from the word suf, which in Arabic means wool, and is supposed to refer to the woolen robes worn by the dervishes, although it is in all probability connected with the Greek.

It is the ultimate outcome of the protest of the conquered Aryan nations against the laws, ceremonials, and ideas of their Semitic conquerors, which first found expression in the schism of the Shiahs, that is, of the Persian party who sided with the family of Ali Ibn Abi Talib, cousin and son-in-law of Mahomet, against the claims of Moawiyeh, who at the head of the Arab party claimed and held the caliphate.

Forced by events to accept el Islam, and compelled to forsake the Magian and Zoroastrian faiths, the Persian Shiahs rapidly developed a system which, while teaching openly the unity of God according to Moslem doctrine, secretly theorized and refined it away, until Pantheism became the esoteric religion of the sect. It teaches that God is the only real existence and that all other existences are hypothetical, that God existed alone and created the universe merely by His Will and by the utterance of the word "Be."

The "Will" or "Order" and the "Be" are closely allied to the "Spirit" and "Word" of Christian theology. Man, the highest purpose of this creation, is therefore part and parcel of the Deity, and when sufficiently purified from the lower and grosser elements returns to his course again.

The circle of existence thus imagined is looked upon as a road which all must travel, and this image is kept up throughout the terminology of the sect. Thus the doctrine is tarikat (the road), the student or disciple is the salik (wayfarer), and the different stages of perfection are manzilha (roadside stations or inns).

And since all differences in sect and religion are as nothing to the illuminated philosopher who is initiated into this mystery, and as the contemplation of the divinity of his own existence and of his ultimate resumption of his place as part and parcel of the Deity produces ecstasy and mental exaltation, and inasmuch as everything that is beautiful, lovable, and pure is a purer and clearer manifestation of the Deity that runs through all, - therefore the Sufis speak of their real worship as paganism, their real devotion as love and drunkenness, and see a divine mystery in every phase of beauty in humanity or inanimate nature.

Besides the Divan, Hafiz wrote a number of other poems; the Leipsic (Leipzig) edition of his works contains 573 ghazals (forming the Divan), 42 kitths or fragments, 69 rubdiyat or tetrastics, 6 masnaviyat or poems in rhyming couplets, 2 jasaid, idylls, or panegyrics, and one mukhammes or poem in five-line strophes.

Other editions contain several tarji-band or poems with a refrain.

His works have never been completely translated into English; a few rhyming versions of single poems by Sir William Jones, Nott, Hindley, Falconer, &c., are to be found scattered through the pages of the Oriental Miscellany and other periodicals, and a fine edition containing a verse rendering of the principal poems by the late H. Bicknell is published by Trubner and Co. (London, 1875).

A prose version of a hundred selected odes was also published anonymously by Williams & Norgate (London, 1875).

On the Continent the principal versions are by Von Hammer Purgstall; a rhyming and rhythmical translation of a large portion of Hafiz’s works by Von Rosenzweig of Vienna (3 vols. 8vo, Vienna, 1858), which contains also the Persian text and notes: Der Divan des Schems-eddin Muhammed Hafis, by Nesselmann (berlin, 1875), in which the rhyming system, of the original is imitated.

Besides these, the reader may consult D’Herbelot, Bibliothèque
Orientale, article "Hafiz;" Sir William Ouseley’s Oriental Collection (3 vols. 4to, London, 1797-98); Specimes of Persian Poetry, or Odes of Hafiz, by John Richardson. (London, 1802); Biographical Notices of Persian Poets, by Sir Gore Ouseley (Oriental Translation Fund, 1846); and an excellent article by Professor E.B. Cowell in Macmillan’s Magazine (No. 177, July 1874).

The best edition of the text is perhaps that edited by Hermann Brockhaus of Leipsic (Leipzig), 1854, which is based on the recension of the Turkish editor Sudi, and contains his commentary in Turkish on a considerable portion of the Divan. (E.H.P.)

The above article was written by Edward Henry Palmer, M.A., late Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge; Lord Almoner's Professor of Arabic at Cambridge, 1871-81; murdered in Egypt, 1882, while serving on Government secret service; author of Arabic Grammar and Persian Dictionary.

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