Hafez, Mohammad Shamsoddin

Hafez, Mohammad Shamsoddin
(ca. 1320–ca. 1388)
   Hafez is one of the best-known poets of medieval Persia, known particularly as the master of the classical form of the GHAZAL. Little is known with certainty about his life. His biography is gleaned from what is found in his poetry and from traditions that grew around him after his death.We do know that the name Hafez means “one who has memorized the KORAN.” He is also known to have lived in the city of Shiraz in what is now southcentral Iran, and it seems likely he was attached to a mystical Sufi order.
   Hafez wrote over 500 ghazals, in addition to other poems. Collectively his poetry is known as the Divan-e Hafez. Hafez himself, however, was not responsible for compiling his own collected verse. Two separate compilations were made the generation after his death by his admirers, Mohammad Golandaam (who wrote a preface to his collection of Hafez’s work) and Sayyid Kasim-e Anvar (whose collection comprises 569 ghazals attributed to Hafez).
   Tradition says that Hafez was born in Shiraz to a coal merchant, and that he had memorized the Koran, as well as poetry by his idols SA’DI and ATTAR, by the time he was in his teens. But at that point his father died, and Hafez became apprenticed to a baker. Legend has it that while delivering bread to the wealthy section of Shiraz,Hafez met the incomparably beautiful Shakh-e Nabat. Though his poetry suggests he was married and had at least one child, he continued to address a number of spiritual poems to Shakh-e Nabat, seeing the young woman as a physical symbol of the beauty of her creator. In any case Hafez does seem to have gained some reputation as a poet during the reign of Abu Eshaq Inju (1343–53). However, when Abu was succeeded by the bigoted tyrant Mobarezoddin (1353–58), Hafez was cast out of favor. The sensuality of his early poems was unwelcome in Mobarezoddin’s puritanical court, and Hafez’s “protest” poetry of this period often indirectly refers to Mobarezoddin by the code name mohtaseb (the “secret police”).
   With Mobarezoddin’s successor, Shah Shoja, an enlightened ruler who appreciated poetry, Hafez returned to favor. He wrote a number of panegyrics about the new shah, and seems to have been the ruler’s drinking companion. But he fell out of favor with Shah Shoja about 1368, possibly through the enmity of the religious establishment, which seems to have considered Hafez a somewhat heretical freethinker. Hafez remained in exile for six years, during which he found new poetic inspiration in a woman named Dordane.
   Hafez was invited back to Shiraz by the shah in 1374, his reputation now having reached its greatest heights:He was invited to Baghdad and to Bengal to the courts of the princes there. But at about the age of 60, according to tradition, Hafez was overcome with a longing for a mystical experience of God, and fasted for 40 days within a circle of his own making. Reputedly, he achieved his vision on the 40th day, and from that time until his death wrote nearly half of his ghazals on mystical subjects, while continuing to teach a small group of disciples. He is said to have gone into retirement when Shah Shoja died in 1385.
   Hafez was buried in Musalla Gardens on the Roknabad River in Shiraz, a place now called Hafezieh.His tomb is frequented by many visitors, and it is an Iranian custom to open the Divan-e Hafez at random with a question, and divine the answer through Hafez’s verse.
   Hafez is an acknowledged master of lyric poetry that is both original, subtle, and multilayered, with his sensual poetry often being interpreted in mystical ways. The ultimate meaning of his verse is often disputed, but one of his great admirers, Goethe, saw Hafez’s sensuality and mysticism as a unique “harmony of opposites.”
   ■ Hafez,Mohammed Shamsoddin. The Divan of Hafez: Persian-English. Translated by Reza Saberi. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2002.
   ■ ———.The Gift: Poems by Hafiz, the Great Sufi Master. Translated by Daniel Ladinsky.New York: Penguin, 1999.
   ■ ———. Fifty Poems of Hafiz. Translated by Arthur J. Arberry. Cambridge University Press, 1970.
   ■ ———.Poems from the Divan of Hafiz. Translated by Gertrude Lowthian Bell. London:W.Heinemann, 1928.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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