By Shamseddin Hafez
Translated from Persian by H. Bicknell
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Háfiz or Hafez, the greatest of Persian lyric poets, can be looked upon as one of the few poets in the world who utters an unbroken strain of joy and contentment.
His poverty was to him a constant fountain of satisfaction, and he frankly took the natural joys of life as they came, supported under every vicissitude by his religious sense of the goodness and kindliness of the One God, manifested in everything in the world that was sweet and genial, and beautiful to behold. It is strange that we have to go to the literature of Persia to find a poet whose deep religious convictions were fully reconciled with the theory of human existence which was nothing more or less than an optimistic hedonism. There is nothing parallel to this in classic literature. Háfiz was an Epicurean without the atheism or the despair of Epicurus. The roses in his feast are ever fresh and sweet and there is nothing of bitterness in the perennial fountain of his Delight. This unruffled serenity, this joyful acceptance of material existence and its pleasures are not in the Persian poet the result of the carelessness and shallowness of Horace, or the cold-blooded worldliness and sensuality of Martial. The theory of life which Háfiz entertained was founded upon the relation of the human soul to God. The pleasures of life, all that charmed the eye, all that gratified the senses, every draught that intoxicated, and every fruit that pleased the palate, were, in the pantheistic doctrine of the Sufi considered as equally good, because God was in each of them, and to partake of them was therefore to be united more closely with God. Never was a theology so well calculated to put to rest the stings of doubt or the misgivings of the pleasure-seeker. This theology is of the very essence of Háfiz’s poetry.
It is this that makes Háfiz almost the only poet of unadulterated gladsomeness that the world has ever known. There is no shadow in his sky, no discord in his music, no bitterness in his cup. He passes through life like a happy pilgrim, singing all the way, mounting in his own way from strength to strength, sure of a welcome when he reaches the goal, contented with himself, because every manifestation of life of which he is conscious must be the stirrings within him of that divinity of which he is a portion. When we have thus spoken of Háfiz we have said almost all that is known of the Persian lyric poet, for to know Háfiz we must read his verses, whose magic charm is as great for Europeans as for Asiatics. The endless variety of his expressions, the deep earnestness of his convictions, the persistent gayety of his tone, are qualities of irresistible attractiveness. Even to this day his tomb is visited as the Mecca of literary pilgrims, and his numbers are cherished in the memory and uttered on the tongue of all educated Persians. He was born at Shiraz in the early part of the fourteenth century, dying in the year 1388. His manner of life was not approved of by the dervishes of the monastic college in which he taught, and he satirizes his colleagues in revenge for their animadversions.
His out-and-out pantheism, as well as his manner of life, caused him at his death to be denied burial in consecrated ground. The ecclesiastical authorities were, however, induced to relent in their plan of excommunication at the dictates of a passage from the poet’s writings, which was come upon by opening the book at random. The passage ran as follows: «Turn not thy feet from the bier of Háfiz, for though immersed in sin, he will be admitted into Paradise.» And so he rests in the cemetery at Shiraz. The poets of nature, the mystical pantheist, the joyous troubadour of life, Háfiz, in the naturalness and spontaneity of his poetry, and in the winning sweetness of his imagery, occupies a unique place in the literature of the world, and has no rival in his special domain.