Hafez: Two Ghazals — Musicality and Wordplay


Hafez, detail of an illumination in a Persian manuscript of the Dīvān of Ḥāfeẓ, 18th century.

The British Library, London

PHOTO: J.R. Freeman & Co. Ltd
Encyclopædia Britannica Online

Translator’s Note

Hafez, one of the classical masters of Persian poetry, was born in Shiraz, Iran, in the early fourteenth century. He lived with an uncle at a young age after losing his father and worked as a baker to support his mother. During this time, he met Shakh-e Nabat, a woman of extraordinary beauty. Though he was already married with a child, he considered Shakh-e Naba his beloved, an ideal to whom he could direct his poetic and spiritual interest. He took his pen name “Hafez” from the Persian, which is used for one who has memorized the Qur’an. (Hafez supposedly had memorized it in fourteen different ways.)

Growing up as a young boy, he heard his father recite the holy book as well as the poetry of such predecessors as Rumi, Saadi, and Attar. After a forty-day vigil in pursuit of Shakh-e Nabat, he met Attar and became his disciple. By turns accepted as an esteemed teacher in his home city of Shiraz and rejected from this post by various rulers for political reasons, Hafez spent part of his middle age in self-imposed exile in the city of Isfahan. Later in life, he returned to Shiraz. On the fortieth anniversary of meeting his teacher, Attar, he was believed to have taken another forty-day fast. At the end of the forty days, he drank a glass of wine offered by Attar, and attained a kind of rapturous enlightenment. He wrote about half of his esteemed ghazals following this experience. His ghazals excel both in musicality as well as in intricate wordplay. Because of both its unique style and its deft philosophical treatment of such themes as death, love, and divine worship, Hafez’s verse has had a lasting and pervasive influence on Persian language and culture.

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