...it's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there...

June 01, 2005

Wednesday Is Poetry Day: Shamseddin Mohammad (Hafiz)

Shamseddin Mohammad was a great Persian mystic and poet of the fourteenth century. He is known as Hafiz, which was a title given to one who had memorized the entire Koran. Hafiz wrote something like 800 ghazals (long time Poetry Wed readers may remember this post, about a García Lorca ghazal) and much of his work explored the subject of spiritual love. That means God's love for us, and our love of God. The Ladinsky translations are very good and seem to preserve a lot of the humor that is supposedly in the original Persian.

I Know the Way You Can Get

I know the way you can get
When you have not had a drink of Love:

Your face hardens,
Your sweet muscles cramp.
Children become concerned
About a strange look that appears in your eyes
Which even begins to worry your own mirror
And nose.

Squirrels and birds sense your sadness
And call an important conference in a tall tree.
They decide which secret code to chant
To help your mind and soul.

Even angels fear that brand of madness
That arrays itself against the world
And throws sharp stones and spears into
The innocent
And into one's self.

O I know the way you can get
If you have not been drinking Love:

You might rip apart
Every sentence your friends and teachers say,
Looking for hidden clauses.

You might weigh every word on a scale
Like a dead fish.

You might pull out a ruler to measure
From every angle in your darkness
The beautiful dimensions of a heart you once

I know the way you can get
If you have not had a drink from Love's

That is why all the Great Ones speak of
The vital need
To keep remembering God,
So you will come to know and see Him
As being so Playful
And Wanting,
Just Wanting to help.

That is why Hafiz says:
Bring your cup near me.
For all I care about
Is quenching your thirst for freedom!

All a Sane man can ever care about
Is giving Love!

Here is the story of how the young Hafiz, who worked in a bakery, decided to devote his life to God:
[O]ne day at the bakery, one of the workers who delivered the bread was sick, and Hafiz had to deliver the bread to a certain quarter of Shiraz where the prosperous citizens lived. While taking the bread to a particular mansion, Hafiz's eyes fell upon the form of a young woman who was standing on one of the mansion's balconies. Her name was Shakh-i-Nabat which means 'Branch of Sugarcane'. Her beauty immediately intoxicated Hafiz and he fell hopelessly in love with her. Her beauty had such a profound effect on him that he almost lost consciousness. At night he could not sleep and he no longer felt like eating. He learnt her name and he began to praise her in his poems.

Hafiz heard that she had been promised in marriage to a prince of Shiraz and realized how hopeless was his quest for her love. Still, the vision of her beauty filled his heart, and his thoughts were constantly with her. Then one day he remembered the famous 'promise of Baba Kuhi'. Baba Kuhi was a Perfect Master-Poet. . . . The promise that Baba Kuhi had given before he died was that if anyone could stay awake for forty consecutive nights at his tomb he would be granted the gift of poetry, immortality, and his heart's desire. Hafiz, interested in the third of these three, vowed to keep this vigil that no one had yet been able to keep.

Every day Hafiz would go to work at the bakery, then he would eat, and then walk past the house of Shakh-i-Nabat, who had heard some of the poems that he had composed in praise of her. She had noticed him passing her window every afternoon, each day more weary, but with a fire in his eyes that had lit the lamp of her heart for him. By this time Hafiz was in a kind of a trance. Everything that he did was automatic, and the only thing that kept him going was the fire in his heart and his determination to keep the lonely vigil.

Early the next morning the Angel Gabriel (some say Khizer) appeared to him. Gabriel gave Hafiz a cup to drink which contained the Water of Immortality, and declared that Hafiz had also received the gift of poetry. Then Gabriel asked Hafiz to express his heart's desire. All the time that this was happening, Hafiz could not take his eyes of Gabriel. So great was the beauty of the Angel that Hafiz had forgotten the beauty of Shakh-i-Nabat. After Gabriel had asked the question, Hafiz thought; 'If Gabriel the Angel of God is so beautiful, then how much more beautiful God must be.' Hafiz answered Gabriel: 'I want God!'

In his lifetime, Hafiz had a large following but he was not popular with the fundamentalist clergy of his day. He was exiled for a time, and at his death they tried unsuccessfully to stop Hafiz from being buried as a Muslim because his poetry was not pious enough.

Posted by annika, Jun. 1, 2005 |
Rubric: Poetry


As usual, another great Poetry Day at a's j.

Posted by: d-rod on Jun. 1, 2005

He was exiled for a time, and at his death they tried unsuccessfully to stop Hafiz from being buried as a Muslim because his poetry was not pious enough.

the more things change, the more things stay the same.

Posted by: louielouie on Jun. 1, 2005

Lovely, Annie. I like that while I very rarely do anything other than 20th century poets on Thursdays, you do so many far older -- and now Western -- ones. Hurrah.

Posted by: Hugo on Jun. 1, 2005

That poem warms my heart.

I flipped through some of "I Heard the Gods Laughing" on amazon, and am digging around here for my credit card.. no, bad Oorgo, bad!

Posted by: Oorgo on Jun. 1, 2005

Just great. Thank you so much.
It really inspired me.

Posted by: Ivan on Jun. 1, 2005