Poet History # 6 - Hafiz

Hafiz came along a hundred years later (1320 to 1389). He lived most of his life in Shiraz. He is considered the most beloved poet of Persia, and one of the finest lyricists in the Persian language. He was a devout Sufi. He lived about the same time as Chaucer in England.

He became a famous Sufi master, a philosopher and a mystic of Islam. Hafiz wrote an estimated 5,000 poems, only five to seven hundred of which survived. The rest were destroyed by clerics and rulers who disapproved of the content. Hafiz was considered “a spiritual rebel whose insights emancipate his readers from the clutches of those in power,” observes Daniel Ladinsky, in his introduction to The Gift, his translation of the poems of Hafiz.

“Hafiz brings us nearer to God. This Persian master is a profound champion of freedom; he constantly encourages our hearts to dance!” So writes Ladinsky.

Hafiz’s Divan – his collected poems – is considered a classic in the literature of Sufism.

Hafiz became known in the West largely through the efforts of Goethe and Ralph Waldo Emerson, who called Hafiz “a poet for poets.”

Here is a reason why:

I am a hole in a flute
that the Christ’s breath
moves through.
Listen to this music.


The voice of the river
that has emptied into the ocean
now laughs and sings
just like God.

“To Hafiz,” writes Ladinsky, “God is Someone we can meet, enter and eternally explore.”

My words nourish even the sun’s body.
Look at the smile on earth’s lips this morning,
she laid with me again last night.
I hear the voice
of every creature and plant
Every world and sun and galaxy –
Singing the Beloved’s name!

While translating Hafiz’s work, Ladinsky had a dream about the poet. “I saw him as an Infinite Fountaining Sun, as God....who sang hundreds of lines of his poetry to me in English, asking me to give that message to his ‘artists and seekers’. There is a mystical dimension in his poetry that heals and bestows ‘The Gift’.”

Hafiz knew the entire Quran by heart.

Unlike Rumi, Hafiz knew poverty. The youngest of three sons of poor parents, Hafiz worked as a baker’s assistant to help support his family. He put himself through school at night. Hafiz was a skilled draftsman and occasionally worked as a proofreader or copyist.

Even as a child, he improvised poems in any form or style. He won the patronage of a succession of rulers and wealthy noblemen, was court poet and a college professor in his middle years. He married and had at least one son.

He was blacklisted by the rigorously orthodox when they came into power and, at least once, was forced into exile to live in dire poverty till a more tolerant regime allowed his return. He was predeceased by his wife and son. Hafiz spent forty years as a student of his spiritual teacher Attar, beginning his spiritual journey by being awakened by love. He was a Master Poet by the age of sixty, and died at sixty-nine.

A poet is someone who can
pour light into a cup,
then raise it to nourish
your beautiful, parched holy mouth.

Indian Sufi teacher Inay at Khan explains, “The mission of Hafiz was to express to a fanatical religious world that the presence of God is not to be found only in heaven, but also here on earth.”

Hafiz is sometimes referred to, in Persia, as “The Tongue of the Invisible.”

What is this precious love and laughter
budding in our hearts?
It is the sound of
a soul waking up!
Even after all this time,
the sun never says to the earth,
“You owe me.”
Look what happens
with a love like that,
It lights up the whole sky.

Hafiz wrote nearly half of his poems during the last eight years of his life. At the age of sixty, after a forty day vigil, he attained Cosmic Consciousness, or soul realization. When he died at age sixty-nine, the orthodox clergy refused him a Muslim burial. But the outcry by his followers made the clergy nervous. They all agreed to cut Hafiz’s work into couplets and consult an Oracle. Whatever the selected couplet said, they would abide by. The couplet chosen read:

Neither Hafiz’s corpse nor his life negate.
With all his misdeeds, heaven for him waits.
He was given the burial. His tomb still stands.
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