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With Hafez in Shiraz

By Syma Sayyah, Tehran




The morning breeze comes back 
and from the southern desert 
the lapwing returns 
The dove's soft song about roses 
I hear that again. 

The tulip, who understands what the lily says, 
went away, but now she's back. 

With the sound of a bell, 
strength and gentleness. 

Hafiz broke his vow and damaged his heart, 
but now, for no reason, his Friend forgives that, 
and turns, and walks back up to his door.

Translator: Coleman Barks(1993).  The hand of poetry. New Lebanon: Omega Publications

One of the most internationally well known Persian poets is Hafez.  In many Iranian homes his books, at least when I was growing up, was next to the Koran; and many would have it at their wedding table or the New Year’s Haft-Seen.


Hafez was born about 1320 in Shiraz, married in his early twenties, had a son and lived to the old age of 69. He never left his home town, until his self-exile in Isfahan years later. 


Hafez, whose real name was Shamseddin Mohammd, got his name because he had memorized the whole of Koran by heart in his teens.  He also memorized the works of Saadi and Rumi.  In his youth he became a pupil of the famous poet Attar and later was the court poet of Abu Ishak.  However years later he fell out of favor and had to flee to Isfahan for safety. There his poetry was mainly about his longing for his beloved Shiraz, his master Attar and his secret beloved Shakh-e-Nabat, whoever she was.  These are among his most touching poems as one feels his pain deeply.



During his life, Hafez compiled over 500 Ghazal[1] and about 40 Rubaiyats[2].  Many live their lives based on Fale’ Hafez - they seek guidance from Hafez by randomly picking one of his Ghazals.   Hafez poetry is very spiritual as it came from his soul, thus it is very profound and each has many meanings.


Hafez through his poetry acts as a torch to guide us to our heart. It is not intended to condemn us to a pre-determined providence, rather it tells us where we might be going, and where our heart wants to go. His words are to guide us such that we correct our path to align our mind and heart.  It is the compass and a map that we use to tread upon the paths of our souls.


Joseph will come back to Canaan again, 
My house the fragrance of her rose-garden will regain.
0 sad heart, from hardships do not get mad,
Your worries will soon end- don't feel so sad.

If the Spring on turf-throne would remain,
The bird under flower-canopy sits again.
If the world turns to your favor some days,
Take it easy; it won't do so always.
If God's secrets are unknown don't despair.
Behind the mystery-curtain is a love-affair.
O'Heart, if death-flood sweeps off all life,
Your pilot as Noah, ends your strife.
When through desert you pass for pilgrimage,
If thorns bother your feet, don't be in rage.

The road 's perilous and destination away.
Yet all roads have their ends, I daresay.
Enemies oppose me in absence of friend,
God knows that on Him I only depend.

Hafiz, the dark, lonely nights never mind, 
Study and pray- thus salvation you find.

Translator: Abbas Aryanpur Kashani (1984). Odes of Hafiz: Poetical horoscope. (pp. 182) Lexington: Mazda Publishers.




I CEASE not from desire till my desire
Is satisfied; or let my mouth attain
My love's red mouth, or let my soul expire,
Sighed from those lips that sought her lips in vain.
Others may find another love as fair;
Upon her threshold I have laid my head,
The dust shall cover me, still lying there,
When from my body life and love have fled.

My soul is on my lips ready to fly,
But grief beats in my heart and will not cease,
Because not once, not once before I die,
Will her sweet lips give all my longing peace.
My breath is narrowed down to one long sigh
For a red mouth that burns my thoughts like fire;
When will that mouth draw near and make reply
To one whose life is straitened with desire?

When I am dead, open my grave and see
The cloud of smoke that rises round thy feet:
In my dead heart the fire still burns for thee;
Yea, the smoke rises from my winding-sheet!
Ah, come, Beloved! for the meadows wait
Thy coming, and the thorn bears flowers instead
Of thorns, the cypress fruit, and desolate
Bare winter from before thy steps has fled.

Hoping within some garden ground to find
A red rose soft and sweet as thy soft cheek,
Through every meadow blows the western wind,
Through every garden he is fain to seek.
Reveal thy face! that the whole world may be
Bewildered by thy radiant loveliness;
The cry of man and woman comes to thee,
Open thy lips and comfort their distress!

Each curling lock of thy luxuriant hair
Breaks into barbed hooks to catch my heart,
My broken heart is wounded everywhere
With countless wounds from which the red drops start.
Yet when sad lovers meet and tell their sighs,
Not without praise shall Hafiz' name be said,
Not without tears, in those pale companies
Where joy has been forgot and hope has fled.

Translator: Gertrude Bell (1985). The Teachings of Hafiz. London: Octagon Press


            See more poems at: The Songs of Hafiz



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[1]  Ghazal is a highly structured form of poetry in Persian which enjoys a particular rhyme and rhythm. Generally, the first verse of a Ghazal is made up of a rhyming couplet, which is then followed by a number of verses, every second part of which would rhyme with the original couplet


[2] Rubaiyat is simply a style of poetry, and many of the famous Persian poets as well as others have composed poetry in the Rubaiyat format (quatrains). The most famous are the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam which has gained considerable popularity and name recognition.


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