Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Hafiz: Tongue of the Invisible

A Year With Hafiz: Daily Contemplations, selected by Daniel Ladinsky

“He fears nothing,” wrote Emerson of the Sufi poet, Shams-ud-din Muhammad (c.1320-1389), known commonly as Hafiz or ‘memorizer,’ an honorific conferred upon him, as a young man, by his having memorized the Quran. “He sees too far, he sees throughout; such is the only man I wish to see or be.” Beloved by Persians, by Muslims and mystics, Hafiz, a contemporary of Chaucer, has long been revered in the West—thanks in large part to Goethe—by such diverse figures as Nietzsche, Brahms, Queen Victoria, Garcia Lorca, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Sherlock Holmes was fond of quoting the poet’s ghazals. Born in the city of Shiraz, the son of a coal merchant, Hafiz worked as a baker’s assistant and later studied calligraphy and the work of the Persian master poets, poets such as Saadi of Shiraz, Farid-ud-din Attar, and Jalal-ud-din-Rumi.  While still a young man, he became a disciple of a Sufi teacher named Muhammad Attar, an experience that transformed his understanding of the world—of Love, of Beauty: of God.

 “The Sufis,” according to Robert Graves from his introduction to Idries Shah’s fascinating book The Sufis, “are an ancient spiritual freemasonry whose origins have never been traced or dated… Though commonly mistaken for a Moslem sect, the Sufis are at home in all religions,” independent of clergy and dogma, an ancient mystical tradition with “an intense, often ecstatic, one-pointed devotion to God.”*

Since the latter was not of interest to me, I wondered—for recently a student had given me a copy of A Year With Hafiz as a gift—if I would find anything in his poetry at all. What I discovered was the vision of a compassionate, profoundly catholic man whose gentle, self-effacing wisdom reminds me of that of such fellow greats as Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Thomas Merton, Krishnamurti, Meher Baba, and the fourteenth  and current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyasto. Missing from the many poems I read, and perhaps from Sufism itself, for all its association with Islam, is any notion of sin or damnation, any fear of God. Instead, what distinguishes these devotional love songs is Hafiz’s simple joie de vivre, an abundance of delight, intelligence, and humor that bubbles forth like water from a cool mountain spring.  The pleasure of these poems for me lies in their refreshing, truly novel combination of “ecstatic assurance and scepticism”—enough to drive both rationalists and zealots mad.

Retire In The Alps

The great religions are the ships,
poets the lifeboats.

Every sane person I know has
jumped overboard!

Hafiz, it is good for business,
isn’t it?  Indeed,

but I would rather retire in the Alps!

I Had a Legitimate Excuse
I had a legitimate excuse for not going to the
mosque and temple to pray.
It was because love is so wild in me I might
break the fragile glass cage that all religions
are made of.

Two Giant Fat People

God and I have become like two giant

fat people living in a tiny boat;

we keep bumping into each other and

Hafiz (1310-1390)lies buried in Musalla Gardens in Shiraz.

*“The Life and Work of Hafiz” by Henry S. Mindlin

* “ecstatic assurance and scepticism” from Claud Field’s Preface to The Alchemy of Happiness by Al-Ghazzi

Note: Hafiz poem in Arabic calledMy 3,ooo Loving Arms”

Special thanks to my friend and former student, the poet, Megan Reynolds, for the gift of this book.

Peter Adam Nash

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