On his arrival in Shiraz the great Tamerlane, who had conquered a substantial part of the known world, sent for Hafiz Shirazi, and required from him:
“Have you composed this couplet?”
“If my beloved could conquer my heart I would bestow Samarkand and Bukhara for her mole”.
“Yes,” replied Hafiz.
“Do you know that I have overrun the entire world in order to build up Samarkand and Bukhara, which are my native places, and you are prepared to give them away in return of a mole only,” asked the awe-inspiring monarch.
Hafiz remained unmoved and retorted: “This is on account of such extravagances that I have been reduced to this state of poverty”. The great conqueror, in whose presence mighty rulers used to tremble with fear was much amused with the reply of Hafiz and sent him back loaded with presents and wealth.
Hafiz Shirazi, the immortal Persian lyrist and one of the four pillars of Persian poetry, is called by his admirers ‘Lisanul Ghaib’ (The Tongue of the Unseen) and ‘Tarjumanul Asrar’(The Interpreter of Mysteries).
The grandfather of Hafiz, who resided in the suburbs of Isfahan, had migrated to Shiraz during the time of Atabeks of Shiraz. His father, Bahauddin, a wealthy merchant, died a premature death, leaving behind three sons, who squandered his wealth in frivolities. Hafiz, the youngest among his brothers, remained with his mother, and due to extreme poverty was obliged to work in a baker’s shop. Hafiz had great passion for learning. Whatever time he could spare from his master’s work, he spent in learning. He gave one-third of his wages to his mother, the other one-third to his teacher and the rest one-third to the needy persons. Thus he obtained a respectable education and learnt the Quran by heart, hence he adopted his poetic pen name as ‘Hafiz’, a term commonly applied to those who learn the Quran by heart.
Hafiz’s was the age of poetry and romance. There was a cloth merchant in his locality, who was an admirer of poets. Poets from different parts of the city gathered every evening at his shop and recited their poems. It served as an incentive to young Hafiz, who also began to compose and recite poems, but with little success. People made fun of him. One night, being highly disappointed with his failure as a poet, he visited the shrine of Baba Kuhi, situated on a hill north of Shiraz. He wept and prayed for his success and in a vigil, it is said he was visited by Hazrat Ali, who gave him to eat some mysterious heavenly food and told him that henceforth the gates of poetry, as well as knowledge, would remain open for him. When he woke up the next morning he composed a poem, which surprised everybody. Henceforward, Hafiz was unparalleled in the realm of Persian lyrics and his fame as an immortal lyrist soon reached the distant parts of the Muslim world.
Hafiz received letters from the Royal Houses of Iraq, India and Arabia inviting him to visit their countries, but he was not prepared to leave his beautiful land at any cost. High praise of the rose garden, fascinating description of lovely scenes and bracing salubrious climate of Shiraz pervade his numerous pieces.
Maulana Shibli Nomani, in his monumental work: ‘Sherul Ajam’ (The Poetry of the East), refers to several rulers whose favour and patronage Hafiz enjoyed. One of these was Sheikh Abu Ishaq Inju, a semi-independent ruler of Shiraz. Himself a reputed poet, the pleasure-loving Abu Ishaq was a great patron of arts and learning who pursued culture at the cost of the affairs of the State. One day, when he was persuaded by his favourite Sheikh Aminuddin to pay attention to the Muzaffar hosts, who were invading his Capital, Abu Ishaq simply remarked that “the enemy must be a fool to waste the pleasant spring season in such a fashion”.
Hafiz saw several rulers of Shiraz, who succeeded one another. All were impressed by his poetic genius and favoured and placated him. It was during the reign of Zainul Abdin that Tamerlane (Taimur) visited the city and met the famous poet. Daulat Shah has described in detail the meeting of these two outstanding figures of the era-one, the greatest conqueror of his time and the other, the greatest poet.
Sultan Ahmed ibn Owais-i-Jalair, the talented II Khani ruler of Baghdad, requested Hafiz to visit Baghdad, but the poet declined saying:
“The Zephyr-breeze of Musalla and the stream of Ruknabad. Don’t permit me to travel or wander afield.”
Invitations were also received by him from two rulers of India, who tried their best to induce him to visit their courts. One of these, Mahmood Shah Bahmani, a great patron of arts and culture, even sent the travelling expenses and a ship to bring Hafiz to India. He sent his favourite Mir Fazalullah along with money and presents to escort the immortal poet from Shiraz to Gulbarga. Hafiz spent a considerable part of the money in Shiraz and on arrival on the. Persian Gulf gave the rest to a destitute friend. Two Persian merchants bound for India offered to meet the entire traveling expenses of the poet. When they reached Hurmuz, a ship was waiting to convey the poet to India. Hafiz got on the ship, but, when the ship was about to set sail a tempest arose and Hafiz got ashore. Instead of going to India, he sent the following few couplets written on the occasion to King Mahmood :
Not all the sum of earthly happiness
Is worth the bowed head of a moment’s pain,
And if I sell for wine my dervish dress
Worth more than what I sell is what I gain!
The Sultan’s crown, with priceless jewels, set,
Encircles fear of death and constant dread;
It is headdress much desired-and yet
Art sure ’tis worth the danger to the head?
Down in the quarter where they sell red wine
My holy carpet scarce would fetch a cup
How brave a pledge of piety is mine,
Which is not worth a goblet foaming up!
Full easy seemed the sorrow of the sea
Heightened by hope of gain-hope flew too fast?
A hundred pearls were poor indemnity,
Not worth the blast.
(Translated by Miss Gertrude Lowthian Bell-Poems from ‘Diwan’ of Hafiz).
Another Indian ruler, Sultan Ghyasuddin of Bengal also implored Hafiz to visit his Court, but the poet instead sent him an ode.
Hafiz had a good knowledge of the Arabic language, which is evident from his bilingual poems. Hafiz is universally recognized as one of the four pillars of Persian poetry and one who is matchless in the realm of the lyric. His successors, including Saib, Urfi, Salim have acknowledged his incomparable skill in this branch of poetry. He, not only expanded the scope of the Persian lyric through his Epicurian philosophy, which was earlier expanded by Umar Khayyam in his famous quatrains, but also immortalized, Persian lyric through his inimitable style, his sincerity, and sublimity of thought and exuberance of expression and mellifluousness. Before him, Saadi and Khusrou had beautified the Persian lyrics through their sincerity of thought and simplicity of diction, and Salman Sauji and Khwajoo Kirmani beautified it through ornamentation of language as well as with rhetorical artifices. Hafiz, combined in himself the merits of all those poets as well as added a charm of his own. His lyrics have been fascinating to all lovers of Persian poetry during the last six centuries, that have elapsed since his death in 793 A.H. Having a tinge of humor, his couplets brim with an optimistic note. Being a man of cheerful disposition, he observes life with a smiling countenance and preaches Epicurian philosophy with greater success than Khayyam.
As a panegyrist, he is distinguished from the great Persian panegyrist Zahir Faryabi, Anwari, and Salman of Sawa, as he never employed mean and despicable ways to extort money, hence his praise lacks the high sounding words and excessive flights of imagination so essential for good oriental panegyrics. He is a devotee of Shiraz and is never wearied of singing the praise of the stream of Ruknabad and the rose gardens of Musalla.
“Bring, cupbearer, all that is left of thy wine!
In the garden of Paradise vainly thou ‘It seek
The life of the fountain of Ruknabad
And the bowers of Musalla where roses twine”
He sings of spring, rose, nightingale, wine, youth, and beauty which at times elevate him to the realm of eternal beauty and bliss of which all these fair things are a pale reflection.
According to Sir Gore Ouseley, “his style is clear, unaffected and harmonious, displaying at the same time great learnings and matured sciences, and intimate knowledge of the hidden as well as the apparent nature of things; but above all a certain fascination of expression unequaled by any other poet”.
Miss Gertrude Lowthian has given a correct estimate of Hafiz when she states: “To Hafiz, on the contrary, modern instances have no value; contemporary history is too small to occupy his thought… But some of us will feel that the apparent indifference of Hafiz (to his environments), lends to his philosophy a quality which Dante does not possess. The Italian is bound down within the limits of his philosophy, his theory of universe is essentially of his own age, and what to him was so acutely real is to many of us merely a beautiful of terrible image. The picture that Hafiz draws represents a wider landscape, though the immediate foreground may not be so distinct. It is as if his mental eye endowed with wonderful acuteness of vision, had penetrated into those provinces of thought, which, of later age, were destined to inhabit. We can forgive him for leaving for us so indistinct a representation of his own time, and the life of the individual in it, when we find him formulating ideas as profound as the warning that there is no musician to whose music both the drunk and the sober can dance”.
The poetry of Hafiz has a universal appeal. His philosophy is the same as that of Khayyam, but in his, it has been more vigorously and fascinatingly expressed. He states that man is hardly aware of the secrets of nature. This idea had earlier been propounded by Socrates, Farabi, Ibn Sina and Khayyam, but in Hafiz, it has attained greater force and charm of expression. In his opinion the presence of the Eternal Being (rod) is visible from every particle, every leaf, and everything found in this world, and only the spiritual eye can see Him. Through the words of Saqi (cupbearer), wine, rose, garden, he has conveyed the praise of Eternal Beauty, which has charmed the Sufis (Mystics) and commoners alike. His poetry also contains high-class moral philosophy, through which he has exposed such preachers who do not practice what they preach.
Hafiz is undoubtedly one of the most popular poets of the East. His fame as an immortal lyrist, one who has painted some lively pictures of the optimistic side of life, has transcended the barriers of Persia and reached the distant parts of the East and the West. Numerous biographies, as well as commentaries on his works, have been written after his death. Beginning from Daulat Shah, who wrote his biographical work a century after the poet’s death, there is a long list of biographies down to quite modern compilations like Raza Quli Khan’s ‘Majmaul Fusaha’ and ‘Riyazul Arfeen’.
But his best critical study is found in Shibli’s ‘Sherul Ajam’, written in Urdu. Among the notable Persian biographies of Hafiz are Daulat Shah’s ‘Memoirs of Poets’, Jami’s ‘Baharistan’Lutf Ali Beg’s ‘Atishkada’ (Fire Temple) and a quite modern biography ‘Majmaul Fusaha’ (Assembly of the Eloquents).
The number of commentaries on the poems of Hafiz in Persian, Turkish, and Urdu languages, is considerable. The three best commentaries in Turkish language are those of Sururi, Shami, and Sudi.
The poems of Hafiz, 693 in number have been translated into several Western languages, including English, German, French, and Latin. A translation of his complete work in German verse has been done by Rosenzweig Schwannan and in English prose by Wilberforce Clark. Of English verse translations of Hafiz, the largest is that of Herman Bickwell. But the greatest European poet influenced by Hafiz was Goethe (German) who dedicated a number of poems to Hafiz.
There has been a general practice in Persia and India of taking out auguries from ‘Diwan-i-Hafiz’ which have often proved to be true. Instances are common. Shah Abbas II, the Safavi Ruler of Persia (1642–67 A.C.) obtained the following augury from ‘Diwan-i-Hafiz’ regarding his intended campaign against Azerbaijan Province, of which Tabriz was the Capital.
“Thou has captured Iraq and Fars by thy verse, O Hafiz!
Come, for it now the turn of Baghdad and the time of Tabriz.”
The king at once decided in favor of the campaign which turned out to be completely successful.
The Mughal Emperor Jahangir has been a number of instances in his well-known ‘Memoirs’, in which the auguries taken out by him from ‘Diwan-iHafiz’ turned out to be true.
Hafiz died in 793 A.H. and was buried in a green orchard in the suburbs of Shiraz, which was later called after him as ‘Hafiziya’. His tomb was built by Abul Qasim Babar, the great-grandson of Tamerlane (Taimur) and further beautified by later rulers. It is now a place of recreation and pilgrimage for the visitors drawn from distant countries. The poet’s words have come out to be true :
“When thou passest by our tomb, seek a blessing, for it shall become a place of pilgrimage for the libertines of all the world”.
Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay on Persian Poetry, pays blowing tributes to Hafiz :
“Hafiz is the Prince of Persian Poets, and in his extraordinary gifts adds to some of the attributes of Pindar, Anacreon, Horace, and Bums, the insight of a mystic, that sometimes affords a deeper glance at Nature than belongs to either of these bards. He accosts all topics with an easy audacity”. “He only”, he says, “it’s fit for the company, who knows how to prize earthly happiness at the value of a nightcap. Our father Adam sold Paradise for two kernels of wheat; then blame me not, if I hold it dear at one grapestone”. He says to the Shah, “Thou who rulest afterward and thoughts which no ear has heard and no mind has thought, abide firm until thy young destiny tears off his blue coat from the old greybeard of the sky”.