The Last Poet I Loved: Hafez
Hafez (sometimes spelled Hafiz) was an Iranian poet of the 14th century CE. His poems are still recited throughout the Middle East, and in Iran October 11 is Hafez Day. Off the top of my head, I can’t even name an English-speaking poet of the 14th century (Chaucer?) – certainly not one who has an official holiday here in America.
He is known for his love poetry; or perhaps that should be Love poetry, because Love is paramount and not, seemingly, attached to any particular people (male or female.) Technically he writes about his love for God . . . but that’s like saying that Keith Richards can play guitar. One English translation of his poems is called “Angels Knocking on the Tavern Door.” That is just one of the entrancing things about his work: it comes from a world where angels and taverns coexist – and by extension, a world where poetry coexists with the mundane.
Hafez has the reputation of a rebel (which I have to admit is one of the things I most enjoy about him.) Many of his poems praise wine, which is forbidden in Islam, and criticize the hypocrisy of stricter religious practitioners than himself. But I believe it’s accurate to say that he was still first and foremost a Muslim. The name “Hafez” was actually a title given to those who have memorized the Quran, and his poems not only praise Allah; they also contain frequent references to religious figures and stories.
Hafez situates himself within Islam with lines such as these:
In Adam’s day, in Paradise, the poetry of Hafez
was written on the petals of the red rose and the white.
That one sentence gives us so much to think about. He’s saying that his poetry has existed since the dawn of creation. Where was he? Was it waiting for him? How did he get ahold of it? Perhaps he’s saying that he has been to Paradise and is only copying down the poems he read there. He is definitely saying that this poetry which he claims as his own, the poetry of Hafez, is the absolute best. Who else would ever make such a claim?
He asserts that poetry was one of God’s original creations, that it grew in the Garden of Eden like a rose. Therefore it is not surprising that poems which have lasted as long as that are still remembered by ordinary people in Iran today.