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The Legends of Hafiz

(This story is an excerpt from the introduction to Paul Smith's translation of the divan of Hafiz and is used by permission of the author.)

Hafiz was twenty one years old in 1341, and was still working in the bakery and studying at night. He had memorized the Koran and had adopted the pen-name for the occasional poem that he wrote but until this time had not gained much success as a poet. He had become skilled in jurisprudence and had learnt all the sciences, including mathematics and astronomy. For the past ten years he had been constantly studying all of the great poets and the lives and works of the great Spiritual Masters. He was fluent in Arabic and had also learnt Turkish. He was still small and ugly and was the occasional topic of jokes told by his fellow workers and friends. They also found his attempts at writing poetry to be something to laugh at. Hafiz took it all in his good-natured way, but underneath his jovial exterior, his heart had begun to boil with anger and frustration.

Then, one day at the bakery, one of the workers who delivered the bread was sick, and Hafiz had to deliver the bread to a certain quarter of Shiraz where the prosperous citizens lived. While taking the bread to a particular mansion, Hafiz's eyes fell upon the form of a young woman who was standing on one of the mansion's balconies. Her name was Shakh-i-Nabat which means 'Branch of Sugarcane'. Her beauty immediately intoxicated Hafiz and he fell hopelessly in love with her. Her beauty had such a pro- found effect on him that he almost lost consciousness. At night he could not sleep and he no longer felt like eating. He learnt her name and he began to praise her in his poems. Ghazal 53, couplets 1, 2 and 6:

Lord, that bright candle lights the night of whose dwelling?
Our soul burns while asking this: "That is whose darling?"

That one overturns my heart and my faith and my religion.
That's whose bedmate, I want to know; with whom is living?

0 Lord, one so regal, face like the moon, forehead of Venus,
Is whose peerless pearl and whose jewel beyond comparing?

Hafiz heard that she had been promised in marriage to a prince of Shiraz and realized how hopeless was his quest for her love. Still, the vision of her beauty filled his heart, and his thoughts were constantly with her. Then one day he remembered the famous 'promise of Baba Kuhi.' Baba Kuhi was a Perfect Master-Poet who had died in Shiraz in 1050 A.D., and had been buried about four miles from Shiraz, at a place called 'Pir-i-sabz,' meaning 'the green old man,' on a hill named after Baba Kuhi. The promise that Baba Kuhi had given before he died was that if anyone could stay awake for forty consecutive nights at his tomb he would be granted the gift of poetry, immortality, and his heart's desire. Hafiz, interested in the third of these three, vowed to keep this vigil that no one had yet been able to keep.

Every day Hafiz would go to work at the bakery, then he would eat, and then walk past the house of Shakh-i-Nabat, who had heard some of the poems that he had composed in praise of her. She had noticed him passing her window every afternoon, each day more weary, but with a fire in his eyes that had lit the lamp of her heart for him. By this time Hafiz was in a kind of trance. Everything that he did was automatic, and the only thing that kept him going was the fire in his heart and his determination to keep the lonely vigil.

Slowly he dragged his tired, small ugly body towards the mansion of Shakh-i-Nabat. She saw him coming and left the house; on meeting him, she declared that she preferred a man of genius to the son of a king. But Hafiz could not stop, for all that he was conscious of was that he had to light the lamp for the fortieth time and keep awake until morning. He tore himself from her and stumbled towards the hill.

Early the next morning the Angel Gabriel (some say Khizer) appeared to him. Gabriel gave Hafiz a cup to drink which contained the Water of immortality, and declared that Hafiz had also received the gift of poetry. Then Gabriel asked Hafiz to express his heart's desire. All the time that this was happening, Hafiz could not take his eyes off Gabriel. So great was the beauty of the Angel that Hafiz had forgotten the beauty of Shakh-i-Nabat. After Gabriel had asked the question, Hafiz thought: "If Gabriel the Angel of God is so beautiful, then how much more beautiful God must be." Hafiz answered Gabriel: "I want God!" On hearing this, Gabriel directed Hafiz to a certain street in Shiraz where there was a shop selline, fruit and perfumes that was owned by a man named Mohammed Attar. Gabriel said that Attar was the Perfect Master, a God-realised soul, who had sent Gabriel for Hafiz's sake, and that if Hafiz would serve Attar faithfully, then Attar promised that one day Hafiz would attain his heart's desire.

The Angel left Hafiz as he made his way through the waking city to the shop of the man who was a Perfect Master and who was awaiting his arrival. On entering the shop, Attar embraced Hafiz and congratulated him on keeping the vigil and accepted him as his disciple. He told him to be patient in his quest, to obey him explicitly, to keep on writing poetry and to keep Attar's identity a secret. Throughout the whole of Hafiz's Divan (collection of poems) there is not one mention of his Master's name, but Hafiz is con- stantly singing his praises and in one poem refers to him as 'Rose colour'... (pp. 14-16).

...Hafiz returned to Shiraz vowing that he would never again leave the city that he loved and never again leave his Master, Attar. During the foll- owing year, 1380, Hafiz constantly complained that he had not yet rec- eived the gift of God-realization that Attar had promised him thirty nine years previously. Again Attar told Hafiz to be patient and in reply Hafiz wrote ghazal 490; couplets 6 and 8:

Bitter is this patience and so fleeting is this life of mine.
How long will I experience this, how long will I remain.

Hafiz, why do you complain if it is Union you desire?
In season and out, griefs cup of blood you must drain.

One day in 1381 Hafiz went to visit Attar. Hafiz's patience had come to an end. When he was alone with Attar he began to weep and when his Master asked him why he was weeping, Hafiz through desperation cried out: "What have I gained by being your obedient disciple for nearly forty years?" Attar replied: "Be patient and one day you will know.',' Hafiz cried: "I knew I would get that answer from you," and left the room.

it was exactly forty days before the end of their forty year relationship. Hafiz went home and entered a circle that he drew on the ground. Through love and desperation he had decided to enter self-imposed 'Chehel-a-Nash- ini,' in which the lover of God sits within a circle for forty days and if the lover of God can succeed in this difficult practice, God will grant what- ever he desires. The love and strength and bravery of Hafiz was so great that he succeeded in never leaving the circle, no matter what God had in store for him.

On the fortieth night Attar again sent to him the form of the Angel Gabriel as he had done forty years earlier, who asked him what was his heart's desire. Hafiz replied: "My only desire is to wait on the pleasure of my Master's wish."

Before dawn appeared on the last day Hafiz left the circle and rushed towards the house of his Master, Mohammed Attar. Attar met him at the door and embraced him, gave him a drink of two year old wine and made him God-realized. Hafiz had finally attained his heart's desire after forty long years. Ghazal 210 couplet 2:

For forty years I suffered difficulty and anguish, and finally I
Was to find the outcome in wine that for two years was aging.

Immediately after Hafiz regained normal consciousness, after gaining Realization of his own True Self, he composed the following poems which are three of his most famous ghazals. Ghazal 192 couplet 1:

Separation day and severance night from Beloved at last is ended;
This grief, as lucky star has passed and my fortune cast, is ended.

Ghazal 217 couplets 1, 6 and 8:

Praise be to God what wonderful wealth's given to me tonight;
Because my Divine Beloved came to me, quite suddenly, tonight.

My blood will write 'I am The Truth' (Anal Haq) on the earth,
If like Mansur they kill me on the gallows mercilessly tonight.

All the time I'm frightened that Hafiz will be lost, obliterated;
Because each moment I'm in possession Of such ecstasy tonight.

Ghazal 218 couplets 1, 3 and 13:

Last night before dawn, freedom from all suffering They gave me;
In the darkness of night, Water of Life-everlasting, They gave me.

What a fortunate dawn and joyful night was that Night of Power
When the Supreme Authority of God's Commanding They gave me.

Hafiz, rejoice, rejoice then thankfully scatter the sugar of thanks:
Realization of the Divine Beloved, sweetly swaying, They gave me.

During the remaining eight years of his life, Hafiz wrote half of the poems that bear his name. He no longer wrote of his desire for the Beloved, for now he was the Beloved. He wrote of the Unity of God, of the temporality of the world and its works and of the stages of the Path to God-realization and, he gave advice to others how to best avoid the traps of the Path. The poems written after Realization are written from the Authority of Divine Knowledge and have a Perfect detachment and Merciful involvement that sets them apart from the other poems that were written from various stages on the road to Truth. (pp. 34-36)

Works Cited

Smith, P. (1986). Divan of Hafiz.  Melbourne: New Humanity Books.

Copyright 1986 Paul Smith.  


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