The Life of Hafiz
There has always been an air of mystery
surrounding the life of Hafiz. One reason for this is that relatively little
is known about the details of his life. The problem is not unique to Hafiz.
Browne (1920) laments, in regard to Hafiz and other Persian authors, "…the lack of authentic particulars as to the lives and
characters of these poets is a very discouraging feature of our quest. Most of
the anecdotes...are trivial or fictitious, and, save for what
can be gleaned from their verses (where again we are often hampered by the lack
of anything approaching a critical edition), we are finally driven to admit that
we know very little indeed about most of them. They were generally poor men,
often socially obscure, and as such were completely ignored by contemporary
historians, while all that later generations could do was, as a rule, to string
together a few more or less trivial anecdotes, evidently constructed in many
cases to explain or illustrate passages in their poems" (pp. 210).
After offering a brief disclaimer,
often like Browne’s above, most authors construct a general outline of the
life of Hafiz which goes something like the following. He was born in the
central Iranian city of Isfahan, somewhere between 1317 and 1326 CE. His father,
a merchant, moved the family to Shiraz while Hafiz was still a child and died
early in the boy’s life. Though the loss of his father put the family in
difficult circumstances, Hafiz managed to become quite well educated, being
fluent in both Arabic and Persian, and memorizing the Qur’an at an early age
(the pen name ‘Hafiz’ is a title given to one who has committed the Islamic
holy book to memory.) He is said to have worked as a copyist (examples of his work have been preserved)
and a baker’s apprentice before acquiring the support of courtly patrons, and
later in life he became a professor of religious studies at a college in Shiraz
(Wickens, 1965). He is said to have died sometime between 1389 and 1390 and was
buried in the beautiful Musalla Gardens of Shiraz, on the banks of Hafiz’s
beloved Ruknabad river (Gray, 1995, pp. 1-2).
The earliest witness to Hafiz
is the preface to the first collection of his poems. This collection, written by
a friend and contemporary named Muhammad Gulandam, is the first to collect all
of Hafiz’s work into one volume. Gulandam praises Hafiz's genius, his
celebrity, and his compassionate nature and lists among Hafiz's preoccupations
the "...diligent study of the Qur'an, constant attendance to the King's
business, annotation of the Kashaf
and the Misbah..." (Browne, 1920, pp. 272). and various other
literary pursuits that kept him from collecting and editing his own poetry.
Gulandam then goes on to explain that, despite repeated requests that Hafiz
collect all of his poems into one volume, "With this request...he was
unable to comply, alleging lack of appreciation on the part of his
contemporaries as an excuse, until he bade farewell to this life..."(pp.
Tradition, probably based on references
in the ghazals themselves, suggests that Hafiz was in love with a woman
that he referred to as "the Branch of Sugar-cane." Browne makes
reference to this. "For the statement that he fell in love with and
ultimately married a girl called Shak-i-Nabat
("Branch of Sugar-cane") there is no weighty authority...That he
married and had several children is probable" (Browne, 1920, pp. 287-88).
The probability of his marriage is also based on hints found in individual ghazals.
One ghazal seems to refer to the death of his wife, another to the death
of a son.
Aside from this brief sketch there is
little known about the details of the life of Hafiz, leaving much room for
mystery and speculation. Perhaps it is better that way, for Hafiz, 'The Interpreter of
Mysteries,' 'The Tongue of the Hidden,' has always been most at home in the
evocative realm of myth and legend.