AKA Khajé Shams-ed-Din Mohammad
Birthplace: Shiraz, Fars, Iran
Location of death: Shiraz, Fars, Iran
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Hafez Memorial, Shiraz, Fars, Iran
Religion: Shia Muslim
Race or Ethnicity: Middle Eastern
Executive summary: Prominent Persian poet
Shams-ud-din Mahommed Hafez, better known by his takhallus (nom de plume) of Hafiz, was one of the most celebrated writers of Persian lyrical poetry. He was born at Shiraz, the capital of Fars, in the early part of the 8th century of the Mahommedan era, that is to say, in the 14th century AD. The exact date of his birth is uncertain, but he attained a ripe old age and died in 791 AH (AD 1388). This is the date given in the chronogram which is engraved on his tomb, although several Persian biographers give a different year. Very little is actually known about his life, which appears to have been passed in retirement in Shiraz, of which he always speaks in terms of affectionate admiration. He was a subject of the Muzaffar princes, who ruled in Shiraz, Yazd, Kirman and Ispaban, until the dynasty was overthrown by Tamerlane. Of these princes his especial patrons were Shah Shuja and Shah Mansur. He early devoted himself to the study of poetry and theology, and also became learned in mystic philosophy, which he studied under Shaik Mahmud Attar, chief of an order of dervishes. Hafiz afterwards enrolled himself in the same order and became a professor of Koranic exegesis in a college which his friend and patron Haji Kiwam-ud-din, the vizier, specially founded for him. This was probably the reason of his adopting the sobriquet of Hafiz ("one who remembers"), which is technically applied to any person who has learned the Koran by heart. The restraints of an ascetic life seem to have been very little to Hafiz's taste, and his loose conduct and propensity for wine drew upon him the severe censure of his monastic colleagues. In revenge he satirizes them unmercifully in his verses, and seldom loses an opportunity of alluding to their hypocrisy. Hafiz's fame as a poet was soon rapidly spread throughout the Muslim world, and several powerful monarchs sent him presents and pressing invitations to visit them. Amongst others he was invited by Mahmud Shah Bahmani, who reigned in the south of India. After crossing the Indus and passing through Lahore he reached Hurmuz, and embarked on board a vessel sent for him by the Indian prince. He seems, however, to have been a bad sailor, and, having invented an excuse for being put ashore, made the best of his way back to Shiraz. Some biographies narrate a story of an interview between Hafiz and the invader Tamerlane. The latter sent for him and asked angrily, "Are you he who was so bold as to offer my two great cities Samarkand and Bokhara for the black mole on thy mistress's cheek?" alluding to a well-known verse in one of his odes. "Yes, sire", replied Hafiz, "and it is by such acts of generosity that I have brought myself to such a state of destitution that I have now to solicit your bounty." Tamerlane was so pleased at his ready wit that he dismissed the poet with a handsome present. Unfortunately for the truth of this story Tamerlane did not capture Shiraz until AD 1393, while the latest date that can be assigned to Hafiz's death is 1391. Of his private life little or nothing is known. One of his poems is said to record the death of his wife, another that of a favorite unmarried son, and several others speak of his love for a girl called "Shakh i Nabat" ("sugarcane branch"), and this is almost all of his personal history that can be gathered from his writings. He was, like most Persians, a Shi'ite by religion, believing in the transmission of the office of Imam (head of the Muslem Church) in the family of Ali, cousin of the Prophet Muhammad, and rejecting the Hadith (traditional sayings) of Muhammad, which form the Sunna or supplementary code of Muslim canon law. One of his odes which contains a verse in praise of Ali is engraved on the poet's tomb, but is omitted by Sudi, the Turkish editor and commentator, who was himself a rigid Sunnite. Hafiz's heretical opinions and dissipated life caused difficulties to be raised by the ecclesiastical authorities on his death as to his interment in consecrated ground. The question was at length settled by Hafiz's own works, which had then already begun to be used, as they are now throughout the East, for the purposes of divination, in the same manner as Virgil was employed in the middle ages for the divination called Sortes Virgilianae. Opening the book at random after pronouncing the customary formula asking for inspiration, the objectors hit upon the following verse -- "Turn not away thy foot from the bier of Hafiz, for though immersed in sin, he will be admitted into Paradise." He was accordingly buried in the center of a small cemetery at Shiraz, now included in an enclosure called the Hafiziyeh.
His principal work is the Diwan, that is, a collection of short odes or sonnets called ghazals, and consisting of from five to sixteen baits or couplets each, all the couplets in each ode having the same rhyme in the last hemistich, and the last couplet always introducing the poet's own nom de plume. The whole of these are arranged in alphabetical order, an arrangement which certainly facilitates reference but makes it absolutely impossible to ascertain their chronological order, and therefore detracts from their value as a means of throwing light upon the growth and development of his genius or the incidents of his career. They are often held together by a very slender thread of continuous thought, and few editions agree exactly in the order of the couplets. Still, a careful study of them, especially from the point of view indicated by the Sufiistic system of philosophy, will always show that a single idea does run throughout the whole. The nature of these poems has been the subject of much discussion in the West, some scholars seeing in their anacreontic utterances nothing but sensuality and materialism, while others, following the Oriental school, maintain that they are wholly and entirely mystic and philosophic. Something between the two would probably be nearer the truth. It must be remembered that Hafiz was a professed dervish and Sufi, and that his ghazals were in all probability published from a takia, and arranged with at least a view to Sufiistic interpretation. At the same time it is ridiculous to suppose that the glowing imagery, the gorgeous and often tender descriptions of natural beauties, the fervent love passages, and the roystering drinking songs were composed in cool blood or with deliberate ascetic purpose. The beauty of Hafiz's poetry is that it is natural. It is the outcome of a fervent soul and a lofty genius delighting in nature and enjoying life; and it is the poet's misfortune that he lived in an age and amongst a people where rigid conventionality demanded that his free and spontaneous thoughts should be recast in an artificial mould.
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