Shams al-Din Hafiz Shirazi

(1321 - 1389 / Shiraz / Iran)

Biography of Shams al-Din Hafiz Shirazi

Shams al-Din Hafiz Shirazi poet

Very little is know about Hafiz of Shiraz, particularly his early life. His primary medium of expression was the ghazal, a Persian poetic form which, like the English sonnet, has been widely used since the early middle ages. Hafiz is considered an incomparable master of the form. His works comprise 500 ghazals, 42 Rubaiyees, and a few Ghaseedehs, composed over a period of 50 years. Hafiz did not compile his own poetry. Mohammad Golandaam, who also wrote a preface to his compilation, completed it in 813 A.H or 1410 a.d, some 21-22 years after Hafiz's death.

Immediately after Hafiz' death, many stories -some of mythical proportion- were woven around it; the air of mystery has lingered to this day.

He was born in the central Iranian city of Isfahan, somewhere between 1317 and 1326 CE. His father, who was a coal merchant, moved the family to Shiraz while Hafiz was still a child and died early in the boy’s life. The family was left in serious debt; he and his mother went to live with an uncle. Despite leaving day school at one point, Hafiz managed to become quite well educated; fluent in both Arabic and Persian, he memorized the Qur’an at an early age ('Hafiz' or 'Hafez' is a title given to those who have memorized the Qur’an). He is said to have worked as a copyist, in a drapery shop, and in a bakery, where he delivered bread to the wealthy quarter of town (where tradition suggests that he met Shakh-e Nabat (the name means 'Branch of Sugar-cane'), a young woman to whom many of his poems are addressed to her).

In his twenties, he married and fathered one child. According to tradition, in pursuit of his beloved, he kept a forty day and night vigil at the tomb of Baba Kuhi. After completing this, he met his spiritual master, Attar of Shiraz, and became his disciple. From his early twenties to early thirties, he acquired the support of courtly patrons and became a poet of the court of Abu Ishak, gaining subsequent fame and influence in Shiraz. This has been called the phase of "Spiritual Romanticism" in his poetry. Later in life, he became professor of Koranic studies at a college in Shiraz.

When Mubariz Muzaffar captured Shiraz, he ousted Hafiz from his teaching position. At this time he wrote protest poems. In the events that followed, Shah Shuja took Muzaffar (who was his father) as prisoner, and re-instated Hafiz. He began his phase of subtle spirituality in his poetry. Around the age of 48, Hafiz fell out favour with Shuja, and fled Shiraz for his safety, going into self-imposed exile in Isfahan. Poems of this time speak talk of his longing for Shiraz, for Shakh-e Nabat, and for his spiritual Master, Attar.

By invitation of Shah Shuja, he ended his exile and returned to Shiraz, where he was again re-instated to his post at the College.

Age 60 Longing to be united with his Creator, he began a forty day and night vigil by sitting in a circle that he had drawn himself.

Age 60 On the morn of the fortieth day of his vigil, which was also on the fortieth anniversary of meeting his Master Attar, he went to his Master, and upon drinking a cup of wine that Attar gave him, he attained Cosmic Consciousness or God-Realization.

In his sixties, Hafiz composed more than half of his ghazals, and taught a small circle of disciples. As tradition states, he began a forty day and night vigil at the age of thirty, longing to be united with his creator; upon completion of the vigil, he met his Master Attar, who gave him a cup of wine to drink. Having drunk the wine, Hafiz attained 'Cosmic Consciousness' or 'God-Realization' His poetry at this time talks with the authority of a Master who is united with God.

Hafiz is said to have died sometime between 1389 and 1390, reputedly at the age of 69. He was buried in the Musalla Gardens of Shiraz, on the banks of his beloved Ruknabad river.

Hafiz only composed when he was divinely inspired, and therefore he averaged only about 10 Ghazals per year. His focus was to write poetry worthy of the Beloved.

To this day, Hafiz's Divan (Poetry) is used by many as for guidance and direction. Over the centuries, there have been many attempts to translate the subtleties of Hafiz's Persian verse into English. By all accounts even the best translations have been only partially successful; some translators have translated Hafiz directly from the Persian, others have adapted their poetry from the work of other translators.

Quotes, on Hafiz' poetry:

"In his poetry Hafiz has inscribed undeniable truth indelibly ... Hafiz has no peer!" Goethe

"You may remember the old Persian saying, 'There is danger for him who taketh the tiger cub, and danger also for whosoever snatches a delusion from a woman.' There is as much sense in Hafiz as in Horace, and as much knowledge of the world" Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"... Hafiz is as highly esteemed by his countrymen as Shakespeare by us, and deserves as serious consideration" A. J. Arberry

"Hafiz defies you to show him or put him in a condition inopportune or ignoble ... He fears nothing. He sees too far; he sees throughout; such is the only man I wish to see or be." Emerson

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