The Divan of Hafiz

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The Divan of Hafiz


The collected poems of Hafiz of Shiraz compiled in the alphabetical order of the final letters of the various end-rhymes; composed in fourteenth-century Persia; published in English in 1891.


A collection of numerous multilayered poems, the Divan consists primarily of sonnet-like verses (ghazals) quatrains (ruba‘is), and a few miscellaneous odes (qasidas) and fragments (qit‘as). Strong mystical themes abound, along with social criticism and philosophical and intellectual insights.

Events in History at the Time of the Divan

The Divan in Focus

For More Information

Shams al-Din Muhammad Hafiz (nickname: Khwaja, or nobleman; surname: Hafiz, or the one who has memorized the Holy Quran) was born in the city of Shiraz (in the present-day province of Fars in Iran), probably in 1326 or 1327. He died there in 1389 or 1390. In his youth, the future poet received specialized training from the leading teachers and scholars of the city. A superb student, he concentrated on Quranic studies and theology, philosophy, music, the natural sciences, and poetics. Hafiz won the support of powerful characters at successive local courts in Shiraz and wrote a number of panegyrics in praise of regional rulers. In his divan, or collected poems, (spelled with a v for Persian pronunciation) are a number of allusions and references to historical figures and incidents. An acknowledged master of the intricacies of the Persian language, Hafiz produced harmonic melodies that demonstrate the subtlety and sophistication of his thoughts and sensibilities and that have few, if any, rivals in the entire tradition of Persian poetry. His poetry also shows that Hafiz had a strong predilection for philosophy. He was well informed about the intellectual trends of his day, and his own ideas challenge the contours of conventional thought about the essence of love, life, society, justice, and the purpose of human existence. Hafiz mainly wrote ghazals (sonnet-like poems of between five and fifteen couplets, in which each couplet is composed of two lines with a rhyme pattern aa, ba, ca, and so forth). It has been argued that each individual verse in a ghazal should convey a complete thought, and that just as the string of pearls on a thread makes a necklace, the combination of independent verses produces a ghazal. Conventionally, as in Hafiz’s poems, the poet mentions his penname (takhallus) in the final verse (maqta). Many individual couplets of Hafiz’s ghazals have become notable aphorisms over time, leading to the contention that Hafiz’s ghazals possess some disparate couplets with independent meaning and thus lack coherence and overall thematic unity. A closer look at his divan indicates some truth to this assertion, yet often there is also a loose thematic unity that binds the individual couplets of each of Hafiz’s ghazals. We know almost nothing of his life outside his poetry, which has given rise to the tendency to extract biographical information from his ghazals.

Events in History at the Time of the Divan

The Mongol/Il-Khan invasion of Persia

During his lifetime, Hafiz witnessed some momentous events in the long history of Persia. Except for a couple of brief trips, the poet lived and wrote exclusively in Shiraz, a city fortunate enough to escape the first and most destructive Mongol onslaught a century earlier. Persia was less than a priority to the Mongol chief Genghis Khan (d. 1227), whose attention was transfixed instead by China and central Asia. However, Persia became a focus of the Mongols when Ghenghis’s grandson Mongke entrusted the expedition into western Asia to his brother Hulegu. Hulegu’s army encountered two potent adversaries: the Ismallis (a militant Shf ite sect, later known in the West as the Order of the Assassins) in Persia proper and the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad. In 1256, the Assassins’ fortress of Alamut “offered a desperate resistance to the onslaughts of the Central Asian hordes and only succumbed after a prolonged siege. The leader of the sect, known as The Old Man of the Mountain’ (Shaykh al-Jabal), was executed forthwith” (Spuler, p. 18). After breaking the power of the Ismallis in Persia and subduing the resistance of a few fief-doms on his way, Hulegu marched straight to the city of Baghdad. His men seized and destroyed the city in February 1258, and he executed the caliph. For all practical purposes, Abbasid power evaporated, though it continued nominally for some time to come. The Arabic rulers of Egypt, the Mamluks, successfully checked Hulegu’s invasions, though it was primarily internal rivalries among the Mongol leaders that stopped their western expansion. Hulegu finally settled in northwestern Persia and was given the title of II-Khan (viceroy) by his brother Kublai Khan, the new Great Khan. The kingdom he established in western Asia (with Persia as its center) was called the Il-Khanate.

The Il-Khans were originally adverse to Islam, the faith of most of their Persian subjects at the time. Nonetheless, within a few decades, Islam had spread widely among the Mongols, especially the ruling elites. When Ghazan Khan acceded to the throne in November 1295, he acknowledged Islam to be the official religion of the state. Many ordinary Mongols who had remained on Persian soil since the first wave of invasions followed their king and converted to Islam. With little knowledge of the basic tenets of the religion, the erstwhile shamanistic Mongols were drawn to the mystical (Sufi) forms of Islam rather than its more legalistic (shari’ah) forms. The last great II-Khan, Abu Sa’id, ruled until 1335, relying for assistance on prominent Persian viziers (ministers). He left no heir, and upon his death, the house of Hulegu fell into rapid decline.

From the disintegration of the Il-Khans to the appearance of the conqueror Timur in the 1380s, Persia witnessed the rule of various rival princely houses—from the Jalayirids, the Muzaffarids, and the Injuids in western Persia to the Karts and Sarbadars in the Khurasan region in the East. In this period of sociopolitical confusion and disorder, “the tyranny of petty princes, bloody conflicts between local powers, and devastating invasions were a constant menace, not only to the general well-being, but to people’s very existence” (Roemer, p. 2). There are a number of direct and indirect references to these contemporary realities in Hafiz’s work. The following verses, for example, clearly refer to the state of affairs in his time:

In these times, the only perfect friend
Is a vessel of pure wine and a book of ghazals ...
To reason’s eye, in this tumultuous pathway
The world and all its affairs are groundless and volatile.
         (Hafiz, Divan, pp. 113-14; trans. W. Ahmadi)

In another poem Hafiz writes, “I said to a clever one, ’Observe this state of affairs!’/’A harsh day,’ he laughed and said, ’an odd matter, a troubled world!’” (Divan, p. 350; trans. W. Ahmadi).

Social commentary, the poetic way

In marked contrast to the political and social state of affairs, the fourteenth century proved to be an especially dynamic and productive period of literary activity in Persia. A reason for the flourishing of poetry was “the existence of numerous small courts that competed with each other in attracting literati” (Schimmel, “Hafiz and His Contemporaries,” p. 930). Hafiz was one of the major figures on the literary scene during this period. A close reading of his ghazals, with particular attention to his allusions and references to political figures and events, sheds important light on the history of his time. Hafiz was very young when the Il-Khan rule disintegrated. The province of Fars (with Shiraz as its capital) and its neighboring areas fell into the hands of the Inju dynasty. The poet himself was quite favorably inclined towards the last of the Injuid rulers, Shah Shaykh Abu Ishaq. In a number of famous ghazals, Hafiz praises him (along with his vizier Qivam al-Din Hasan). A man of letters and a patron of poets, Abu Ishaq was quite tolerant regarding religious requisites and practices. Prompted by the liberal atmosphere of the times, Sufi lodges (khanaqahs) flourished in and around Shiraz.

The Inju rule was threatened by the rival dynasty of Muzaffarids, centered in Yazd. In 1353, when Hafiz was in his late twenties, the Muzaffarid chief, Mubariz al-Din, invaded the poet’s hometown of Shiraz. A ruthless, dogmatic Muslim, he prohibited sama (Sufi dancing), closed down all the taverns and brothels, and harshly prosecuted those who breached social and moral edicts, like wine drinkers. His austere interpretation of Islam made him detestable to many residents of Shiraz. In several poems, Hafiz criticizes Mubariz al-Din’s rule and decries his hypocrisy:

Will they ever unlock the doors of taverns
And undo the knot from our muddled affairs? ...
They have closed down the tavern door, O God,
Do not allow them to open the door of insincerity and duplicity.
           (Divan, p. 196; trans. W. Ahmadi)

In 1358 the austere ruler’s oldest son, Shah Shuja, in collaboration with some of his brothers, overthrew his father and subsequently blinded him. He relaxed his father’s policies, especially with regard to religious requirements and practices. Hafiz did not approve the manner in which the son replaced the father, but the poet welcomed the termination of Mubariz al-Din’s reign and the new, more liberal atmosphere in his hometown:

At daybreak, the guardian angel chanted the good news into my ear:
“It is the reign of Shah Shuja’. Drink wine valiantly!
“Gone are the times when men of insight were shunned,
A thousand words in their mouths but their lips tied.
         (Divan, p. 238; trans. W. Ahmadi)

Hafiz wrote many songs of praise to Shah Shuja, who, himself being a poet, appreciated Hafiz’s work. Shah Shuja died in 1384. Thereafter, internecine struggles resurfaced among his descendants and facilitated the occupation of Persia by the next conqueror, Timur, who eventually executed some 70 Muzaffarid princes in Shiraz. Legend has it that Hafiz met the new conqueror, but the legend, in the words of E. G. Browne, is “more celebrated than authentic” (Browne, p. 282).

Sufism in fourteenth-century Persia

Sufism refers to mystical consciousness derived from the principle of inner knowledge whereby intuitive revelation (kashf) becomes the highest and the best source of cognition. According to a prominent scholar of Islamic mysticism,

The reality that is the goal of the mystic, and is ineffable, cannot be understood or explained by any normal mode of perception; neither philosophy nor reason can reveal it. Only the wisdom of the heart, gnosis, may give insight into some of its aspects. A spiritual experience that depends upon neither sensual nor rational methods is needed. Once the seeker has set forth upon the way to this Last Reality, he will be led by an inner light.

(Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions, p. 4)

Contributing to the development of Sufism were such diverse influences as the pre-Islamic religions, Manichean doctrines, Christian monasticism, Indian asceticism, Gnosticism, Greek neo-Platonism, even Central Asian shamanism. But the main formative components came from Islam, the Quran, and the Prophet’s sayings and deeds. Part of the reason for this development was that “Muhammad’s Prophetic consciousness... was founded upon very definite, vivid, and powerful mystic experiences” (Rahman, p. 138).

By the fourteenth century, in much of the Islamic world, Sufism had become institutionalized as a discipline, just like philosophy and theology. Scattered throughout Persia in Hafiz’s day were numerous Sufi lodges, signifying how important a social and cultural force Sufism had become. Even people with no clear Sufi affiliation who were discontent with the strict interpretation of Islamic doctrines inclined towards the khanaqahs. There is some evidence that “Hafiz used to attend the meetings of a Sufi master, and was seen by an Indian Sufi visitor as an Uwaysi, that is to say a mystic who obtains guidance from absent or dead teachers” (Baldick, p. 100). Based on a number of references in his divan, it is probably true that Hafiz was attached to one of the Sufi orders (tariqahs) in Shiraz, at least at some point in his life.

Religious commentary, or not?

In the context of Persian poetry, Sufism is essentially connected with a complete and often ingenious frame of reference whereby sensuous words and images convey hidden, mystical thought. For instance, wine represents spiritual ecstasy, the beloved refers to the Divinity, the tavern is the Sufi lodge, and the Magi (in the person of the tavern keeper) is the spiritual guide who introduces the seeker to the arduous Sufi path. Using the conventional Sufi code book, one could interpret Hafiz’s divan mystically, and many scholars of classical Persian poetry have studied it in terms of the mystical meanings and allusions. Yet, although Sufi phrases, symbolism, imagery, and metaphors abound in his compositions, Hafiz’s relation with Sufism was essentially an ambivalent one. His Sufi terminology, to take one aspect, “may easily be interpreted as non-mystical and allude to actual rather than spiritual matters” (Meisami, p. 25). While many scholars see only a purely mystical meaning in Hafiz’s ghazals, others find in his work only sensual love, profane sentiments, and sheer hedonism. The complexity of Hafiz’s poetic universe in the Divan evades either a clear mystical interpretation or a purely earthly reading. This is directly related to the texture of Persian lyrics, where “poetry provides almost unlimited possibilities for creating new relations between worldly and otherworldly images, between religious and profane ideas; the talented poet may reach a perfect interplay of both levels and make even the most profane poem bear a distinct ’religious’ flavor” (Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions, p. 288). Given this overall tendency, ambiguity laces the work of many classical poets, but “the ambiguity is certainly much stronger, and intentionally so, in the poetry of Hafiz than in that of others” (Bürgel, p. 27). The multifaceted quality of his work endows any given image with diverse meanings and invites the reader to interpret Hafiz in a variety of ways. As Biirgel maintains, “in the poetical universe of Hafiz, one verse contradicts the other, one interpretation is belied by another and this by a third one, all of which can point to a number of verses in their support” (Bürgel, p. 35).

It follows that reducing the poetic language of Hafiz to the usual stock-in-trade Sufi connotations does it a grave injustice. Furthermore, the designation of the poet himself as a Sufi becomes problematic when one considers his many trenchant and sarcastic references to the conduct and deeds of “deceitful” Sufis, “fraudulent” mystics, and “hypocritical” ascetics.

The Divan in Focus

Contents overview

The Divan of Hafiz contains about 500 ghazals on a variety of themes and topics, both mystical and profane. In addition to poems of a profound philosophical and mystical nature, Hafiz wrote several panegyrics to rulers and leaders of Shiraz, poems describing nature, poems with ethical and moral themes, and poems that reveal his significant social awareness. A few of the poems do not belong to any conventional genre of Persian verse.

A central theme that affects all other themes and assumes an unusually prominent place in the poetic universe of Hafiz is love. According to the Sufi doctrine, ishq or love (the word is hardly an exact translation) refers to an intuitive process that entails the unwavering and creative striving of the human individual towards self-realization. The process occurs through the essential oneness of the lover (ashiq) and the beloved (ma’shuq), culminating in the annihilation (fana) of the former in the latter. Through the arduous achievement of annihilation, the lover attains attributes of the beloved and eventually realizes eternity (baqa). In other words, the path to eternity lies through annihilation.

Who is this beloved? Is the beloved ethereal or earthly? Scholars have long debated whether Hafiz’s beloved is divine or human, a prince or a commoner, a man or a woman. By Hafiz’s time, the secular, earthly love and the mystical, heavenly love had become symbolically indistinguishable. This is especially the case in Hafiz’s ghazals, where strong erotic expressions that characterize human love are often used to define the divine beloved (ma bud), the object of worship. In some poems, Hafiz clearly praises the secular ruler or the prince by using expressions that are similar to the divine beloved, on the one hand, and the earthly beloved, on the other hand.

Contents summary

The following ghazal —one of the few poems in the Divan that employs a narrative structure from start to end—contains some of the essential elements that preoccupied Hafiz’s poetic discourse. Here Hafiz privileges love and considers it to have been molded along with human substance since pre-eternity. The intuitive moment of the manifestation of the beloved (in this instance, the moment the divine beloved stirs emotions in the heart of the seeker) coincides with the appearance of an all-consuming love that sets the entire universe on fire.

In Pre-Eternity [when] the ray of your beauty manifested itself
Love appeared and set aflame the whole world.
Your face showed its splendor: it found that angels lacked love
It became like pure fire from fury and decided [instead] on Adam.
Reason wanted to ignite a lantern from that raging flame
[But] the radiance of fury flashed out and brought turmoil to the world.
[When] the pretender [profaner] wished to come to the arena of the secret
The hand of the Unseen struck the stranger.
All others cast the lot of their destiny with pleasure
But our afflicted heart drew only sorrow.
My noble spirit had fancied your dimple
So it placed its hand on the chains of your coiled and curled tresses.
Hafiz wrote the delightful book of your love
On the day when he erased the reasons for contentment.
         (Divan, p. 170; trans. W. Ahmadi)

As the poem suggests, the manifestation of the creator of the world in the pre-eternity was an instance of intense illumination derived from love. Precisely because of the power of love, Adam, the epitome of humanity, deserves to share God’s splendor while angels (who are devoid of love) do not. After all, as Hafiz writes in another ghazal, it was love that constituted the essence of humankind on the day God created Adam: “Praise God at the door of love’s tavern, o angel/For they ferment there the clay of Adam” (Divan, p. 195; trans. W. Ahmadi). More specifically, in the ghazal under consideration, Hafiz makes a reference to the constant opposition between love and reason. He privileges love and describes reason as a mere “pretender” and “stranger” utterly incapable of disentangling the “secret” of life.

As in many other instances in the Divan, a significant element in Hafiz’s concept of love can be found in the contrast between ishq (love) and aql (reason/intellect) whereby he points to the efficacy of the former and the futility of the latter. In another ghazal Hafiz maintains: “By way of analogy, the prudence of reason on the path of love/Is like a dew drop drawn on the surface of a sea” (Divan, p. 351; trans. W. Ahmadi). Hafiz especially reproves those who seek the “subtlety” of love through the “certainty” of reason: “O you who seek the sign of love in the book of reason /I fear you will never learn this subtlety with certainty” (Divan, p. 115; trans. W. Ahmadi). This is so because love is hardly an easy undertaking: while it is ultimately a most rewarding destination, its arduous path involves formidable challenges, including a great degree of anguish, sorrow, and pain. In numerous couplets, the Divan maintains that you must “Endure pain if you are our companion / For continuous pleasure and ease are not the way of love” (Divan, p. 351; trans. W. Ahmadi). Love is the fountain of human life, and whoever is not in love is merely a living dead: “Whosoever in this congregation is not alive by power of love / By my edict, recite his death prayer before his death” (Divan, p. 217; trans. W. Ahmadi). Elsewhere, Hafiz insists that love is the guarantor of permanence and immortality for the lover: “Never shall die he whose heart is animated with love / Our immortality is imprinted in the register of time” (Divan, p. 95; trans. W. Ahmadi). In what may sound paradoxical, despite the predominance of the theme of love in the Divan, Hafiz argues that the nature of love makes it virtually inexpressible and incommunicable. He also notes that language, given its nature as a system of communication, fails to encompass love in its entirety: “O’ you who take pride in love through discourse and speech/We have nothing to talk about, farewell!” (Divan, p. 138; trans. W. Ahmadi). This he shared with such Sufi poets as Rumi (Jalal al-Din Balkhi Rumi) and Farid al-Din Attar, who, finding language inadequate, expressed their desire to transcend it by privileging irony and paradoxes.

Transcending the contours of established Sufi discourse at this time, the poems in the Divan express social criticisms pertaining to the turbulent era in which Hafiz lived. In the following ghazal, Hafiz criticizes the hypocrisy, insincerity, and duplicity of the upholders of morality in his age:

Preachers who make an appearance on the pulpit
Do other than what they sermonize when they go into retreat.
I have a query for the learned man of the congregation:
Why do those prescribing repentance, themselves rarely repent?
I suppose they do not believe in the Judgment Day
For they so slip and swindle in the work of the Judge.
I am the slave of the old tavern keeper
Whose dervishes slight treasure for they are so rich in hearts.
His unlimited beauty kills so many devotees
Still, from the Unseen, multitudes rise in love.
          (Divan, pp. 194-95; trans. W. Ahmadi)

As much as Hafiz praises the “old tavern keeper,” he criticizes the indignant official representatives of the religious establishment. The elder (shaykh), the ascetic (zahid), the preacher (wa’iz), the theologian (faqih), the judge (qazi), the mufti (one who gives fatwas, or religious opinions, on legal and moral issues), the public inspector (muhtasib), and the sermonizer (imam) are objects of his derision. Hafiz insists that these authorities may adhere to the legalistic strictures of faith, but they lack love. The duplicitous nature of the official upholders of public morality is what Hafiz especially despises and attempts to reveal in his poetry. Proponents of dry, religious legalisms are no more than “surface-adorers,” with no substance of their own, precisely because they have shut their eyes to the magnitude and grandeur of love: “From Hafiz hear love’s tale, not from the preacher/Even if the preacher is very crafty in the use of words” (Divan, p. 195; trans. W. Ahmadi). Hafiz warns his readers, “Remember, love is the marker of the people of God/I see not this sign in the clergy of the town” (Divan, p. 282; trans. W. Ahmadi). The officially recognized Sufi is especially the object of sarcasm: “The Sufi devised a trap and opened his bag of tricks/He started to play with the deceptive trickster of the universe” (Divan, p. 160; trans. W. Ahmadi). Hafiz even recommends that the khirqah (patched frock) and dalq (coat) of the trite Sufi should be either burned to ashes or at least cleansed with pure wine: “A Sufi’s gold is not always lucid and clear/So many hhirqahs deserve to be put on fire!”; and, “No scent of candor comes from the present tablet/Rise up and cleanse the Sufi’s tarnished dalq with pure wine” (Divan, pp. 174, 361; trans. W. Ahmadi). Neither does the zahid escape his mockery.

The ostentatious ascetic knows not our plight
Whatever he says about us, we do not deny …
I am the slave of the old tavern keeper, whose courtesy is constant
whereas the good will of the shaykh and wa’iz is ephemeral.
          (Divan, p. 361; trans. W. Ahmadi)

Against those who condemn him for being anti-religion, Hafiz does not seem to mount a defense. He accepts his human imperfections but ingeniously insists on the principle of God’s unlimited forgiveness and leniency (since in Islam, God is, first and foremost, “benevolent” and “merciful”): “Go away, o’ man of devotion: my destination is paradise!/For it is the sinners who surely deserve forgiveness!” (Divan, p. 192; trans. W. Ahmadi). In another ghazal Hafiz declares with much confidence, “Last night the grace of God conveyed to me the good news:/’Come back, for I vouch that your sins will be forgiven’” (Divan, p. 192; trans. W. Ahmadi).

Human nature: free will and predestination

Hafiz’s sense of faith is essentially a philosophical and reflective one. Drawing upon his deep grasp of the ambiguity in theological discourse, he ponders human existence: “Our being is an enigma, O Hafiz,/Whose explication is a fiction and a fable” (Divan, p. 192; trans. W. Ahmadi). By insisting that human existence is an “enigma,” Hafiz questions the certainty with which proponents of religious dogma seem to address the human condition. In the meantime, despite his profoundly philosophical approach, his stance is characteristically speculative and suspicious of systematic philosophical investigation. In a few instances, especially concerning the order (or disorder) of the universe, the instability of the world, the role of religion, hedonistic life, and the destiny of the individual human, Hafiz seems to have been influenced by the Khayyamite worldview. As shown by most of the extant quatrains in the famous Ruba`iyat (also in WLAlT 6: Middle Eastern Literatures and Their Times), for Omar Khayyam (d. 1122), life is full of challenges, and the human being is accountable for his/her actions in this life. To pursue life after death is illusory, for nothing awaits the human being after the transitory world of the living passes. Therefore, the best course of action is to live as happily as one can and truly enjoy worldly delights. Khayyam regards the attempt to unfold the mysteries of the enigmatic present futile and ineffective. Hafiz, too, in a manner that resembles Khayyam’s “resolution” of human existential quandaries, writes, “Do not irritate the mind about being and nonbeing. Rejoice!/For all perfection culminates in nothingness” (Divan, p. 103; trans. W. Ahmadi). Or, in a reference to the mystifying work of the universe, he says, “What is this lofty, lucid, many patterned ceiling?/No wise person in the world can solve this puzzle” (Divan, p. 127; trans. W. Ahmadi). And, consequently, he proposes the following, “Tell the story of the minstrel and wine, seek not the secret of the world/For no one has unraveled this conundrum by wisdom, nor ever will” (Divan, p. 90; trans. W. Ahmadi). Hafiz castigates the ascetic who supposes that he can puzzle out the conundrum: “Leave, o egotistical ascetic, for the secret behind this veil/Is concealed from our eyes, and will remain so” (Divan, p. 198; trans. W. Ahmadi).

Since the world of being is unknowable, is the knowing human being, then, incapable of discovering its mysteries? Is human destiny fixed, irrevocable, and unalterable? Does the human being have the capacity of free self-actualization, a process that would run counter to the conventional notion of destiny (as predetermined by God)? The questions call for a determination of Hafiz’s stance vis-a-vis free will and predestination. As his writings indicate, his stance in this respect is not always systematic and coherent. He sometimes comes close to the predominantly determinist point of view of Ash’arism (after the name of its chief advocate Abu al-Hasan al-Ash’ari [883-941 C.E.]).

The following couplets from one of his ghazals demonstrate Hafiz’s affinity with certain Ash’;arite doctrines:

I have said many times before and here reiterate:
Bewildered, I do not tred this path by my own will.
I have been held like a parrot behind the mirror
I only utter whatever the Supreme Master of Pre-Eternity
orders me.
          (Divan, p. 294; trans. W. Ahmadi)


For Hafiz, a life with love is best when it is complemented with rindi The rind is a person who is free from worldly attachments and;ordinary desires and wishes, A rind intentionally behaves improperly and in a socially objectionable manner in order to avoid hypocrisy and insincerity associated with everyday life. The word, which literally means “rogue” or “scoundrel,” is turned into an honorable epithet in the Divan: “Your consummate joy lies in the attainment of love, youth, and rindi” (Divan, p. 172; trans, W, Ahmadi), Hafiz praises the rind for his breach of all bounds of conventional social and moral dictates and speaks of his own commitment to pursue rindi: “Since we laid claim to rindi and love on the Day of Creation/We must not adopt a path other than this” (Divan, p. 290; trans, W, Ahmadi) He further declares, “My vocation has always been love and rindi / From now on, I will keep up with my profession” (Divan, P. 290; trans. W. Ahmadi).

Yet in the following verses Hafiz strongly advocates free will and insists on the transformative human capacity to change one’s own destiny and even to bring about a new humanity. With a measure of defiance he writes, “I will wreck the wheel [of destiny] if it spins against my will/I shall not be disgraced by the wheel of destiny” (Divan, p. 249; trans. W. Ahmadi). Here Hafiz is registering an impossibility. He wishes to do that which cannot be done, given one’s human limitations. Nonetheless, he maintains that “In this earthly world no humanity may be found/One must create a new world and a new humanity” (Divan, p. 350; trans. W. Ahmadi).


During the reign of the Abbasid caliph al-Ma’mun (d. 833), the proponents of rationalist thought (the Mu‘tazilites) had dominated discussions of scholastic theology in Islam. Less than a century later, due to the transformation of the political atmosphere as well as the persistence of literal-minded jurists and exegetes, the traditionalists succeeded in repressing the Mu‘tazilites. The notion of upholding the supremacy of revelation over reason was forcefully rearticulated, and the Muslim intellectual scene soon became dominated by the Ash‘arites, whose founder, Abu al-Hasan al-Ash‘ari (d. 935), was a former Mu‘tazilite from the city of Basra.

Considering the issue of free-will versus predestination, in opposition to the libertarian doctrines of the Mu‘tazilites (who insisted on human agency, moral freedom, and responsibility) and the fatalistic views of the orthodoxy (who saw human decision and action as determined by the undisputed power of God), the Ash‘arites chose a somewhat middle ground. Since God is omnipotent, the creature cannot be the creator of his/her own deeds. To say otherwise would be tantamount to questioning God’s absolute power and assuming that human being is a co-creator with God. In a subtle manner, the Ash‘arites introduced the concept of acquisition (kasb) which refers to the merit or demerit of the human action. God has eternal power but creates in the human being the ability to perform an act and take responsibility for it Since the human being is intuitively conscious of his actions, he/she has the choice (ikhtiyar) between two alternatives—right and wrong—even though the initiation and completion of the human act is the work of God alone. Human freedom, then, consists of deciding (or intending to decide) between these two alternatives. The Ash‘arites clearly intended to formulate a systematic Islamic theology that would draw, to some degree, from independent reasoning (associated with the Mu‘tazilites) without disavowing the literalist strictures fundamental to the faith.

Sources and literary context

Hafiz was not a Sufi poet in the sense that such other leading Persian poets as Attar, author of The Conference of the Birds , or Rumi, the celebrated author of The Spiritual Couplets , were (both also in WLAIT 6: Middle Eastern Literatures and Their Times). Hafiz was certainly schooled in the Sufi tradition, but his views regarding some of the Sufi doctrines were more reflective, philosophical, and, at times, ambivalent. While Attar and Rumi inherited and contributed to a relatively cohesive Sufi institution that maintained a semblance of legitimacy and independence from political affairs, Hafiz saw the institutionalized Sufism of his time (i.e., post-Mongol invasion Persia) enmeshed in the ideology of conservative religious functionaries, who were, in turn, manipulated by the competing centers of power. It is largely for this reason that even Hafiz’s clearly Sufi poems differ distinctively from the work of his great Sufi predecessors. Nonetheless, scholars of classical Persian poetry have traditionally studied the Divan of Hafiz almost exclusively in terms of the mystical meanings and allusions that are supposedly hidden behind his ghazals.

While many scholars only see a purely mystical meaning in Hafiz’s ghazals, others find only sensual love, profane joyousness, sheer hedonism, or simple playfulness. Again the complexity of Hafiz’s poetic universe in the Divan evades either a clear mystical interpretation or a purely earthly reading. For instance, images of “wine” (whose prohibition is advocated by the ulama [religious authorities] and enforced by the upholders of public morality) recur throughout the Divan. One may suggest that Hafiz’s wine refers only to “divine intoxication” in such couplets as: “There is no compassion in anyone, and time for happiness fast passes/The remedy is to sell the prayer-mat for wine” (Divan, p. 292; trans. W. Ahmadi). Or: “The wine-seller may take the frock and the prayer-rug of Hafiz/If the wine is from the hand of that moon-faced cup-bearer” (Divan, p. 174; trans. W. Ahmadi). But a more literal interpretation of such couplets is equally possible.

Publication and reception

Literary historians and critics regard Hafiz as perhaps the greatest of all lyric poets in the Persian language. Hafiz has enjoyed fame throughout Persian-speaking lands, where he is called lisan al-ghayb (“the tongue of the Unseen World”) and tarjuman al-asrar (“the interpreter of mysteries”). It is now established that Hafiz himself did not collect his own poems. Thus, reconstructing an unquestionably sound compilation of his collected poems has always posed a serious textual problem for scholars. The earliest edition of Hafiz’s was prepared, allegedly, by his friend and disciple Muhammad Gulandam, soon after the poet’s death. Numerous manuscripts of the Divan have been reproduced ever since. A sign of people’s love and admiration for Hafiz’s poetry is the existence of many manuscripts of his work, often written in splendid calligraphy, ornate with elegant miniature drawings.

Although it was the British translator Sir William Jones who first introduced the poetry of Hafiz in Europe, it was Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s influential West-öestlicher Divan (1819)—in which the German poet declares that “Hafiz has no peer”—that brought fame to the Persian poet in the West (Goethe, p. 37). In the words of the American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, Hafiz “was a poet for poets,” one who “adds to... Pindar, Anacreon, Horace, and Burns, the insight of a mystic, that sometimes affords a deeper glance at Nature than belongs to either of these bards” (Emerson, p. 244).

Numerous fragments of Hafiz’s poetry have appeared in translation in histories of Persian literature and anthologies of Eastern poetry. Generally there have been three types of translations of Hafiz’s work: literal prose translations; translations that reproduce either the meter or the mono-rhyme; and, finally, the numerous translations executed with a freer hand, not bound by literal exigencies. While the methods employed differ, the recognition that the verse itself deserves a wide audience does not.

—Wali Ahmadi

For More Information

Baldick, Julian. Mystical Islam: An Introduction to Sufism. New York: New York University Press, 1989.

Browne, Edward G. A Literary History of Persia. Vol. 3. London: Cambridge University Press, 1964.

Bürgel, J. Christoph. “Ambiguity: A Study in the Use of Religious Terminology in the Poetry of Hafiz.” In Intoxication: Earthly and Heavenly. Ed. Michael Gliinz and J. Christoph Biirgel. Bern: Peter Lang, 1991.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Works, Volume 8: Letters and Social Aims. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1904.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. West-Eastern Divan: West-Oestlicher Divan. Trans. J. Whaley. London: Oswald Wolff, 1974.

Gray, Elizabeth T. The Green Sea of Heaven: Fifty Ghazalsfrom the Divan of Hafiz. Ashland, Oreg.: White Cloud Press, 1995.

Hafiz, Shams al-Din Muhammad. Divan. Ed. Qasim Ghani and Muhammad Qazvini. Tehran: Quqnus, 1998.

Meisami, Julie Scott. “Allegorical Techniques in the Ghazals of Hafez.” Edebiyat 4, no. 1 (1979): 1-40.

Rahman, Fazlur. Islam. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.

Roemer, H. R. “The Jalayirids, Muzzafarids and Sarbadars.” In The Cambridge History of Iran. Vol. 6. Ed. Peter Jackson and Laurence Lockhart. London: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Schimmel, Annemarie. “The Genius of Shiraz: Sa di and Hafez.” In Persian Literature. Ed. Ehsan Yarshater. New York: Persian Heritage Foundation, 1988.

_____. “Hafiz and His Contemporaries.” In The Cambridge History of Iran. Vol. 6. Ed. Peter Jackson and Laurence Lockhart. London: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

_____. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975.

Spuler, Bertold. The Mongol Period: History of the Muslim World. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1969.

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The Divan of Hafiz

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