Early Life . Hafiz is the nickname of Shams al-Din Muhammad Shirazi, a major Persian poet who was born and died in Shiraz in southern Iran. His nickname means “Qur’an memorizer” and is given to people who have learned the entire Muslim holy book by heart. Hafiz had humble beginnings and is said to have worked as a baker’s apprentice and a manuscript copyist, the latter an occupation through which he may have obtained his broad education. In addition to having memorized the entire Qur’an, he knew Arabic well and was widely read in Persian literature. By the time he was in his twenties, Hafiz had begun serving as a poet who sang the praises of the local rulers of Shiraz. It is uncertain how close he was to the court, and since he seems to have sometimes lectured on the interpretation of the Qur’an at an Islamic college, he may have still been earning his living from sources other than royal largess. His fame spread throughout Persia after about 1360, but he suffered royal disfavor for a period of about ten years (1366–1376), during which he spent a couple of years away from Shiraz in the Iranian cities of Isfahan and Yazd. Although distant rulers invited him to their capitals, he turned down such offers and returned to Shiraz. His lack of travel was rather unusual among well-known Muslim scholars and literary figures.
Poetic Works . Hafiz’s poetry is entirely contained in his Diwan (Collected Poems), a collection said to have been finalized by Hafiz in 1368 but quite possibly arranged by one of his followers shortly after his death. His great popularity has contributed to a massive accretion of poems falsely attributed to him over the centuries; his authentic poems seem to number about five hundred, which is not a large body of work in comparison with those of other Persian poets. Almost all his poems are short ghazals. Though the ghazal is the form employed for love poetry, Hafiz often drew the vocabulary for his ghazals from the idiom of such love-and-wine poetry but used the convention for another purpose, such as praise of his patron, and some have suggested that he was a Sufi mystic. His subtleness of expression, use of conventional vehicles to suggest other meanings, technical perfection, and linguistic virtuosity have led many readers to call him the best of all Persian poets. Over the centuries he was especially well known among non-Iranian users of Persian as a literary language in Turkey and India, and enthusiasm for him in Iran revived only in the twentieth century.
Elizabeth T. Gray, trans., The Green Sea of Heaven: Fifty Ghazals from the Diwdn of Hdflz (Ashland, Ore.: White Cloud, 1995).
Michael C. Hillmann, Unity in the Ghazals of Hafez (Minneapolis: Biblio-theca Islamica, 1976).
G. M. Wickens, “Hafiz,” Encyclopedia of Islam, CD-ROM version (Leiden: Brill, 1999).