Hafiz Biography

The Life of Hafiz

From Paul Smith – ‘Hafiz – Tongue of the Hidden’   Pub. New Harmony Books

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Shrine of Hafiz                         To view Hafiz Poemsclick here:

“Hafiz was born in Shiraz in south-east Persia (modern Iran) in approximately 1320 A.D., twenty two years before the birth of Chaucer and a year before the death of Dante. He was named Shams-ud-din, which means ‘Sun of Faith,’ Mohammed. Later when he began to write poetry he selected Hafiz for his pen-name or ‘takhallus’. ‘Hafiz’ is the title given to one who has learnt the whole of the Koran by heart and Hafiz claimed to have done this is fourteen different ways.

“Physically Hafizwas small and ugly but even as a young boy he began to show the great gifts that would finally take him to the height of artistic and spiritual achievements. He was loving and helpful to his parents, brothers and friends, and he had a wonderfully ironic sense of humor that caused him to continually see the humorous side of everyday life. Even at this early age he was fascinated by the poetry and prose of Persia’s great poets and writers and stories about the spiritually advanced souls and Perfect Masters. He loved the Koran, which his father read to him and he began to memorize it. He discovered he was blessed with a remarkable memory, and before he was a man he had memorized the Koran and many of the poems of the great poets.

“As a boy his favorite poet was Saadi, Shiraz’s most loved poet of the time, who had died about thirty years previously. All of Shiraz was singing his beautiful songs, his ghazals, and telling his magical stories, and Hafiz was no exception. He dreamed of becoming a great poet like Saadi or like Faridud-din Attar, or Rumi, or Nizami, all of whom he admired.

Then a change occurred in his life. His father died and left his family in difficult circumstances. Baha-ud-din’s business of being a coal merchant had failed because he had suffered from a long illness, and Hafiz’s mother could only raise enough money to pay back all the debts. His two older brothers left home to work in another city and young Hafiz and his grief-stricken mother went to live with Hafiz’s uncle, Saadi, who fancied himself a poet like his famous namesake.

“Because of the poverty that they now experienced, Hafiz’s mother had to obtain work and Hafiz had to leave day-school and although only in his early teens, he began work in a drapery shop and later managed to find work in a bakery. Half of his salary he gave to his mother and the other half he used to go to school at night where he learned calligraphy and a wide variety of subjects, while continuing to memorize the Koran.

“Hafiz was twenty one years old in 1341, and was still working in the bakery and studying at night. He had memorized the Koran and had adopted the pen-name for the occasional poem he wrote but until this time had not gained much success as a poet. he had become skilled in jurisprudence and had learnt all the sciences, including mathematics and astronomy. For the past ten years he had constantly been studying all of the great poets and the lives and works of the great Spiritual Masters. He was fluent in Arabic and had also learnt Turkish.

“Then, one day at the bakery, one of the workers who delivered the bread was sick, and Hafiz had to deliver the bread to a certain quarter of Shiraz where the prosperous citizens lived. While taking the bread to a particular mansion, Hafiz’s eyes fell upon the form of a young woman who was standing on one of the mansion’s balconies. Her name was Shakh-i-Nabat which means ‘Branch of Sugarcane’. Her beauty immediately intoxicated Hafiz and he fell hopelessly in love with her. Her beauty had such a profound effect on him that he almost lost consciousness. At night he could not sleep and he no longer felt like eating. He learnt her name and he began to praise her in his poems.

“Hafiz heard that she had been promised in marriage to a prince of Shiraz and realized how hopeless was his quest for her love. Still, the vision of her beauty filled his heart, and his thoughts were constantly with her. Then one day he remembered the famous ‘promise of Baba Kuhi’. Baba Kuhi was a Perfect Master-Poet who had died in Shiraz in 1050 A.D., and had been buried about four miles from Shiraz, at a place called ‘Pir-i-sabz’, meaning ‘the green old man’, on a hill named after Baba Kuhi. The promise that Baba Kuhi had given before he died was that if anyone could stay awake for forty consecutive nights at his tomb he would be granted the gift of poetry, immortality, and his heart’s desire. Hafiz, interested in the third of these three, vowed to keep this vigil that no one had yet been able to keep.

“Every day Hafiz would go to work at the bakery, then he would eat, and then walk past the house of Shakh-i-Nabat, who had heard some of the poems that he had composed in praise of her. She had noticed him passing her window every afternoon, each day more weary, but with a fire in his eyes that had lit the lamp of her heart for him. By this time Hafiz was in a kind of a trance. Everything that he did was automatic, and the only thing that kept him going was the fire in his heart and his determination to keep the lonely vigil.

“Early the next morning the Angel Gabriel (some say Khizer) appeared to him. Gabriel gave Hafiz a cup to drink which contained the Water of Immortality, and declared that Hafiz had also received the gift of poetry. Then Gabriel asked Hafiz to express his heart’s desire. All the time that this was happening, Hafiz could not take his eyes of Gabriel. So great was the beauty of the Angel that Hafiz had forgotten the beauty of Shakh-i-Nabat. After Gabriel had asked the question, Hafiz thought; “If Gabriel the Angel of God is so beautiful, then how much more beautiful God must be.” Hafiz answered Gabriel: “I want God!” On hearing this, Gabriel directed Hafiz to a certain street in Shiraz where there was a shop selling fruit and perfumes that was owned by a man named Mohammed Attar. Gabriel said that Attar was a Perfect Master, a God-realized soul, who had sent Gabriel for Hafiz’s sake, and that if Hafiz would serve Attar faithfully, then Attar promised that one day Hafiz would attain his heart’s desire.

“So Hafiz joined the small select circle of Attar’s disciples, but it wasn’t until many years later, after Attar had dropped his physical form, that Hafiz revealed his Master’s identity, and by this time Hafiz had received the mantle of God-realization from Attar. Unlike Attar, Hafiz’s fame spread far and wide, and as will be seen further on, it was only Hafiz’s quick tongue and sense of humor that constantly saved him from the gallows.

“The story of Hafiz’s vigil had made him known throughout Shiraz, and the poetry that he now wrote, in praise of his Beloved and out of longing to gain his heart’s new desire became known and sung throughout Shiraz. Shakh-i-Nabat had lost her heart to him, but the difference in their status caused many problems. Also, Hafiz saw and thought of her beauty only as a reflection of God’s beauty; the beauty of her Creator. As his love for her increased, it increased his desire for his Beloved (God) Whom he now saw as her higher Self, and it was to this higher Self manifesting through her grace and beauty, that he composed his ghazals.

“He also saw the wisdom and mercy of God manifesting through his Master Attar, and he composed many poems praising his Master and begging Attar to fulfill the promise of Union of God. When Hafizwent to visit Attar, Attar would ask Hafiz to read his latest poem, then Attar would spiritually analyze it for the sake of Hafiz and the other disciples, (this practice continued for forty years). Then the disciples would put tunes to the ghazals and the songs would soon be sung throughout Shiraz, with the fame of Hafiz continuing to grow.

“While the poemsthat he wrote during the time of Abu Ishak could be called ‘spiritual romanticism’ and those under Muzaffar the dictator: protest poems, the poems of the following period had begun to break new ground, and he was creating an impressionistic way of writing that was completely new, fresh, vibrant and subtle.

“But the period of Shuja’s reign was also not without problems for Hafiz. Shuja, who also knew the Koran by heart and considered himself something of a poet, grew jealous of Hafiz although it was because of their common interests that a friendship developed between them in the beginning. Hafiz’s enemies, the orthodox clergy and some other poets who were jealous of him, had made Shiraz an unsafe place by constantly slandering him and complaining about him to Shah Shuja, who was now completely under their sway for Haji Kivam was no longer at court to protect him.

“Hafiz was about to go into hiding but this proved unnecessary because early in 1363 Shuja’s brother Shah Mahmud who was the ruler of Abarguh and Isfahan took Shiraz. Shuja retaliated by invading Isfahan and this produced a treaty between the two brothers. But this was not to last, for in the next year Mahmud with the help of Uvays the ruler of Baghdad since 1355, attacked Shiraz and after eleven months of fierce fighting he entered the city.

The enemies of Hafiz, wary of the new ruler, refrained from their persecution of him. His popularity with the citizens of Shiraz, who called him ‘The Tongue of the Hidden’ and ‘The Interpreter of Mysteries’ had grown, and by now had spread all over Persia.

“By 1368 the danger in the situation became critical and Hafiz and his wife packed some provisions and late one night fled the city, taking the road to Isfahan, 300 miles to the north-east. They were to spend the next four years there, and many of the poems written during this bitter time were full of homesickness for Shiraz, where Hafiz’s Master was, and where his friends, including Shakh-i-Nabat, waited his return.

“Back in Shiraz, Shuja had become embroiled in the bitter controversy over whether Hafiz should be allowed to end his exile and return to Shiraz. The people were calling for the return of their favorite poet and champion, and on the other side Hafiz’s enemies continued to slander him. Shuja had become wary and weary of the influence of the clergy upon him and decided to deal them a blow by allowing Hafiz to return, and by so doing this, not only would he put them in their place, but again gain the love and respect of the common people. He sent a message to Yazd, asking Hafiz to come back to Shiraz.

“On returning he was once again re-instated to his position at the college and he resumed his old life and his relationship with his Master, Attar. It was late in 1375 and Hafiz had been obeying his Master for 35 years and still he had not gained his heart’s desire. When he once again complained to Attar about this, Attar replied: “Patience is the key to Joy”.

“One day in 1381 Hafiz went to visit Attar. Hafiz’s patience had come to an end. When he was alone with Attar he began to weep and when his Master asked him why he was weeping, Hafiz through desperation cried out: “What have I gained by being your obedient disciple for nearly forty years?” Attar replied: “Be patient and one day you will know.” Hafiz cried: “I knew I would get that answer from you,” and left the room.

It was exactly forty days before the end of their forty year relationship. Hafiz went home and entered a circle that he drew on the ground. Throughlove and desperation he had decided to enter self-imposed ‘Chehel-a-Nashini’, in which the lover of God sits within a circle for forty days and if the lover of God can succeed in this difficult practice, God will grant whatever he desires. The love and strength and bravery of Hafiz was so great that he succeeded in never leaving the circle, no matter what God had in store for him.

“On the fortieth night Attar again sent to him the form of the Angel Gabriel as he had done forty years earlier, who asked him what was his heart’s desire. Hafiz replied: “My only desire is to wait on the pleasure of my Master’s wish.”

“Before dawn appeared on the last day Hafiz left his circle and rushed towards the house of his Master, Mohammed Attar. Attarmet him at the door and embraced him, gave him a drink of two year old wine and made him God-realized. Hafiz had finally attained his heart’s desire after forty long years.

“During the remaining eight years of his life, Hafiz wrote half of the poems that bear his name. He no longer wrote of his desire for the Beloved, for now he was the Beloved. He wrote of the Unity of God, of the temptation of the world and its works and of the stages of the Path to God-realization and he gave advice to others how to best avoid the traps of the Path. The poems written after Realization are written from the Authority of Divine Knowledge and have a Perfect detachment and Merciful involvement that sets them apart from the other poems that were written from various stages on the road to the Truth.

“Quickly Hafiz gathered his disciples around him and began to teach them, using his poems to illustrate the various Spiritual points that he wanted them to understand. Because his fame had become so widespread and people were traveling from all parts of Persia and other countries to be in his presence, he had to seclude himself to a degree to be able to continue to teach his chosen disciples, and to write his ghazals that were eagerly awaited by his many devotees, and his enemies who continued to plot against him.

“It was early 1388 and in under two short years Hafiz’s time to leave his physical form would come. He continued to write, but now at a faster pace for he could see that his old body was preparing to blend with the dust of Shiraz. The poems that he wrote during this period are beautiful for their understanding and their poignant love for the people of Shiraz and the whole world, and because of his knowledge of his impending death.

“By 1389, his body was racked with a sickness that he had been suffering for many years. The small ugly form had served him well for 69 years and this old cloak that his soul wore, had been the vessel that had helped to steer him to the Realization of the Existence that has no beginning or end.

The news rapidly spread through the city that their most loved (and hated) citizen had passed away. Thousands walked towards his home where he lay, surrounded by his closest disciples. However, his lifelong enemies, the hypocritical orthodox clergy had also heard the news of the death of their rival and castigator.

“Later, Hafiz’s body was carried towards the Muslim burial ground in the rose-bower of Musalla, on the banks of the Ruknabad, which he loved and praised in his poems, and to where he often walked and sat down to write many of his ghazals.

“The Ulama of Shiraz, with his fellow clergy, refused to allow for Hafiz’s body to be buried as a Muslim and claimed that his poetry was impious. The long knives that they had been trying to drive into his back were now fully on show, for he was no longer there to defend himself against them with his sharp wit and sense of irony.

“The followers of Hafiz and the many citizens of Shiraz began to argue with those who followed the orthodox point of view, and in the heat of the argument, someone suggested that they should ask the poet himself for the solution. The clergy, by now afraid of the size and fervor of Hafiz’s supporters, reluctantly agreed to the suggestion of tearing up many of his poems into couplets and placing them into a large urn, and to call on a small boy in the crowd to select one couplet from it. The couplet that was selected was couplet no. 7 from ghazal 60:

“”Don’t you walk away from this graveside of Hafiz, because, Although buried in mistakes, he is traveling to Paradise.”

“Even after death, Hafiz had, with tongue in cheek, outwitted his bitter rivals, and this practice of consulting his Divan as an oracle has continued from this incident, shortly after his death, down into the present age. The tomb of Hafiz was surrounded by a garden of roses and his body was laid at the foot of a cypress tree which he had planted.

“Soon after his death Hafiz’s popularity had reached such proportions that even the orthodox Muslims claimed him as one of their own.

“It is thought that Hafiz never collected all of his poems together during his lifetime (although some scholars say that he did, and the collection was lost) even though many of his friends constantly asked him to do so. After his death two collections of his ghazals and other poems were assembled. One was an edition by a friend and fellow-student, Muhammad Gulandam, who also wrote a preface to this edition: and another collection was made by one of Hafiz’s young disciples Sayyid Kasim-i-Anvar who died in 1431. His collection consisted of 569 ghazals and was called the ‘Divan i-Khwaja-iHafiz.’

“The change of consciousness in the world brought about by Hafizduring his lifetime has been great, but his influence on the world, and on art and poetry had only just begun and we are still being greatly affected by it.”

- Hafiz Poems