My work with Hafiz began on an early morning walk in the countryside of India, on a beautiful tree lined road that leads to a place I hope you may someday visit called Meherazad. I was walking with an elderly Zoroastrian man who lived for most of his life with Meher Baba and was one of his most dear and closest disciples until Meher Baba’s passing in 1969. We were talking about Hafiz, who was Baba’s favorite poet, and I was somewhat raving about how sad it seemed to me that the Western world knew so little of that Great Old One’s (Hafiz’s) astounding love and spirit. Thus began this work. That night, working from a literal Victorian translation, I wrote my first modern version of a Hafiz poem.
It is my understanding that Hafiz never actually wrote down his poetry, but only spoke it out loud or sang it when in the mood. Some of the most respected Hafiz scholars feel that the first complete manuscript of his poems wasn’t even compiled until many years after his passing. Still, I feel a tremendous foundation of genuine material exists from which one can render a living portrait of Hafiz.
All of the poems in this book are based on the remarkable translation of the Divan of Hafiz by H.Wilberforce Clarke, originally published in 1892. The number of poems said to have been ‘written’ by Hafiz varies; according to Clarke there are 693. I have expounded on these original writings, creating several thousand different renderings since I began my study of the Divan and Hafiz in the fall of 1992. When crafting the poems for this book I worked primarily from a beautiful, two volume page edition of Clarke’s work recently republished in Iran. I also borrowed and shaped ideas and thoughts from hundreds of other pages of material and poems that are attributed to Hafiz or are about his life. I have often written many different interpretations of the same poem in an attempt to reveal the vast, seemingly infinite grandeur of the landscape of Hafiz’s work and spirit.
Persian poets of Hafiz’ era would often address themselves in their poems as if carrying on a conversation. This was considered a method of ‘singing’ a poem as one might sign a painting or a letter to a friend. I have not eliminated this characteristic that sometimes makes the verse seem more intimate, playful and hopefully real. The reader should also note that sometimes Hafiz speaks from the point of view of a seeker, other times from the point of view of a realized Master and guide. These two different points of view reflect Hafiz’s experience and his path from student to enlightened teacher. It is believed that after living with his Master for some forty years, Hafiz received the Divine Mantle of God Realization, and during his early life with his teacher, Hafiz has composed, and sung, many of the poems that are now attributed to him.
Hafiz is considered one of the greatest lyrical poets of all time. I lack a musical background, but have tried to maintain his lyrical quality as best I can. Often I could have easily rhymed lines but chose not to, feeling that to do so might have diluted the image I was trying to enhance. Instead, I have concentrated mostly on excavating, laying bare and unveiling the astonishing, ‘musical’ charm and substance that I find ingrained within the Divan.
Throughout my work with Hafiz the words Friend and Beloved are mentioned many times. These words, and also the words Ocean, Sky, Sun, and Moon, when capitalized in these poems, can be a direct reference, a synonym, for the word God. As one might have endearing pet names for family members of friends, Hafiz has a unique vocabulary of names for God. God to him is more than just the Father, the Mother, the Infinite, or a Being beyond comprehension. Hafiz calls God a range of names such as: the Sweet Uncle, the Generous Merchant, the Immediate One, the Problem Giver, the Problem Solver, the Clever Rascal. To him, God is someone we can meet, enter, and begin to eternally explore. God is the Dancer, the Music, the Wine, the Bottle, the Beautiful Companion, the Kind Radiant One. In these poems Hafiz gives the address of the holes in the roof, the cracks in the walls, and to the front and back doors of God’s favorite Taverns – so that our mouths and souls and lives can stop pretending to be empty or dry.
I love Hafiz’s response when he was once asked, ‘What is a poet? His answer, to me, explains so much of the transformative power and grace that can be found in his work – and in the work of any great poet.
‘ A poet is someone who can pour light into a cup, then raise it to nourish your beautiful parched, holy mouth.’
May some of these poems impart that wondrous taste, that sacred benediction.
From: ‘The Subject Tonight is Love: 60 Wild and Sweet Poems of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky. Copyright © 1999 by Daniel Ladinsky. Reprinted by permission of the author.