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Hafez the national poet of Iran


By far the greatest singer of the soul of man

One of the tourist locations in Shiraz is the Hafez tomb, in any reference you check you will see this location noted, asking from any Iranian, Hafez tomb will be recommended. But if you check the pictures and location, you may not find it as special as you anticipated. That is because you have yet to know why he is adored and highly regarded among so many people from all generations, and how he lives on in the heart of so many people.

Living in Shiraz from 1310 to 1390. Hafez has one poem collection, called “ Diwan Hafez” consisting of almost 500 , 5-10  line poems. After the Quran, Divan Hafez is the most common book in Iran, found is most Iranians homes. But why so popular after more that 600 years passing from his time?

Hafez tomb

Hafez tomb is located in central Shiraz

Going through the work of Anwari, Nizami, Mawlana Rumi, Saadi, Qa‘ani and others – names that are well known to Oriental scholars, but which will perhaps convey little to the general public outside Iran – each in his own way gave a message to mankind. But the fundamental point of each of their message if carefully studied is that man’s greatest of all treasures, the greatest of all his possessions, was the inherent, ineffaceable, everlasting nobility of his own soul. In it there was forever a spark of true divinity which could conquer all the antagonistic and debasing elements in nature. While faith in the soul of man can be expressed in a great variety of ways – in prose and verse, in art and architecture – this faith was not simply a religious or mystic faith but an all-embracing and immediate contact with a fact which, in every human being, is the central fact of existence.

Then came Hafiz – by far the greatest singer of the soul of man. In him we can find all the striving, all the sorrow, all the victories and joys, all the hopes and disappointments of each and every one of us. In him we find contact, direct and immediate, with the outer universe interpreted as an infinite reality of matter, as a mirror of an eternal spirit, or indeed (as Spinoza later said) an absolute existence of which matter and spirit alike are but two of infinite modes and facets. It is not for nothing that his “Divan” has become, throughout the East, the supreme fal nama (book of divination, bibliomancy, fortunetelling) of millions and millions far beyond the borders of Iran. In perplexity and sorrow, whatever the cause, whatever the standard of intellect or emotion, men throughout the Near East and India turn to Hafiz – from the Ganges to the Nile, from the Caspian to the Bay of Bengal – for comfort and solace. Incredible as it may seem to us, even in his lifetime his influence had reached Bengal, Central Asia, Kashmir, Arabia and Egypt. This, perhaps, will explain why Hafiz has always been (as no other great poet can claim to be) the national poet, the national hero, of Iran. Pushkin, Goethe and Shakespeare in the West.

poem from hafez

A poem from Hafez

It is hard to imagine how such rich and deep contents of philosophy through poems, is appealing and understood by such a wide range of people. All the  great, indeed supreme, kings of poetry – could never reach their humblest subjects, The uncultured peasants of the West, or the equally humble intelligences of the East, could never absorb their full meaning or beauty. Hafiz is different. Not only in his own Persia but in India, in Afghanistan, in Central Asia, the moment his verses are understood people will always find an interpretation that could appeal to the humblest as well as the highest of intelligences. This, perhaps, will explain why Hafiz has always been (as no other great poet can claim to be) the national poet, the national hero, of Iran.
Hafez has been inspiring to many, Goethe found Hafiz’s peoms  so inspiring  that he produced his own West-östlicher Diwan  which is named “led the way to the discovery of Persian poetry by the Romantics”.

Hafez Divan

Manuscript of Hafez Diwan, decorated with Persian Tazhib drawings

One of the greatest living Hindu statesmen, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, once said that in all difficult moments of his life he turns to Hafiz. I think there is no one of Iranian race alive today who has not at some time or other – in difficulty, sorrow and misery, or in joy and triumph – turned to his national hero for comfort or further elation. Incredible as it may sound to English ears, it is a fact that there is hardly a Muslim bourgeois family in the whole of India in whose home a copy of Hafiz’s “Divan” is not found. I think, too, that we can be fairly certain that the book is as popular in Afghanistan and Central Asia and over a great part of what I may call Western Muslim countries as it is in India.

Hafez does this through the device of Persian language. Hafez is the master of “Iham” a Persian poem technique, which is using  a word with several meanings that all make complete sense in the context. Concept that previously gained their dual meaning by older poets. This allows him to convey very deep concepts through very simple every day words, with everybody enjoying it in their borders of understanding. Each verse can be interpreted in so many different meanings. This is also why attempting to translate his poems will always be disappointing.

Little is known about his life, just that he knew the Quran by heart, which is where he gets the name Hafez from. But what is clear about him is that he was well acquainted with philosophy, history, poetry, Persian and Arabic literature.

Believing his deep understanding of the world and knowing him as whom knows the Quran by heart, in Iran its believed that Hafez can tell the future therefor. Asking Hafez  a question is also very common and it may even seem as fortune telling. Its done by singing a short riddle to Hafez, asking Hafez which is believed to know all the secrets of the world to look upon them. Than a random page is chosen and poem on the right page is considered to be Hafez’s answer to the question.

Saying all this about hafez not mean that other poets are not highly considered.  Ferdowsi, Saadi, Jaami, … have their irrespracable place in Persian literature and in the peoples heart.

His verses are often used in the modern Persian languages and even as lyrics in pop songs. Its hard to find an Iranian that doesn’t know at least several of his verses by heart. His Divan is available in all colors and sizes since its so popular, versions which include interpretation of his songs are also widely available.. On the night of Yalda( the longest night of the year) it’s a custom to have family gatherings and read The Hafez’s Divan for each person. Hafez is extremely popular among the youth, his tomb is a regular hangout location for many. Many choose Hafez tomb as the most spiritual place to be in at the change of year. Most Iranians visit Hafez tomb once in Shiraz.

Hafez tomb

Hafez tomb located in Shiraz

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