Divan, c. 1368 (The Divan, 1891)
Hafiz (HAH-fehz), also spelled Hafez, was the pen name of Shams al-Din Muhammad, the most celebrated of the Persian lyric poets. As a youth he studied poetry, theology, and philosophy under Shaik Mahmud ‘Attar, a Sufi mystic and head of an order of Dervishes. He joined the order and, for a while, taught the Koran, becoming a Hafiz, one who has memorized and recites the Koran. It is apparent from his poetry, however, that he soon withdrew from formalistic Sufism. Hafiz’s first literary patron was the shah of Fars, Abu Ishaqi Inju. Twelve years of serene life ended for Hafiz when the shah was ousted in 1353 by the ascetic Mubariz al-din Muhammad. Judging from Hafiz’s poetry, in which he chafes at even the thought of asceticism, the five-year reign of Mubariz al-din must have been a most unhappy time for the poet. In 1358 Shah Shuja overthrew his father, returned Fars to a more genial rule, and became the patron of Hafiz.
By this time Hafiz had established his reputation in the Muslim world. Although he remained in Fars, he seems to have had several offers of patronage from neighboring rulers who wanted the poet to grace their courts with his presence and poetry. Almost no biographical information on Hafiz has survived, so little is known of his personal life, but according to references in his poetry, Hafiz was married and had a son who was lost while still a youth.
His most important work is The Divan, composed of more than five hundred poems, most of them short pieces in the form called ghazals. Ghazals are lyric poems consisting of six to fifteen couplets and are roughly equivalent to sonnets; they lack a logical sequence of ideas, being unified instead by symbolism and structure. Students of Persian poetry claim for the ghazals of Hafiz the height of subtlety and lyric expression. Although much of his poetry is about natural beauty, drinking, and love, Hafiz was a truly religious man, and he satirized hypocrisy in both laymen and religious leaders. The first compilation of Hafiz’s poetry by Muhammad Gulandam, a personal friend of Hafiz, contains 495 ghazals and is a manuscript dated about thirty-five years after Hafiz’s death. Later compilations bring the total number of poems ascribed to Hafiz to about one thousand; most of these probably are not authentic. His poetry influenced a number of Western writers, notably Ralph Waldo Emerson and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.