Persian Poet Hafiz Finds Spirituality in Nature

Photo via WikiCommonsBy chance, while thinking about my last post, I picked up an intriguing old book, Anthology of Islamic Literature, from 1964. I leafed through the watermarked pages and happened to stop at the section on the Persian poet Hafiz (Wikipedia spells it “Hafez,” but we’ll go with the book here, for consistency’s sake), which turned out to have an especially relevant connection to the idea of addressing nature directly through writing (and living).

The editor of the anthology, James Kritzeck, quotes an unnamed “authority,” in placing Hafiz in the written tradition of Sufism, but “not a true Sufi,” instead focusing on the divinity found in the (human) nature of love. Specifically, the authority continues, “Wine, love, and roses do not stand for some religious equivalent as in the Sufi lexicon; rather, in these very objects of nature, spirituality is to be found . . . .”

A bit curiously, the fragrance of hair also seems to pop up often in Hafiz’s poems. Here’s an example in some opening lines:

When the wine sun fills the bowl of the East,
It brings to her cheeks a thousand anemones.
The wind breaks ringlets of hyacinth
Over the heads of the roses,
As among the meadows I inhale
The fragrance of her rich hair.

As I mentioned with regards to Omar Khayyam, different translations can radically alter the way a poem comes across. Nevertheless, here’s an even more direct example of the “spirituality” mentioned above, from the opening of another of Hafiz’s poems:

A rose blooms within me, wine is in my hand,
And my beloved embraced.
This day the world’s king is my slave.

That last line reminds me of a chapter in Raoul Vaneigem’s seminal The Revolution of Everyday Life, “Masters Without Slaves.” It’s worth reading the chapter (really, the whole book) to get a feel for what Vaneigem means, but a rough definition or equivalent might look something like this: each individual attains mastery, not in relation to others, but through his or her own subjectivity. This subjectivity leads, paradoxically, to a “new world of objects — a new ‘nature,’ if you will — […] From Power’s point of view, a stone, a tree, a mixer, a cyclotron are all dead objects — so many tombstones to the will to see them otherwise, and to change them. Yet I know that, aside from what they are made to mean, these things could be full of excitement for me. […] In a world in which everything was alive — including stones and trees — the passively contemplated sign would not exist. Everything would speak of joy.” This mastery of “an insatiable thirst for life intensely lived,” as Vaneigem puts it, brings us right back to Hafiz’s poetry.

The second Hafiz poem quoted above (none of them have titles in the book that I have) ends fittingly with a call to quench that “insatiable thirst,” fittingly enough that I will also end with it:

Hafiz, do not sit one moment without your love or wine,
For these are days of rose, jasmine and celebration.

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About the Author

I like to write, make films, play and watch soccer, meditate, read, and wander. I also enjoy psychogeography, Filipino cinema, craft beer, and strawberry shortcake. You can find me on Twitter and Google +.