By Daniel Ladinsky
The 14th-Century Persian poet Hafiz’s work is not just very beautiful – it is useful too. Hafiz can teach us how to get the most out of our lives
Shams-ud-din Muhammad Hafiz (c. 1320-1389) is one of the most beloved poets of the Persians, and is considered by many – from different cultures – to be one of the seven literary wonders of the world. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe both agreed. As Emerson said of Hafiz: “He fears nothing. He sees too far, he sees throughout; such is the only man I wish to see or be.” And Emerson gave Hafiz that grand and famous compliment, “Hafiz is a poet for poets.”
Hafiz has no peer – Goethe
Both Goethe and Emerson translated Hafiz. And after Geothe’s deep study of him, simply – though remarkably – stated, “Hafiz has no peer.”
Hafiz poems were also admired by such diverse notables as Nietzsche and Arthur Conan Doyle, whose wonderful character Sherlock Holmes quotes Hafiz. Garcia Lorca praised the Sufi poet. Johannes Brahms was so touched by his verse he used several in his compositions. And even Queen Victoria was said to have consulted Hafiz in times of need – which has been a custom in the Middle East for centuries. The Fal-e Hafiz, is an ancient tradition in which a reader asks Hafiz for advice when facing a difficulty or at an important juncture in their life – treating his books as an oracle and opening them with a deep wish from their soul for guidance.
I feel Hafiz is a rare master of ‘the utility of light’ – or ‘the sun’. And ‘the utility of art’. His poetry bestows its benevolence and ability to comfort, enliven and enrich those in need. Art should be a lover; it should radiate and allow you to warm yourself if in any way cold. Art can quench inner thirst and hunger. And in studying the lives – and working with the poetry – of Rumi, Michelangelo, St Francis, Kabir, Mira and Hafiz, and several of the other great poet-seers, East and West, I came to learn that there was a wonderful common denominator in their work. They helped me form a three-word definition of art, which I then felt was a true gauge for success of any of poems or writings I ever become involved with, including my own. As Emerson saw Hafiz as a genuine measure of himself in all of his interactions, I too try to keep Hafiz before me when dealing with another person – or animal, creature or even plant. As water is poured through a cloth to collect impurities, I try and pour myself through the poems of Hafiz, and my images of him.