Hafiz and the West

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ismail Salami

Active Image 
 Active Image
 Active Image
 Active Image
 Active Image
Interest in Hafiz in the West started in the eighteenth century when Sir William Jones translated a few poems in 1771. Sir William Jones (1746-1794) was a scholar and lawyer who reportedly knew twenty-eight languages.

For Jones, the poetry of Hafiz is reminiscent of that of Petrarch. For both poets, the lover is resisting - cruel but beautiful. However, Jones does not rule out the possible mystical interpretation of Hafiz's poetry.

To him, the poetry of Hafiz is a form of meditation on divine perfection. He translated and annotated the first ghazal of the Divan of Hafiz (Collection of Poems) titled A Persian Song of Hafiz which appeared in Poems, Consisting Chiefly of Translations from the Asiatick Languages (Oxford 1772).

Sweet maid, if thou would'st charm my sight,
And bid these arms thy neck infold;
That rosy cheek, that lily hand,
Would give thy poet more delight
Than all Bocara's note 1 vaunted gold,
Than all the gems of Samarcand.
Boy, let yon liquid ruby flow,
And bid thy pensive heart be glad,
Whate'er the frowning zealots say:
Tell them, their Eden cannot show
A stream so clear as Rocnabad,
A bower so sweet as Mosellay.
O! when these fair perfidious maids,
Whose eyes our secret haunts infest,
Their dear destructive charms display;
Each glance my tender breast invades,
And robs my wounded soul of rest,
As Tartars seize their destin'd prey.

On the translation of Jones, CC Barefoot and Theo d' Haen aptly say, “Jones communicates Hafiz's delicate mosaic of sounds and symbols through evocative stanzas.

This refreshing hedonistic poem was soon a standard British poem, standing as an exemplar of the later Romanticism in terms of music, imagination, emotion exotic allusions, and simple diction.”

Serious attempts to introduce the Persian poet to the West took place in 1812 in Germany. The influence of the German translation by the distinguished Austrian Orientalist Baron von Hammer-Purgstall (1774-1856) was not only discernible in German poets such as Goethe, Platen and Rückert but also in American poets including Emerson.

An influential literary figure in the nineteenth century, Hammer-Purgstall founded Oriental Studies as an academic field. Von Purgstall studied at Graz and Vienna, and entered the Oriental academy of Vienna in 1788, to devote himself to Oriental languages.

He translated the entire Divan of Hafiz (Stuttgart and Tübingen, 1812-13). Although his translation was in prose, it was completely readable and soon received wide acclaim among German readers.

Besides, this was the first time that the poems of the Persian poet Hafiz were made available to the European readers in their entirety. Hammer-Purgstall did not feel compelled to give a versified rendition of the ghazals and instead focused on a meticulous translation of the poems.

Besides, he made comparative references to Latin and Greek literature in his explanatory notes. Hammer-Purgstall translated 576 ghazals, 6 mathnavis, 2 qasidas, 44 fragments, and 72 robais or quatrains. His version of the poems of Hafiz inspired Goethe to create a fine collection of poems entitled Westostlicher Divan or the West-Eastern Divan (1815-1819).

Although Goethe's West-Eastern Divan was not a translation of Hafiz, he utilized the themes he found in the poetry of Hafiz. He interposed Persian terms in his poetry in order to convey a just idea of what Hafiz intended in his divan.

Indeed the work can be seen as the fusion of the Occident and the Orient. The West-Eastern Divan consists of twelve books all with Persian words: Moqqani-Nameh or Book of the Singer, Hafiz-Nameh or Book of Hafiz, Eshq-Nameh or Book of Lover, Tafakkor-Nameh or Book of Reflection, Rind-Nameh or Book of Ill Humour, Hikmat-Nameh or Book of Maxims, Timur-Nameh or Book of Timur, Zuleika-Nameh or Book of Zuleika, Saki--Nameh or Book of the Cupbearer, Matal-Nameh or Book of Parables, Parsi Nameh or Book of the Parsees and Khuld-Nameh or Book of Paradise.

This masterpiece by the German poet placed the Persian bard on a pedestal in the international arena. Goethe believed that it was now high time to envisage a humane global philosophy with no regard for nationality and creed and that the East and the West were not separate from each other. In reference to Hafiz, Goethe used such terms as 'Saint Hafiz' and 'Celestial Friend'. In his praise for Hafiz, he says:

HAFIS, straight to equal thee,
One would strive in vain;
Though a ship with majesty
Cleaves the foaming main,
Feels its sails swell haughtily
As it onward hies
Crush'd by ocean's stern decree,
Wrecked it straightway lies.

The poetry of Hafiz evoked such passion in Goethe that he kept addressing him in his Divan. It was as if the two great poets had united in spirit and had become blood brothers. The passion of Goethe for Persian poetry is well reverberated in the following poems:

“DO ADMIT IT! The oriental poets
are greater than us western poets.”
“May the whole world fade away,
Hafiz, with you, with you alone
I want to compete! Let us share
Pleasure and pain like twins
To love like you, to drink like you,
This shall be my pride, my life.”

Goethe believed that Persian poetic language culminated in the poetry of Hafiz in whom he found the very grandeur of thought and worldview he was seeking.

Thanks to the translation of Hammer-Purgstall and Goethe's Divan, Nietzsche became deeply interested in Hafiz and praised him as an ideal poet and spent many years studying him and Goethe.

To Nietzsche, Hafiz and Goethe are the 'subtlest and brightest' whom he mentions in order to demonstrate the truth of his argument. In his book The Joyful Wisdom, Nietzsche praised Hafiz for 'mocking blissfully.'

The name of Hafiz recurs ten times in his writings. For him, Hafiz is the Oriental free-spirit man who keeps celebrating the joys and sorrows of life. Nietzsche commends such an attitude as sign of a positive and courageous valuation of life (Ashouri 2003).

In his short poem entitled An Hafis: Frage eines Wassertrinkers (To Hafiz: Questions of a Water Drinker), Nietzsche finds in Hafiz a prime example of 'Dionysian' ecstatic wisdom, which he extols so extensively in his philosophy.

The poem glorifies the insightfulness of Hafiz and his poetical achievements (Ashouri 2003). At the end, he asks Hafiz, as a 'water drinker', why he demands wine while having the power of making everybody intoxicated.

(The tavern you have built with your hand
is far greater than any house
the wine you have made therein
all the world fails to imbibe
the bird which was once called the phoenix
is now dwelling in your house
the mouse which gave birth to a mountain
is yourself
you are everyone and no one, you are the tavern and the wine
you are the phoenix, the mountain and the mouse
you keep pouring in yourself
and you keep filling with yourself
the deepest valley you are
the brightest light you are
the intoxication of all intoxication you are
what need do you have to ask for wine?

The influence of Hafiz stretched from Germany to America in 1838 when Ralph Waldo Emerson read Goethe's West-Eastern Divan. He became so interested in Hafiz that he soon obtained a copy of Von Hammer-Purgstall's German translation.

For Emerson, Hafiz became an ideal poet whom he called a 'poet for poets'. He spent fourteen years reading the poetry of Hafiz and quoted him on many occasions including in his essays Fate, Power and Illusions.

Emerson praises in Hafiz “that hardihood and self-equality which, resulting from a consciousness that the spirit within him is as good as the spirit of the world, entitles him to speak with authority; and the intellectual liberty which enables him to communicate to others his complete emancipation - in short, self-reliance and self-expression” (Maulsby 1903, p. 145). To Emerson, Hafiz was a man who derived pleasure from the very elements of life which seemed trivial to others.

On Hafiz, he wrote: “He fears nothing. He sees too far; he sees throughout; such is the only man I wish to see and be.' Elsewhere he wrote: 'Hafiz defies you to show him or put him in a condition inopportune or ignoble. Take all you will, and leave him but a corner of Nature, a lane, a den, a cowshed ... he promises to win to that scorned spot the light of the moon and stars, the love of man, the smile of beauty, and the homage of art.' 'Sunshine from cucumbers. Here was a man who has occupied himself in a nobler chemistry of extracting honor from scamps, temperance from sots, energy from beggars, justice from thieves, benevolence from misers. He knew there was sunshine under those moping churlish brows, and he persevered until he drew it out (Emerson 1904, p. 249).”

From Von Hammer-Purgstall's translation, he translated about 700 lines. He initially translated the poems literally but later reworked them, and modified the meter, added rhyme, stanzaic pattern, or blended lines from two different ghazals. The poem Bacchus (1847) was an adaptation from Hafiz's Saki-nameh (The Book of Wine).

In Sakih-nameh, the poet praises the power of wine: “Come Saki, for that trancing wine I sue,/The source of bounty, and perfection too.” The intoxicating power of wine can help him solve the enigma of the unseen world, consume his sorrows and rend the net of time, the old wolf, purify his sullied heart which is now far from God, alleviate the melancholy thoughts that oppress his mind, view all existence in its round mirror, and open the unknown gates of the World.

On the other hand, Emerson gives a different spiritual aspect to wine. Bacchus, for Emerson, functions as a god of wine and the god of music and he creates a connection between inspiration and intoxication: “That I intoxicated,/And by the draught assimilated,/may float at pleasure through all natures/The bird-language rightly spell,/And which roses say so well” (lines 21-25). By drinking wine, the poet says, he will experience moments of pleasurable inebriation and in the inebriated state, he will be inspired to give wings to the bird of language, write poetry and give pleasure to those who read his poems.

In Sufistic view, wine is a symbol for divine ecstasy. Emerson rejected this notion and stated that he would not “strew sugar on bottled spiders,” that is, “make mystical divinity out of . . . the erotic and bacchanalian songs of Hafiz” (Emerson 1904, p. 249).

Though he adapted the poem which so deeply influenced him, he failed to grasp the very mystical overtones embodied in the poem. The reason may be traced to that fact that he read the poem in German of which he had an imperfect knowledge.

However, he insisted that “the love of wine is not to be confounded with vulgar debauch (Emerson 1904, p. 249).” For Emerson, wine stands for a mind-expanding power that replaces despair with ecstasy.

We do not wish to strew sugar on bottled spiders, or try to make mystical divinity out of the Song of Solomon, much less out of the erotic and bacchanalian songs of Hafiz.

Hafiz himself is determined to defy all such hypocritical interpretation, and tears off his turban and throws it at the head of the meddling dervish, and throws his glass after the turban.

But the love or the wine of Hafiz is not to be confounded with vulgar debauch. It is the spirit in which the song is written that imports, and not the topics.

Hafiz praises wine, roses, maidens, boys, birds, mornings, and music, to give vent to his immense hilarity and sympathy with every form of beauty and joy; and lays the emphasis on these to mark his scorn of sanctimony and base prudence. (Emerson 1904, p. 249)

In one of his essays, Harold Bloom proposes that Emerson's Bacchus (his finest poem to me) and Merlin set the terms for the dialectic of American poetry. He argues that Bacchus stands for absolute renovation and Merlin insists on subsuming the Reality Principle within itself, a chronic temptation for Emerson's successors too (Bloom 1971).

Bacchus left an impact on Emily Dickenson's poem I taste a liquor never brewed. In 1850, Dickenson received a beautiful copy of Emerson's 1847 poems. In 1857, Emerson lectured in Amherst where Emily may have entertained him. She told her friend that Emerson had come from where dreams are born.

In Representative Men (1850), she paraphrases five of Emerson's poems notably his Bacchus in her poem I taste a liquor never brewed (Miller 1989, p. 149). In this poem, Dickenson describes a mystical experience she has had and compares it to some kind of intoxication brought about by alcohol: “I taste a liquor never brewed,/From tankards scooped in pearl;/Not all the vats upon the Rhine/Yield such an alcohol!” Yet, this is purely a spiritual inebriation, a spiritual awareness.

When she claims that she has drunk from 'tankards' or large mugs 'scooped in pearl', she actually puts them beyond physical reality. Thus she becomes intoxicated by a 'liquor never brewed'. In other words, the liquor she is speaking of is a metaphoric reality rather than a physical one.

In a similar way, Emerson asks for a metaphorical wine 'which never grew in the belly of a grape: “Bring me wine, but wine which never grew/In the belly of the grape,/Or grew on vine whose tap-roots, reaching through/Under the Andes to the Cape,/Suffer no savor of the earth to scape.” Interestingly, the poem of Dickenson is very Hafizian in spirit. Dickenson's mixing of Christian and classical allusions is also reminiscent of Emerson's Bacchus. Leaning, unsinged against the sun and hailed by the seraphs, Dickenson tells Emerson that she is one of the few who has received the nectar (Porte and Maurice 1999, p. 177).

The poetry of Hafiz has intoxicated and continues to intoxicate many in the world. The exhilarating effect of his poetry was also known to the poet himself.

In one of his poems, he says that the angels are memorizing his poems in heaven and that Venus is enraptured and that Christ rejoices in his songs: “What marvel that in heaven are sung/The dulcet words by HAFIZ strung?/Or that, by Venus's air entranced,/Messiah in his sphere has danced?”

As Friedrich Nietzsche has said of Hafiz: “Bist aller Trunkenen Trunkenheit/ wozu, wozu dir-Wein? (the intoxication of all intoxication you are/what need do you have to ask for wine?)”

Source: Press TV