Illuminate Our Night Into a Day

Come through the convent doors: illumine our night into a day,
Scent with perfume the assembly of the holy men.
If a preacher tells you to forsake loving, give him a cup of wine and tell him to refresh his mind.

Hafez

Whenever I feel depressed about the current state of affairs–quite often lately, uncertain about the right course of action, or if I simply need a brush with something beautiful and profound, I turn to Hafez. It may seem strange to seek advice in the writings of a 14th poet from Shiraz, but Hafez’s work is so rich and multifaceted that it invariably gives me a new perspective. He too lived through a period of political upheavals and anxiety, and as Goethe said, “In his poetry Hafez has inscribed undeniable truth indelibly.”

Divining by the book of Hafez is a popular practice in Iran, and the book shops near Hafez’s tomb in Shiraz sell cards for Fale-Hafez. One side is printed with a poem, while the other is decorated with paintings that feature wistful, grey-haired men and voluptuous women in clinging, diaphanous garments. Mahmud Farshchian, the painter who produces these unabashedly sensual vignettes is one of the most popular artists in Iran, a fact surprising only to those who take the orthodox propaganda at face value. One shuffles the cards, thinks of a question or a problem and picks a leaflet at random.

Sometimes I do just that–and then spend an hour deciphering the complicated Nastaliq calligraphy in which the cards tend to be printed. But if I have neither the time nor the patience, I open one of my translated volumes and hope that the oracle of Shiraz will guide me just as well in another language.

This morning I took out The Poems of Hafez and my answer came in the poem above. Perfect, isn’t it?

Reading Hafez

I have previously shared some of my favorite English translations of Hafez (sometimes spelled as Hafiz), along with a few other excerpts from his poems. I recently found a website that features the whole of Hafez’s Diwan, in both English and Persian, Hafiz on Love. The website also includes a short biography that tells the story of the orthodox clergy debating whether they should give a proper Muslim burial to Hafez–not their ultimate preference, but the one the people of Shiraz demanded. They ended up divining with his poems, and Hafez’s answer was typically cheeky:

Neither Hafiz’s corpse, nor his life negate,
With all his misdeeds, heavens for him wait.

Ordoubadian, Reza (trans.), The Poems of Hafez, 2006. Ghazal 127.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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40 Comments

  • ariane: Oh,this is perfect!I have only recently started learning Farsi with the main motivation to read Hafez in the original language!Does it say ‘divan” at the top of the page?Learning the letters is one thing,but then the handwritten way is so hard to decipher…
    Thank you for this,the quote is also wonderful!What an incredible website this is! January 25, 2017 at 8:46am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, it says Divan Khwaja Shams-ud-Din Muhammad Hafez-e Shirazi. Even many Iranians find Nastaliq calligraphy difficult to read, and it’s even more complicated when you don’t know the words. I have one Farsi textbook printed entirely in Nastaliq, which has been hard to use but helpful.

      I have Hafez’s Divan printed in the simpler tahrir script, just like the website I linked. Which, by the way, I only found the other day. Such a great source. January 25, 2017 at 9:27am Reply

  • Amy M.: Thank you, Victoria. This came at just the right time for me. I love Hafiz, and will pull my books out again. Only light can drive out darkness. x January 25, 2017 at 9:19am Reply

    • Victoria: Hafez is my favorite Persian poet, and one of the top favorite poets in general. January 25, 2017 at 1:08pm Reply

  • Susan: Thank you for this lovely post, Victoria.

    In the words of another great poet, John Keats…
    ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know’

    I will search out Hafez. January 25, 2017 at 9:26am Reply

    • Victoria: This is very poignant. Thank you for a reminder to read Keats. January 25, 2017 at 1:08pm Reply

  • Jeanne: Thanks for this post, Victoria. Your site is very often a source of comfort for me, especially when I’ve been browsing around the Internet, reading one horrifying story after another.

    Knowing that there are millions of people in the world like you and your readers warms my heart!

    I love this poet. Are the poems available in English? January 25, 2017 at 10:12am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for your kind words!

      Yes! In the section of my article titled “Reading Hafez,” I linked to my earlier post on the subject and also to the website I just found. January 25, 2017 at 1:10pm Reply

  • Jeanne: Sorry, I just read the link to the website with English translations January 25, 2017 at 10:15am Reply

    • Victoria: Also, the book cited, the one by Reza Ordoubadian, includes English translations of Hafez. It’s quite good. January 25, 2017 at 1:11pm Reply

  • Phyllis Iervello: Victoria, thank you for the wonderful post during these trying times. January 25, 2017 at 11:06am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m very happy that you liked it. January 25, 2017 at 1:11pm Reply

  • Connie: this is so wonderful! I have been reading all these crazy stuff lately and have practically shut myself down from social media, so today you have illuminated my day. January 25, 2017 at 11:14am Reply

    • Victoria: I stopped reading some social media platforms entirely. One has to stay sane and motivated somehow. January 25, 2017 at 1:12pm Reply

  • Jillie: Perfect indeed. Thank you, Victoria. I do actually feel a little calmer after reading this.

    Is that mimosa in your top photo? January 25, 2017 at 11:41am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, the season has already started, and I can never resist a bunch of mimosa. January 25, 2017 at 1:13pm Reply

  • Marsha: Victoria, you always bring such beauty to our lives! January 25, 2017 at 11:59am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much, Marsha! Thank you for reading. January 25, 2017 at 1:13pm Reply

  • behemot: Victoria, thank you so much for your post and Hafez. Beautiful and wise things are so much needed these days:) January 25, 2017 at 12:47pm Reply

    • Victoria: They really are, aren’t they! 🙂 January 25, 2017 at 1:14pm Reply

  • Helen: Thank you Victoria for this and all of your posts. I often turn to your beautiful, thoughtful writing to calm myself and brighten my day. January 25, 2017 at 1:39pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Helen. This poem was just perfect for today, so I wanted to share it. January 25, 2017 at 4:20pm Reply

  • Tourmaline: Hi Victoria,

    My comment is off-topic, however I was encouraged to contribute when I saw the golden wattle in your photo, because (as I’ve mentioned before) the wattle is Australia’s floral emblem and today is Australia Day.

    The news that I’m excited to share is that last night a man who knows a lot about noses was named our Australian of the Year for 2017. That man is Professor Alan Mackay-Sim, a biomedical scientist who is a leading global authority on the human sense of smell and the biology of nasal cells. Many years ago, Professor Mackay-Sim discovered that “olfactory ensheathing cells” in our noses regenerate every day. More recently he decided to do research to find out whether these cells could be used in other parts of the body, and he discovered that they can.

    One example is that they can be used in the spine. Previously, it had been thought that nothing could be done for people suffering spinal cord injuries, but Professor Mackay-Sim’s work showed that there is hope, that spinal repair is possible. His work was key to the first successful restoration of mobility in a quadriplegic man.

    To quote the ABC News website,

    “In 2014, that research played a major role in the world’s first successful restoration of mobility in Darek Fidyka. He had been paralysed from the chest down after a knife attack, but went on to walk again after groundbreaking surgery overseas. That feat has been described as the scientific equivalent to the moon landing, and would not have been possible without the work done by Professor Mackay-Sim.”

    Who would have thought that research on the cells that help us to smell would lead to a paralysed man being able to walk again! Perhaps you could say that the research helped to illuminate this man’s night into day…

    Bravo, Professor Mackay-Sim, and congratulations on your Australian of the Year award! January 26, 2017 at 1:41am Reply

    • Victoria: Fascinating! Thank you for sharing. We still understand so little about olfaction.

      This one is the silver wattle from Provence, but the golden and silver wattles both smell wonderful. Such a great flower to have as an emblem. January 26, 2017 at 2:47am Reply

  • Nora Szekely: Dear Victoria and perfume lovers,

    My favourite lines from Hafez are :

    Even
    After
    All this time
    The Sun never says
    To the Earth,
    “You owe me”.
    Look
    What happens
    With a love like that,
    It lights the
    Whole
    Sky. January 26, 2017 at 3:57am Reply

    • Victoria: Beautiful!
      Whose translation is it? January 26, 2017 at 4:28am Reply

      • Nora Szekely: Hi Victoria,

        I wanted to look up the translator’s name and it turned out that it may not be from Hafez after all 🙁
        It appeared first in “The Gift: Poems by Hafez the Great Sufi Master” by Daniel Ladinsky however no Farsi text was found by reserachers and Ladinksy later claimed that he has heard the poems from Hafez himself in a dream.
        I learned my lesson : next time I cross-check the facts before sharing a quote and also a translator’s identity is no petty detail especially in case of poetry 🙂 . Nevertheless I think it is a beautiful saying.

        By the way your article is wonderful and I love how your blog includes many beautiful facets of life. January 26, 2017 at 4:53am Reply

        • Victoria: Ah, I see. Well, no worries, Ladinsky’s own poems are beautiful. I did read one story of how he used to make up all sorts of things, so his translations are often freestyle, to put it mildly. He seems to be quiet a character! January 26, 2017 at 5:15am Reply

  • Inma: Thank you, Victoria, for such a beautiful post! January 26, 2017 at 6:33am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m very glad to share! January 26, 2017 at 12:28pm Reply

  • Aurora: Thank you so much for lighting up the dark days of winter with some sunshine from the mimosa. Reading the biography you linked I find much inspiration in Hafez’s life: his humble beginnings, the tribulations of exile, I’ve started reading some of the translated ghazals on the site you link. His obsession with one beloved glimpsed at from afar reminds me of Dante and Beatrice. January 26, 2017 at 1:45pm Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, a fitting parallel. That yearning for a glimpse of the beloved is a leitmotif in his poetry, as in much of the mystical poetry in general. It also stands for longing for the divine (the Divine Essence is usually perceived as feminine.) January 26, 2017 at 2:09pm Reply

  • KarenA: It’s always the right time for a poem, and Hafez always hits the spot! Thank you for the reminder. January 27, 2017 at 8:25am Reply

    • Victoria: I always keep a volume of his poems on my table. January 27, 2017 at 9:02am Reply

  • kayliz: Perfect, yes, it is! Absolutely perfect.

    (It’s a great shame, in this particular case, that the preacher is teetotal.) January 27, 2017 at 6:21pm Reply

    • Victoria: Hafez doesn’t mince words.

      For Hafez, the worst part is if he’s narrow-minded. January 28, 2017 at 10:19am Reply

  • Kate: This was such a lovely post, and as usual your blog is a calm and civilized place in the midst of these troubling times.

    I think I have been following too much social media lately – not good for peace of mind. Some Hafez and perfume are probably a good antidote. January 27, 2017 at 7:37pm Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, the two always work for me. And music, books, waking up early and watching the sunrise as I drink my tea. Small things that help to keep me more or less together. January 28, 2017 at 10:23am Reply

  • Sara: I have virtually no knowledge of Eastern poets, so thank you for raising my attention! I will do some reading for sure. Poetry is one of the most beautiful things in life for me…
    I like your articles very much, Victoria, and that they span in so many directions, from perfume to literature to cooking! February 1, 2017 at 8:38am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Sara! Hafez is such an interesting figure, and his observations can be refreshing, jolting and inspiring, in equal measure. If I start quoting him, I’d never stop, but the poem above is a good start. February 1, 2017 at 9:54am Reply

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