The Color of Love

“Even before the two worlds took shape, there was the color of love.” The 14th poet from Shiraz, Hafez, embodies for most the most beautiful and poignant of what the poetic Sufi tradition has produced. This mystical branch of Islam encourages the experience of the divine through one’s personal quest, and it fits with my idea of spirituality. According to the Sufi worldview, the divine is in the details. In every leaf. In every jasmine petal. In every exhalation of a rose. In oneself. The search for it gives meaning to all that one does. And art in all of its manifestations is the way to connect to something greater than oneself, to bridge the two worlds, the inner world of spirit and the outer world of the material.

What is the place of love then? For Hafez, who stays true to the Sufi tradition in his writing, it’s the most important state that can be. Without love, it’s impossible to understand the divine. Which is why in his famous poem he says that even before the idea for the world existed, there was love. Love intoxicates. Love breaks all barriers. Love enlivens. Love takes one out of oneself. Love transcends all. Love makes you feel alive.

The poem that I wanted to share with you today is about Hafez’s color of love and his idea of love. You can read it in several ways–as a call for being open to passion or as a rejection of dogmas and hard-held beliefs. “I wash my holy robes in wine,” says Hafez in another poem. “Stain your prayer mat with wine,” he urges in this one. The idea might seem heretical for someone whose name means “knowing the Koran by heart,” and yet, its subversiveness is entirely within the Sufi thought. You can’t transcend the ordinary by doing ordinary and expected things.

I find this poem invigorating, and every time I read it, I take something new from it. Depending on my mood or my thoughts at any given point, I read something else into it. Today when dogmas drive politics, create divisions and conflicts, Hafez seems especially relevant.

On a very simple level you can read this poem as a call to be passionate about whatever inspires you, a person, an idea, a place or a graceful dove feather that just landed on my balcony. The color of love will be something new for each one of us every day.

Come, wineboy, bring the cup around and pour the spirit free.
Love, at first sight, looked easy. But it soon got hard for me.
In pining for the musk-sweet scent dawn wind bears from her hair
Such tearful blood wells in the hearts of lovers everywhere.
No chance of rest or pleasure at love’s station in my heart.
Life’s bells already ring outside: make ready to depart.
Stain prayer-mats with wine if the wine-seller tells you to.
Pilgrims must know the way, its every stage, and what to do.
The dread of waves, the dark of night, the maelstrom’s monstrous roar…
How can they know my plight, who stay so carefree on the shore?
All my pursuits for my own pleasure ruined my good name.
When gossip-parties learn your secret, it becomes your shame.
Hafiz! If you so wish to be with Him, then do not hide.
That day you meet the One you yearn for, cast this world aside.

The translation by A.Z. Foreman is one of the most successful I’ve come across, and you can find more at Poems in Translation. Otherwise, you can look up the translations by Dick Davis. I also like a website that features the whole of Hafez’s Diwan, in both English and Persian, Hafiz on Love.

Original, in case you read Persian.

الا یا ایها الساقی ادر کاسا و ناولها
که عشق آسان نمود اول ولی افتاد مشکل‌ها
به بوی نافه‌ای کاخر صبا زان طره بگشاید
ز تاب جعد مشکینش چه خون افتاد در دل‌ها
مرا در منزل جانان چه امن عیش چون هر دم
جرس فریاد می‌دارد که بربندید محمل‌ها
به می سجاده رنگین کن گرت پیر مغان گوید
که سالک بی‌خبر نبود ز راه و رسم منزل‌ها
شب تاریک و بیم موج و گردابی چنین هایل
کجا دانند حال ما سبکباران ساحل‌ها
همه کارم ز خود کامی به بدنامی کشید آخر
نهان کی ماند آن رازی کز او سازند محفل‌ها
حضوری گر همی‌خواهی از او غایب مشو حافظ
متی ما تلق من تهوی دع الدنیا و اهملها

As always, please feel free to share your favorite poems with me.

More on Hafez :: Illuminate Our Night into the Day :: Hafez’s Rose and a Wine Cup

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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40 Comments

  • Karen A: Beautiful, and much appreciated (originally wrote needed, both are appropriate especially right now!). The translation is really wonderful – thank you for noting the translator. August 12, 2019 at 8:56am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m very glad that you liked it. I can read Hafez time and again and discover something new. This is one of my favorite poems. August 12, 2019 at 12:13pm Reply

  • Tati: Beautiful poem. Where does this quote come from? “Before even the design for the two worlds took shape, there was the color of love.” August 12, 2019 at 3:49pm Reply

    • Victoria: It comes from Hafez. August 12, 2019 at 4:16pm Reply

      • Tati: Is it in Hafez on Love? I googled the line but no particular poem came up. August 12, 2019 at 4:49pm Reply

        • Victoria: No, it’s one of his ghazal. My own translation. August 12, 2019 at 4:51pm Reply

          • Tati: Ah, lovely. August 12, 2019 at 5:05pm Reply

  • Mel: This is why I love this site. Just like you, Victoria, curiosity and the promise of new knowledge lures me out of bed. Very often, I am invigorated and inspired by boisdejasmin. Thank you. August 12, 2019 at 4:32pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much!
      The promise of a new discovery is always such a great motivator, isn’t it. August 13, 2019 at 2:01am Reply

  • Tourmaline: Hi Victoria,

    A lovely post – no pun intended.

    I have a soft spot for “The Lady of Shalott” by Alfred Tennyson. At one time, I used to know the 19 verses by heart. Living on my own, my voice would get little exercise, so I would sometimes recite it aloud to exercise my speaking apparatus.

    I also love the slightly shortened version put to music by Loreena McKennitt – divine. It is on her album, “The Visit”, from 1991.

    The film clip is here: https://youtu.be/DRIHzr3Pxhc. I have just seen it for the first time, and it is beautiful.

    A live version is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z77PR0JA0gU.

    I also like Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias – such a great lesson.

    With kind regards,
    Tourmaline August 12, 2019 at 7:49pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much! These are so beautiful. August 13, 2019 at 2:02am Reply

      • Tourmaline: I’m glad you enjoyed them! August 13, 2019 at 4:28am Reply

  • Neva: Just beautiful! To me this poem is about bravery, about the strength to search for and follow your unique path. I’ve copied it and printed it on a sheet of paper to read it in the mornings.
    Some of my favourite poems are Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata – a life philosophy and The Parade by Billy Collins. They both remind me of the passing of time and the need to use it wisely. August 14, 2019 at 4:28am Reply

    • Victoria: I agree! You’ve pointed out exactly what drew me to this poem–to think for yourself, to be inspired and not to shy away from following your own path.

      Will be reading the poems you mentioned. August 14, 2019 at 5:36am Reply

  • Tourmaline: Hi Victoria,

    I couldn’t resist adding a quote from a novel that I began reading last night – The Book of Lost Fragrances by M. J. Rose. A perfumer has just discovered a wonderful fragrance in the Egyptian sarcophagus of two lovers who were mummified together.

    “Tears sprang to the perfumer’s eyes as he inhaled again. This was the kind of scent he’d always imagined capturing. He was smelling liquid emotion. Giles L’Etoile was smelling love.

    The perfumer was desperate. What gave this perfume its complexity? Why was it so elusive? Why couldn’t he recognize it? He’d smelled and memorized over five hundred different ingredients. What was in this composition?

    If only there were a machine that would be able to take in the air and separate out the components it contained. Long ago, he’d spoken to his father about such a thing. Jean-Louis had scoffed, as he did at most of his son’s inventions and imaginings, chastising him for wasting time on impractical ideas, for indulging in foolish romanticism.

    “Perfume can evoke feelings, Papa,” he’d argued. “Imagine what a fortune we’d make if we were selling dreams and not just formulations.”

    “Nonsense,” his father admonished. “We are chemists, not poets. Our job is to mask the stench of the streets, to cover the scent of the flesh and relieve the senses from the onslaught of smells that are unpleasant, vile and infected.”

    “No, father. You’re wrong. Poetry is the very essence of what we do.”

    Ah yes… Perfumery is poetry, and odour can evoke love. I also like the little nod to modern spectrometers!

    With kind regards,
    Tourmaline August 15, 2019 at 2:40am Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, thank you so much for this! August 15, 2019 at 9:38am Reply

      • Tourmaline: You’re most welcome! August 16, 2019 at 12:54am Reply

  • Inma: Hello Victoria and others,

    Thank you very much for this beautiful post. It balances the hopeless feeling I usually get when reading most of the news.

    “From the evaporation of feelings
    – grandiose see of enormous waves –
    in the soul appear condensed
    clouds of the divine thought”

    Juan Ramón Jiménez
    (my own translation)

    These days rediscovering this Spanish poet.

    Compulsory a wise and full of love feeling, emotional, education, it seems to me.

    Lovely summer whatever the circumstances,

    Inma August 15, 2019 at 6:34am Reply

    • Victoria: Beautiful! Thank you very much. I feel the same way you do, and I think that it’s important to seek something positive, or better yet, start one’s morning by doing something one enjoys. Reading a couple of lines from a favorite book, for instance. It sets the tone for the whole day. August 15, 2019 at 9:38am Reply

    • eudora: hello Inma, I read every year Platero and I. It is basically a prose poem…it is a gem. I must read his poetry… August 15, 2019 at 3:29pm Reply

      • Inma: It is! We used to study it at school and I didn’t enjoy it at that time. It is being good going back to Juan Ramón Jiménez these days. August 19, 2019 at 6:56am Reply

        • eudora: In my opinion Platero is not a book for children at all, but it was considered that way. I also “read it” at school… It is such a complex and rich book and it is full of cultural references… August 19, 2019 at 9:31am Reply

  • Elaine: I also love The Lady of Shallot; I was named Elaine, partly because of my dad’s love for the poems and stories of Elaine of Astolat, the Lady of Shallot.

    Two favorite poems: shinto, by Jorge Luis Borges, and Monet Refuses the Operation, by Lisel Mueller. August 15, 2019 at 8:08am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much for sharing your favorite poems! August 15, 2019 at 9:36am Reply

    • Tourmaline: Hi Elaine,

      I didn’t know that the Lady of Shalott was the Elaine of Astolat from Arthurian legend. I just googled it and read about her.

      Also, I just googled both the poems you mentioned – lovely indeed.

      Thank you.

      With kind regards,
      Tourmaline August 16, 2019 at 5:47am Reply

  • Aurora: Thank you for an inspiring poem, Victoria.

    I always enjoy this poem:
    She walks in beauty like the night
    Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
    And all that’s best of dark and bright
    Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
    Lord Byron August 15, 2019 at 11:45am Reply

    • Victoria: I can read this poem countless times, and it still makes my heart skip a beat. August 16, 2019 at 4:54am Reply

  • eudora: thanks Victoria for the poem, and thank you all for the recommendations.
    And speaking of gratitude I recommend Another poem of gifts, from Jorge Luis Borges. August 15, 2019 at 3:18pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much! This is such a beautiful thread. August 16, 2019 at 4:54am Reply

      • Tourmaline: It is indeed, and it has inspired me to write you a little poem – not great, but my best for now. I hope you like it!

        Bois de Jasmin

        This fragrant church
        Is so much more
        Than the sum of its parts
        We worship at the altar of scent
        And writing and art and food and all it’s meant
        We share, we aid, we learn and inspire
        Basking in the multicoloured light
        Singing with the choir
        Reaching ever higher
        The incense lingers
        All our days
        Poetry in motion
        Blessed Bois de Jasmin August 16, 2019 at 9:00pm Reply

        • Victoria: I’m so touched! This is like a beautiful gift. Thank you very much for such a lovely poem and such nice words. You’ve made my day. August 19, 2019 at 10:55am Reply

          • Tourmaline: Dear Victoria,

            I’m so glad you like it! I wrote it in about 25 mintues, and, reading over it now, I would write “This perfumed church” as the first line, so you can read it that way!

            This is truly how I think of Bois de Jasmin, so the poem is my way of saying thank you.

            With kind regards,
            Tourmaline August 19, 2019 at 11:07am Reply

            • Silvermoon: Oh, Tourmaline, that’s very beautiful.

              Also thanks to everyone for their poem suggestions. Poetry certainly makes for a nice change from much that’s uninspiring in the news and other things we read as part of our work/day to day lives. August 21, 2019 at 9:25am Reply

              • Tourmaline: Thank you, Silvermoon; you are very kind.

                And you are so right about the bright spot that poetry can be amid the trouble and sadness in our world. August 21, 2019 at 7:50pm Reply

  • Gențiana Crăciun: I am so happy belonging to this wonderful community. Bois de Jasmin is not only a blog. It is a brotherhood of people who THINK, FEEL, SEARCH. Thank You Victoria, thank You All … Because You Are. August 27, 2019 at 6:38am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much for your kind words! This means so much to me and I appreciate the kind of community we have here. This thread has been fascinating. August 29, 2019 at 5:54am Reply

  • Inas: Wonderful as usual Victoria. Have you listened to this poem as a song? It is in Arabic just write the first line of the poem and you find it youtube. It is amazing. There are other sufi poets I adore like Rumi, Alhalaj, Rabia and Ibn Arabi.
    أَلا يَا أَيهَا السَاقِي أَدِر كَأسًا ونَاوِلها
    فَمَن تُوقعهُ نَفسٌ في شِرَاكِ العِشقِ يَعذِلهَا
    This is the same poem in Arabic .. oh such an amazing choice. Thanks Victoria. August 29, 2019 at 4:17pm Reply

    • Victoria: The poem I posted is in Persian.

      I also like the poets you mentioned, especially Rumi Mowlana and Alhalaj! August 30, 2019 at 4:20am Reply

  • Inas: Yes The poem you posted is in Persian but the first line is Arabic as well because the two languages share many similar words. The poem’ s Arabic translation which is in youtube . August 30, 2019 at 4:24am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much, I found it! Yes, I saw that line, although in Arabic the poem’s tone (to my ear) is so different. I’ll say, however, that I don’t consider my knowledge of classical Arabic to be sufficient to pick out subtle nuances. Since I’m doing Persian translation work, I’ve had to learn Arabic too. Still work in progress, and I’m enjoying it immensely. August 30, 2019 at 4:44am Reply

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