Postcard from Iran

Shiraz is one of Iran’s jewels and while in that city we visited the shrine of Khwāja Šamsu d-Dīn Muḥammad Hāfez-e Šīrāzī, the poet better known as Hafez (1326-1390), an honorific bestowed on him after he learned the Koran by heart as a child.

Hafez wrote poems about love which, according to what I’ve read, are almost impossible to translate into English because of their inherent mysticism – however, he is one of Iran’s best-loved poets and people know his poems off by heart. A recording of a dulcet-toned man reading poems (in Farsi) that was being played over loudspeakers in the garden had a beautiful rhythm and I even caught a rhyme or two. (Hafez said of his own poetry, when questioned, that “my poems lift the corners of the mouth – the soul’s mouth, the heart’s mouth …”.)

The Hafez garden in Shiraz. The poet’s sarcophagus is under the dome. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The garden was busy with visitors enjoying the many flowering, potted plants and visiting the poet’s sarcophagus inscribed with calligraphy. We decided to take advantage of the tea-house in the corner of the garden … unfortunately, it was playing loud Iranian pop music. Bit of a mood shatterer. (Our guide told them they should be ashamed of drowning out Hafez poetry with such stuff – they turned it down a slight notch!)

Goethe translated Hafez and, after much study of the Persian’s works, said “Hafez has no peer”! There is a long tradition of consulting Hafez in times of need – even Queen Victoria is said to have done it – with a reader treating his books as an oracle and opening them with a deep wish from their soul for guidance. Read more here in a BBC Culture story.

The sarcophagus of Hafez. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I mentioned to our guide that Omar Khayyam is probably the best-known Persian poet in the West but she said in Iran Hafez, Rumi (1207-1273) and Saadi (c1200-1292) all rank above Omar Kahayyam (1048-1131), who is better known there as a mathematician and astronomer. Saadi, whose tomb is also in Shiraz, has a verse about the unity of all peoples from his 1258 poem Bustan inscribed on the United Nations building in New York – the opening lines are:

The sons of man are limbs of one another,
Created of the same stuff, and none other.