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 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.
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.