Thursday, June 1, 2023

Hafez (Wine, Boys, and Song)


My Love Has Sent No Letter

My love has sent no letter for
  A long time now--I've heard
No salutations from him, no
  Inquiries, not one word;

I've written him a hundred times,
  But that hard-riding king
Has sent no emissary back,
  No message, not a thing!

I'm wild with waiting, crazy, but
  He's sent no envoy here--
No strutting partridge has turned up,
  No graceful, skittish deer.

He knows my heart must now be like
  A fluttering bird, but he
Has yet to send one sinuous line
  To lure and capture me.

Damn him, that sweet-lipped serving boy
  Knows very well that I
Need wine now, but he pours me none
  Although my glass is dry.

How much I boasted of his favors,
  The kindnesses we share--
And now I've no idea at all
  Of how he is, or where.

But this is no surprise, Hafez;
  Calm yourself, and behave!
A king can't be expected to
  Write letters to a slave.

-Hafez (tr. Dick Davis)

Hafez (1325-1390, roughly) was a Persian poet, largely based in Shiraz. He enjoyed the patronage of Abu Es'haq (transliterations vary) of the Inju dynasty who ruled in southwestern Iran until Abu Es'haq was deposed in 1353. Abu Es'haq tolerated wine, liked poetry, but his replacement Mobarez al-Din was a more conventional Muslim, and Hafez was forced into exile, at least until Mobarez al-Din was subsequently overthrown a year later.

I've read other translations of Hafez (Robert Bly, others), but I've been quite taken with Dick Davis', which was done for Penguin. There are two other Shirazi poets in the volume--Jahan Malek Khatun, the niece of Abu Es'haq, and Obayd-e Zakani, but I haven't gotten to them yet. Given Hafez' reputation, I felt a glass of wine should stand by his side.

But wine, women (or boys), and song isn't all there is to Hafez. He's sometimes read as if he were writing drinking songs, and sometimes read as if he were a mystic. Davis is insistent that both interpretations are valid, and neither be dismissed, and this poem struck me as a good example of one that could be read either way. It was apparently a convention of Persian poetry of the time to treat one's lover as royalty and one's self as base, so it's not certain that the king mentioned is actually kingly. But it is equally possible that Hafez is thinking of someone altogether more Lordly, who's not responding to Hafez' entreaties.


  1. This is beautiful. I have to get a copy. My favourite of Hafiz/ Hafez is this:
    It is not for you to say Hafiz
    That the rose is one of God’s creations
    However heavenly it might smell
    You have to think of the time
    When you are both dead and gone
    And people are interested only in your successors.


    1. Ooh, that is a nice one. I don't think it was included in this volume (though with different translations it's sometimes hard to tell.)

      I've read other translated selections, but I really liked the ones in this Penguin by Davis. And the other two poets he included (it's about 2/3rds Hafez) are pretty impressive, too--I've now finished it.