At ReadTheSpirit, we bring readers news about remarkable books and films that raise spiritual questions—and inspire us to connect with our world. The story of Rumi, who is a part of this book review, is profiled online in Interfaith Heroes 1.
No less a giant of American literature than Ralph Waldo Emerson called Hafiz “the prince of Persian poets,” so Hafiz’s poetry certainly is no flash-in-the-pan discovery. At this point, Hafiz is not as famous as the great Rumi, who these days journalists describe as “the world’s best-selling poet in English.” If you’re reading this review, you almost certainly know a bit about Rumi’s short, mystical poems with spiritual yearnings that often seem to ache long after you’ve finished reading his words. Well, if you have come to appreciate that general style of Persian poetry, then you’ll find Hafiz another delightfully scented breeze from the East. You’ll enjoy Daniel Ladinsky’s A Year with Hafiz: Daily Contemplations.
Rumi’s eloquent lines on love tend to wind up on greeting cards, calendars, posters and other media designed to lift one’s spirits and express one’s love for others. Of course, Rumi’s range was far larger than thoughts of love. To explore the grand vistas of Rumi’s work, we also highly recommend Coleman Barks and his Big Red Book collection of Rumi in English.
Hafiz, in this new collection from Ladinsky and Penguin, comes to us fully flowered in 365 selections. For Emerson, and many other Hafiz fans down through the centuries, the attraction in Hafiz’s works is a relentless quest for his own spiritual voice. Especially in these English-language renderings of Hafiz by Ladinsky, Hafiz comes across as downright defiant and sometimes darkly funny in that quest for truth, wherever that journey might lead.
If you’re confused by the one-word name in the book’s title, it’s possible that you’ve run across him as Hafez, another way of transliterating the Arabic into English. His full name and title sometimes is given as: Khawaja (which means Master) Shamsu d-Din Muhammad Hafez-e Shirazi (meaning that he was born in Shiraz, which today is in southwest Iran). He lived and died in the 14th Century. (Rumi lived in the 13th Century.) You may recognize that Hafiz, the core of his name, is the same word used to refer to someone who has memorized the entire Quran. Tradition holds that this poet called Hafiz also accomplished that feat, but little historical detail can be documented about his life.
In the 19th Century, Emerson wrote that one of Hafiz’s greatest gifts was “his intellectual liberty, which is a certificate of profound thought. We accept the religions and politics into which we fall; and it is only a few delicate spirits who are sufficient to see that the whole web of convention is the imbecility of those whom it entangles—that the mind suffers no religion and no empire but its own. It indicates this respect to absolute truth by the use it makes of the symbols that are most stable and revered, and therefore is always provoking the accusation of irreligion.”
More than a century after Emerson wrote that assessment of Hafiz’s spiritual wisdom, that passage still stands up as a good summary of Hafiz’s appeal. If you’ve tasted Rumi and you’re restless for more from this branch of global culture—then spend a year with Hafiz. Sure, the daily entries all are marked with dates on the calendar, but start your year anywhere and circle back around. Rumi, Hafiz and their friends would smile at the turning.
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.