Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Charlize Villaseñor Response Paper 4

Hafez was, and remains to be, one of the most influential poets in traditional Persian poetry. Today, his work is often deemed so important, it is second only to the Quran. The importance of this work remains today in countries where Persian is spoken and is telling of cultural values, both at the time of production and today still. For this reason, German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was impressed by Hafez and was highly influenced by his work, helping bring Western and Eastern culture together through his studies, poetry, and collections. Considering Hafez’s importance in Persian culture, his work is often reproduced as calligraphy on art such as rugs, prints, pottery, and more. This calligraphy as well as the large amount of individuals who have memorized lines of his poetry, provide insight to the influence of his work. In this essay, lyric poetry, Goethe’s impression of Hafez, and personal experiences with calligraphy and memorization of Persian poetry will be analyzed and explained.

Sana’i wrote the three stanza poem, “Perfect Love.” This lyric poem depicts the poet’s beloved and the love the two of them share. The rhyme scheme of this poem is nearly musical due to the precise use of syllables and the short lines. The content is highly romantic which is conveyed as the beloved is upheld and the poet will seemingly do anything for the beloved. Sa’di states, “Lovers like us none else, I guess, Are found in earth’s confine,” which clearly means that there is no other like the beloved, that she is one of a kind and thus should be cherished. He continues with the directness and straightforwardness when conveying his devotion to the beloved; not only is he writing a poem depicting their, “Perfect Love,” but he is stating, “I am hers alway.” This directness is typically not seen in other forms of Persian poetry, but this poem is talking directly about the beloved from the title, as opposed to the fashion that most other poems perform in considering they leave room for interpretation through the use of highly connotative words or phrases with a second meaning. 

Another example of a shorter lyric poem is Sa’di’s, “Dance.” Unlike, “Perfect Love,” this poem makes use of metaphors and connotative words to create its meaning, but is still highly romantic and depicts how the poet feels about their beloved. Sa’di speaks of all the joys that the beloved brings to one’s life when he states, “Thou alone dost give it splendour,” and conveys that life without the beloved is pained and not worth living when he states, “Better sicken, better die At thy feet than live to lose thee,” and that the “thorns of Absence bruise thee.” The presence of the beloved in Sa’di’s life is so important, he would compare himself to a pilgrim and suffer a long voyage to “Love’s sanctuary,” in order to see or even just be in the presence of the beloved. This poem is highly romantic as is typical of lyric poetry. Sa’di sees no inherent flaws in the beloved and does not believe that the beloved can become flawed by anything. 

Hafez has also written many lyric poems that are primarily longer than the previous two pieces. One lyric poem of his is titled, “Love and Wine,” and depicts how Hafez uses wine to cope with losing his beloved. Within the first stanza, Hafez states, “Deep let me drink the juice divine to soothe my tortur’d heart.” He conveys that he would rather be intoxicated than deal with this hurt. Though he blames love itself for hurting him rather than the beloved, the source makes no difference for the pain he feels. Hafez states, “For Love, who seem’d at first so mild… Here deep has plung’d his dart,” which acts as a cautionary statement to the audience that although love may seem beautiful and mild, it is actually such an intense emotion with the ability to hurt someone. This piece conveys the idea that when love has left one’s life, it is a painful feeling because love is so strong and feels like nothing else but is only comparable to intoxication which is why wine is used to cope and possibly help forget the pain. 

Considering the influence of Hafez and the profoundness of Persian culture and poetry, Goethe gained an interest in studying Hafez’s works and eventually wrote a book devoted to Hafez. Goethe had an initial interest in Islam and Eastern culture and considered studying literature and religion to be the best ways to learn about another culture. He received a German translation of Hafez’s West-Eastern Divan which expanded his knowledge of the east and pushed him to write his own Kunftiger Divan. The Kunftiger Divan was divided into 12 sections or “books,” and functioned as a dialogue between Goethe and Hafez, and eventually between western and eastern cultures.  In order to connect the two Divans, all the sections in Goethe’s book contained a Persian title and a German title and shared motifs such as mysticism and romanticism. The two had similar philosophies of life, attitudes, and values which was important in allowing Goethe to connect with Hafez. He found Hafez fascinating as his work was penetrating and very opening in a closed society and wanted to create a stronger connection between the east and west which is what drove him to write his Divan.

Though the influence of Hafez can be seen in different parts of the world, he is primarily popular in Persian speaking regions where many individuals have lines of his poetry memorized and reproduced as calligraphy on art. In my experience, the more lines of poetry I memorize, the easier it becomes to memorize new lines of poetry. I feel with each line of poetry memorized, it becomes easier to recognize the rhythm that drives most poetry. This rhythm gives the lines a musicality which makes the line easier to remember, which is likely why more poetry than prose is memorized. As for calligraphy, I find the strokes become easier each time something is written in calligraphy. Before, I used to have to write things over and over before they were to my standards but now I only practice once or twice before I write my finished product. I find that the writing of calligraphy also has a bit of rhythm to it so that the letters are proportionate and have the same style to them. This rhythm also helps give this exercise a calming effect and helps me better appreciate the beauty of it.

The influence of lyric poetry, and especially Hafez, is seen throughout the world and has great literary value. The connections that can be made across all kinds of people is still valuable today and is what makes Hafez’s work pertinent still. Though he may have lived hundreds of years ago, Hafez wrote of universal ideas that are important today which is what give poetry, calligraphy, and memorization meaning.

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