Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Response Paper 4 – Estelle Tronson

Words: 1,130

Lyric Poetry

Lyric poems are to poetry what poetry is to Persian culture. That is to say, they are an essential, something recognizable within a larger whole. I have enjoyed studying this form of poetry immensely, it is easy to get lost within the verses. One poem I especially liked was entitled ‘Departure’ by Rumi:

“Mysterious figures float in view, all strange and secret things display.

From this orb, wheeling round its pole, a wondrous slumber o’er thee stole:

O weary life that weighest naught, o sleep that on my soul dost weigh;

O heart, toward thy heart’s love wend, and o friend, fly toward the Friend,

Be wakeful, watchman, to the end: drowse seemingly no watchman may.”¹

In this poem, Rumi talks about the souls of the dead departing from the earth. The firstline is striking, using the phrase “strange and secret things display,” as though in death, all secrets are laid bare. In the next line, Rumi moves on to explain that the orb “wheeling round its pole”, or the earth, is overtaken by the slumber of death. Although the earth continues to spin, death will touch every living creature on the planet. But, Rumi does not have a fatalistic view of this fact. Instead he says that life is exhausting, as is the promise of death hanging overhead, but that once sleep overtakes oneself, they will “fly toward the Friend”, greeting God in paradise. In the final line, Rumi advises the reader to be watchful and fight the sleep. What one should be watchful for is not specified, whether it be for spirits, secrets, or signs of God it is hard to say, but perhaps it is all three.

The poem ‘Dance’ by Sa’di is another lyric that caught my eye. Sa’di describes love in such beautiful terms, saying

“Lovers’ souls ‘gin dance with glee

When the zephyr fans thy roses.

Ne’er melts thy stony heart for me,

Mine as a sunk stone heavily

In the dimple’s well reposes.”²

When the zephyr reveals the roses of the subject, lovers dance with glee. Roses in Persian poetry symbolize love and beauty. However, this does not phase the narrator, as he has a “stony heart” when it comes to such things, because he is lost in her dimples. In short, the narrator is past the stage of being in love with love itself (like the lovers are) and instead is deeply in love with the poem’s subject and her dimples.

Hafez is well known for his Lyric poems. His verses flow like flowers in the wind, captivating the reader, and interweaving poetry with rhythm. In one poem, he talks about the ephemeral nature of happiness, saying,

“Enjoy this moment’s happiness,

Savor it well;

The pearl will not remain

Forever in its shell.”³

Hafez bears the reminder that happiness is fleeting, and it is important to stay in the present, and enjoy it because it cannot last forever. Eventually only the memories of happiness with be left. The metaphor, in particular, struck me. It seems to imply that something or someone will take the happiness, rather than the feeling simply fading away of its own accord. Pearls do not wither like a rose, they stay within their shells until taken, whether that is by a person, the sea waves, or something else. This was an interesting way to look at happiness, and its short lived essence. Not only is Hafez recommending that one appreciates their happiness in the present moment, but that they guard it well, and keep it from being stolen. 

Another poem that caught my attention, also by Hafez, is as follows:

“That busybody criticizes me

For loving love and revelry-

But it’s my knowledge of the hidden world

That motivates his enmity.”⁴

Our current society demands we work constantly, always moving. But to take a moment and appreciate the small things like love and festivities, we are taking the time for our own personal happiness. Those who are always working despise the lovers, labelling them as “lazy” and “useless”, but secretly, they are jealous, because these lovers know more about life, and are happier with it, than the busybodies will ever be.

Hafez and Goethe

It is easy to get lost in the worlds Hafez creates with his poetry. The 18th century German writer, Goethe, would agree. One of the most prominent authors of the time, Goethe’s writings have been cited by Nietzsche, Freud and Jung, and inspired musical works by Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelsson and other composers.⁵ At first glance, it is impossible to see what similarities a Persian poet from 400 years prior could share with Gothe. However, even though Goethe and Hafez never met, and in fact, lived centuries apart, Hafez had a deep impact on the German writer. The literature of the Middle East was “vital to the beginnings of the era of romantic literature in Europe”.⁶ During the 1700s, many works by Persian poets were translated and brought to Europe.⁷ When Goethe discovered Hafez, he was forever changed. “I examined myself through his works,” he wrote in a letter to a friend.⁸ Because of Hafez, became more interested in poetry and Persian culture. Not only did Goethe reform himself, but his writing went through changes during this period as well. The Persian poet’s style “liberated Goethe from the confines of traditional European poetic forms”.⁹ He was able to experiment with writing in ways that were unconventional to Europe at the time. Goethe even referred to Hafez as a mentor; admitting he couldn’t fully understand him but strived to learn from his writings. Despite the differences of their country and era, Goethe and Hafez share an unbreakable bond.

Memorization and Calligraphy 

Poetry memorization is still something I struggle with in class, but it has gotten easier. One thing I’ve found that helps me exceptionally is identifying a rhythm within  the poem. The rhythm varies depending on each person, but once I identify the one that works for me, I am able to recall more of the recitation.

In my calligraphy, I have been able to work on keeping the phrases even and uniform. I still find the art of calligraphy extremely relaxing and am always excited to pursue a script assignment.

Memorization and calligraphy approach learning in a way that I am not used to. They are lifelong skills that do not require a textbook to complete. I am excited to be learning things that hold such artistic and historical value, and are able to captivate an audience immediately. In fact, learning these skills in class reminds me of verse of Hafez that we discussed:

“To learn with us, wipe clean

Your schoolbook’s pages; look-

The knowledge lovers learn

Is not in any book.”¹⁰

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Endnotes

¹ Arberry, A. J. Persian Poems: an Anthology of Verse Translations. Yassavoli Publications, 2005.

² Arberry, A. J. Persian Poems: an Anthology of Verse Translations. Yassavoli Publications, 2005.

³ Davis, Dick. Faces of Love: Hafez and the Poets of Shiraz. Penguin Books, 2013.

⁴ Davis, Dick. Faces of Love: Hafez and the Poets of Shiraz. Penguin Books, 2013.

⁵ De Vries, Caroline. Hafez and the West-Eastern Divan (West-Östlicher Divan) of Goethe: Dialogues among Languages, Cultures, Religions, and Time. 2015, Hafez and the West-Eastern Divan (West-Östlicher Divan) of Goethe: Dialogues among Languages, Cultures, Religions, and Time.

⁶ De Vries, Caroline. Hafez and the West-Eastern Divan (West-Östlicher Divan) of Goethe: Dialogues among Languages, Cultures, Religions, and Time. 2015, Hafez and the West-Eastern Divan (West-Östlicher Divan) of Goethe: Dialogues among Languages, Cultures, Religions, and Time.

⁷ Nazari, Morad. “Hafez and Goethe.” MORADNAZARI, 17 Dec. 2015, www.moradnazari.com/hafez-and-goethe/.

⁸ De Vries, Caroline. Hafez and the West-Eastern Divan (West-Östlicher Divan) of Goethe: Dialogues among Languages, Cultures, Religions, and Time. 2015, Hafez and the West-Eastern Divan (West-Östlicher Divan) of Goethe: Dialogues among Languages, Cultures, Religions, and Time.

⁹ Nazari, Morad. “Hafez and Goethe.” MORADNAZARI, 17 Dec. 2015, www.moradnazari.com/hafez-and-goethe/.

¹⁰ Professor Mahallati, In class lecture: Freshman Seminar, November 2019.

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