Augury by Hafez

Reading Hafez at Dehkhoda

گرچه منزل بس خطرناک است و مقصد بس بعید
هیچ راهی نیست کآن را نیست پایان، غم مخور

Though the house be very dangerous and the destination very far,
There is no road that has no end, don’t grieve

Mohammed Shams olDin Hafez (1315-1390), sometimes called ‘Hafez of Shiraz’ or ‘Hafez Shirazi’ in English or more usually simply ‘Hafez’, is one of the greatest Persian poets. I am consciously using the present tense here as Hafez’ collection of poetry (دیوان حافظ /dee’vān’e hā’fez/) is very current and alive today in general in Iran, and not principally confined to obscure academic studies of medieval scripts.

My first example for comparison would be Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400). From the dates shown they were contemporaries. While many British will have heard of Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales (in particular), without doing any research to back up my impulsive thoughts on this I would be prepared to bet (شرط بندی کردن /shart band’ee kar’dan/) 100,000 rials that very few, probably less than 1%, would be able to quote from him. The 99% who can’t includes me. Chaucer was a great poet and had a great influence, and I am not diminishing his value. But I think it is fair to write that his influence was and is mainly on other poets and writers rather than the population at large today. The same cannot be said about Hafez and the Iranian peoples. Almost every Iranian I have met when I have told them that I am studying Persian literature is able to quote some Hafez from memory. Iranians don’t require much in the way of prompting to recite a couple of verses.

Another example for comparison would be William Shakespeare (1564-1616). Shakespeare’s English, being two centuries later, is more accessible than Chaucer’s. He gave to us many idioms which people use but may not realise were written for the first time by him (not that he necessarily invented all of them). Shakespeare does have an influence and effect on language today. So I would write that Shakespeare is the greatest English and English language writer, again using the present tense. In Hafez terms, I say that Shakespeare is the perfect man or the complete man (پیر مغان /pir’e mogh’ān/) of English literature. What is ‘the complete man’? You will need to read this article further to discover…

The Hafez classes

In addition to the Persian language courses from beginner to advanced levels, Dehkhoda offers literature and culture classes – collectively called the advanced course (دورهٔ عالی /du’re’e ā’li/). The lessons for each of the subjects in this course are held once a week. There are 10 sessions in each course. Allowing for public holidays the course lasts from about 10 to 12 weeks. One of the classes available is an introduction to Hafez. The information about these courses on the Dehkhoda website was (and is) slim. I was unable to form an expectation about them, except by talking to other students who were taking these courses.

The literature and culture classes are suitable for those who are at the advanced language levels, though I have seen some students at the intermediate level do very well too. Even so, I noticed from the very first day that there is a large jump between the language classes and the literature classes. The literature courses have higher level vocabulary, literary terms, as well as the course materials themselves. A certain proficiency in reading and listening and speaking Persian is necessary.

I started reading Hafez poetry at Dehkhoda in 2016. In the beginning (در آغاز /dar ā’gāz/) it was difficult or very difficult or nearly impossible. It was never easy, though some words translated easily. It seemed like an impossible task. I had had no previous exposure to Persian literature in the Persian language. I had done reasonably well in the Persian language courses at Dehkhoda. Now I was faced with something at a much higher level in both language and subject matter. The vocabulary was mostly unknown to me; the factors and subjects in Hafez poetry were new to me; I was reading haltingly from one word to the next; I was reading without any capability or even potential for rhythm and weight. Without this last ability, Hafez’ poetry loses so much of its power. I was very self-conscious, almost embarrassed.

Getting over a few of these hurdles proved not quite as impossible as it first seemed. Everybody starts somewhere, one cannot run before one can walk. After a time I started to make slow progress. I would not say that reading Hafez is always easy for me now, but it has become easier. Actually some things seem quite straightforward now, having spent some time studying Hafez.

This post definitely does not contain everything I learned about Hafez at Dehkhoda. I could easily write a compact 25,000 word essay on that based on my notes and it would still not be complete. Nor is this a post teaching about Hafez. I am not qualified to do that. It does contain a few limited snippets about Hafez which are indicative of what I learned, and presents what a Hafez lesson at Dehkhoda is like.

The text book (کتاب درس /ke’tāb’e dars/)

We used a Persian language text book called سخن آشنا (/so’khan āsh’e’nā/) written by Dr Iraj Shahbazi (ایرج شهبازی) our tutor (استاد /ost’ād/), and published in 2015 (1394 Iranian year). The title of the book is taken from the second verse of a Hafez ghazal. This book is available from online bookshops in Iran, for example at Book City. The price in September 2019 is 375,000 rials or about £2.50 in round numbers. Dehkhoda has it’s own small bookshop where the price is 260,000 rials, or £1.85. This is unbelievably cheap for such a good book. I imagine in the United Kingdom it would cost £25.

The book includes:

  • a foreword (پیشگفتار /pish’gof’tār/)
  • a prologue (مقدمه /mo’qa’da’me/) of about 65 pages
  • 25 lessons (۲۵ درس /bist o panj dars/), each with two poems
  • a vocabulary (واژه‌نامه /vā’zhe’nā’meh/)
  • a list of proper names and their definitions (فرهنگِ نام‌های خاص /far’hang’e nām’hāy’e khās/)
  • a sources list (منابع /man’ā’be/)

Iraj Shahbazi - Sokhan Ashena
Iraj Shahbazi – Sokhan Ashena

By way of recommendation it is from a collection of Persian literature texts ‘for non-Iranian learners of Persian and Iranian new learners’ (برای فارسی آموزانِ غیرایرانی و ایرانیانِ نوآموزن). The last three words later proved their relevance: I have met some Iranians who, while they can quote some Hafez poetry, do not seem to know some of the more important Hafez ideas.

This text book is superb. Although it is not a full thesis about every aspect of Hafez, and definitely doesn’t contain a smidgen of the knowledge Dr. Shahbazi has in his head about Hafez, I almost cannot believe how much information this book contains. It is a solid foundation for anyone wanting to read Hafez in Persian, and for them to get up to speed with Hafez ideas and notions very quickly. My copy is full of my own notations and marginalia (یادداشت های حاشیه /yād’dāsht’hā’ye’e hā’shi’eh/).

The preface (پیشگفتار /pish’gof’tār/)

The preface is a dedication to the Divan of Hafez (دیوان حافظ /dee’vān’e hā’fez/), and how it is a suitable book for everyone everywhere with its human (or humane) and ethical messages – it is one of the greatest masterpieces of world literature (بزرگترین شاهکار‌های ادبیِ جهان /bo’zorg’tar’in shāh’kār’hā’yee ja’hān/). The remainder of the foreword is much like my explanation in this post about the book and its intended readers.

The prologue (مقدمه /mo’qa’da’me/)

The prologue is, to me, a great part of what makes it so valuable (ارزشمند /ar/zesh’mand/). These pages are crammed (پر شده /por sho’deh/) with information. It is written in a style which is accessible, with references and footnotes. It isn’t padded with unnecessary words. From the list below one can see that more weight is given to some subjects and themes than to others. So while Hafez’ tomb in Shiraz is interesting in itself, it is less interesting for reading and understanding Hafez’ poetry than many other aspects – particularly sections 8 and 9.

  1. The personal life of Hafez and his family
    1. The name and denotation of Hafez
    2. His father’s family
    3. His date of birth and death
    4. Familial circumstances
    5. His profession and source of income
    6. His city and territory
    7. Religion and faith
    8. Hafez’ education and knowledge
      1. The Holy Quran and sciences connected to it
      2. Philosophy and wisdom
      3. Persian and Arabic literature
      4. Music
      5. Mysticism and spiritual mysteries
      6. Astronomy
  2. The character of Hafez
  3. The influence of Hafez
  4. The tomb of Hafez
  5. Myths concerning Hafez
  6. Scholars, mystics and poets contemporary with Hafez
    1. Scholars contemporary with Hafez
    2. Mystics and Sufis contemporary with Hafez
    3. Poets contemporary with Hafez
  7. Kings of Shiraz during the Hafez era
    1. Al Inju (آل اینجو)
      1. Jalāl Aladdin Massoud Shah Inju
      2. Shah Sheikh Abu Ishāq Inju
    2. Al Mozaffer (آل مظفر /āl mo’zaf’fer/)
      1. Amir Mobārez Aladdin Mohammed
      2. Shah Shojā
      3. Soltan Zin Ol Abadin
      4. Shah Ya’iya
      5. Shah Mansur
  8. An overview on the most important foundations on Hafez’ thinking
    1. Seize the day, carpe diem (دمِ غنیمت شماری /dam’e gan’ee’mat sho’mā’r’ee/)
    2. Enjoyment and happiness (لذّت‌گرایی و شادی /lez’zat ger’ā’ee o shād’ee/)
    3. ‘Beautyism’ and ogling (زیبایی گرایی و نظربازی /zee’bāy’ee ge’rā’ee o na’zar’bāz’ee/)
    4. Truthfulness and devotion: reproachful blame
    5. Combatting hypocrisy (ریاستیزی /ri’yā’se’tiz’ee/)
    6. Freedom and being free: bohemian thinking
    7. Love (عشق /eshq/)
    8. Deep thinking in questions of ‘sin’ (ژرف‌اندیشی در مسألهٔ گناه /zharf’an’dish’ee dar mas’ā’le’ye gon’āh/)
    9. Moderateness (or tolerance) and peace (مُدارا و صلح /mo’dā’rā o solh/)
    10. Human generosity (کرامت انسان /ke’rā’mat’e en’sān/)
    11. Fatalism (جبرگرایی /jabr’ge’rāy’ee/)
    12. Optimism and hopefulness (خوشبینی و امیدواری /khosh’bee’nee o om’id’vār’ee/)
    13. Need of a master: pir’e mogh’ān (لزومِ استاد: پیر مُغان)
    14. Without heed or attention to the position and office of kings
    15. Eulogy of kings (مدحِ پادشاهان /madh’e pād’e’shā’hān/)
    16. Criticism of the formal habits of religion (نقدِ نهادهای رسمی دینی /naqd’ na’hād’hā’ye ras’mi’e dee’nee/)
  9. Characteristics of the style of Hafez’ poems (ویژگی‌های سبکیِ اشعار حافظ //)
    1. Praising his own poetry (ستایشِ شعرِ خود /se’tāy’esh’e she’r’e khod/)
    2. Ghazal integration: a variety of meanings and verse independence in one ghazal
    3. Verbal cohesion in one ghazal and semantic cohesion throughout the Divan
    4. Use of new devices naturally and without standing on ceremony
    5. Rhyme repetition
    6. Use of musical, astrological, philosophical, and spoken idioms
    7. Use of superlative similes
    8. Personification (شخصیت‌بخشی /shak’see’at’bakh’shee/)
    9. Frequent use of Quranic stories, themes, and words and expressions
    10. Use of a recommending or excusing structure
    11. Care in choice of words (دقت در انتخاب الفاظ /deq’qat dar en’te’khāb’e al’fāz/)
    12. Wordplay (ایهام /ee’hām/)
    13. Copious use of contradictory combinations
    14. Lavish use of satire
    15. Use of harmonious rhythms
    16. Imparting mystery and symbolism
    17. Forerunner for the ‘Hendi’ style
  10. Hafez and (his) predecessors (حافظ و پیشینیان /hā’fez o pish’in’ee’ān/)
  11. Augury by Hafez (فال حافظ /fāl’e hā’fez/)
  12. Editions of the Divan of Hafez (تصحیح‌های دیوان حافظ /tas’hi’hā’ye dee’vān’e hā’fez/)
  13. Explanations about the Divan of Hafez
  14. Translations of Hafez (ترجمه‌های حافظ /tar’jom’e’hā’ye hā’fez/)
  15. Hafez commemoration day
  16. Introducing a selection of compositions about Hafez and his poetry

The lessons (درس‌ها /dars’hā/)

The 25 lessons in this book each contain:

  • an introduction explaining the theme (درون‌مایه /da’run’mā’yeh/) of the ghazal
  • the primary ghazal of the lesson. This is printed with diacritics to aid correct pronunciation.
  • a list of new words (فرست واژه‌های تازه /fe’rest’e vazh’e’hāy’e tā’zeh/)
  • several exercises (تمرین‌ها /tam’rin’hā/)
    • questions which test the reader’s understanding of the ghazal
    • matching words with synonyms or definitions
    • finding antonyms (متاضد واژه /mo’tā’zad’e vazh’e/)
    • selecting the correct meaning of a word from multiple choices
    • rewriting several of the verses in a straightforward manner
    • stylistics (سبک شناسی /sa’bok’she’nās’ee)
  • further reading (خواندنِ بیشتر /khan’dan’e bish’tar/) which consists of:
    • another ghazal
    • an exercise to rewrite this poem in the form of prose (بازنویسی به نثر /bāz’ne’vi’si be’ nasr/)

The vocabulary (واژه‌نامه /vā’zhe’nā’meh/)

Hafez sometimes uses words which have intricate meanings, or with meanings special to Hafez. Therefore a ‘normal’ dictionary is not always suitable to find the correct definitions. I will show a few examples here which can be found in the ghazal further down. The first two words have unusual meanings, the third word was unknown to me previously.

TranslationHafez’ meaningUsuallyWord
the hidden worldعالمِ غیبcurtainپرده
vexation, persecutionآزار و اذیتpersistence, insistenceاِبْرام
incantationوِرد

A model lesson (نمونهٔ درس /nam’oon’e’ye dars/)

The lessons were three hours long, or short as I later used to say! This included a break of about twenty minutes roughly halfway through. The number of students attending varied. Sometimes there were as many as ten in the room, other times about six. Initially with my lack of self-confidence I ‘hid’ amongst the crowd, but after a time I preferred the smaller number as it gave me more opportunities to read aloud in class. I suppose that is a sign of progress. We all sat around a large table, with Dr. Shahbazi at the head. Behind him was a whiteboard where he often wrote points and notes. I have dozens of pages of my own notes from these lessons. The lessons were entirely in Persian.

First part – review, reading, and lecture

In the first part part of the lesson there was a review of the homework (see below). We were asked if we had any questions. There were always some obscure words or words with intricate meanings in the text, and Dr Shahbazi would ask what they meant. (See my hunt for a word in the homework section). It became clear in two seconds who had read the text and who had not, and who had looked up the meanings of the ‘funny’ words and who hadn’t. I wasn’t always successful with this as the definitions I found were sometimes not quite right, but I did try. Sometimes I just misunderstood what I was reading.

Then we would each read a further part of the text. Depending on the number in the class this might be about a page or less. I always prepared for this in my own time and spent some time not just reading from word to word and looking up the obscure words, but to try to understand the ideas and the text completely. I wasn’t making a translation, but what I was attempting here can perhaps be seen in this quotation from the preface of Benjamin Jowett’s ‘The Dialogues of Plato’ with his thoughts about translation: “An English translation ought to be idiomatic and interesting, not only to the scholar, but to the unlearned reader. Its object should not simply be to render the words of one language into the words of another or to preserve the construction and order of the original; this is the ambition of a schoolboy, who wishes to show that he has made a good use of his Dictionary and Grammar”. As a result it became clear to me that my Persian reading skills hugely improved with this practice, and in addition my vocabulary expanded.

Then we would have a lecture and explanation about some Hafez history or themes in Hafez poems, or other subjects related to Iranian literature. I hugely enjoyed these lectures and wrote extensive notes of what was covered. Some of the lectures extended beyond one session.

The lectures (‌سخنرانی‌ها /sokh’an’rān’ee’hā/)

The lectures covered very diverse subjects (موضوعات /mo’zu’āt) and concepts (مفاهیم /maf’ā’him/). In this part of the lesson we were mostly listening to Dr. Shahbazi and taking notes. He frequently wrote on the whiteboard, giving examples and further information. These were not passive sessions. We always had questions to further refine our understanding. The subjects covered included:

  • the styles of Persian poetry and where they fit in Iranian history. This is a big subject as Iran has had many writers through the ages.
  • rhythm and meter in Persian poetry (وزن و عروض /vazn o a’rooz/), another large subject. Actually it is a science.
  • numerology (جفر /jafr/): assigning numbers to letters and calculating their value, and then interpreting some significance in these values. It is similar to augury.
  • the way Hafez eulogises some characters: ساقی /sā’qi/ a person who serves wine, رند /rend/ rogue or hypocrite, میِ فروش /mey for’oosh/ a wine seller; and he criticises others: زاهد /zā’hed/ a pious person, سوفی /soo’fi/ the Sufis, محتسب /moh’ta’seb/ a person who enforces religious edicts, واعظ /vā’ez/ a preacher. It is probably interesting that Hafez in his poetry is inverting these characters positions in society. He does this not out of spite or simple rebellion, but to expose and criticise hypocrisy. An apparently pious person may merely be making an ostentatious show of their religious credentials, meanwhile out of sight they are nothing of the sort.

One can see from the last point, which I expanded a tiny bit (ذره /zar’re/), that the subjects in these lectures were neither simple one line snippets of information, nor lists to be recalled without any understanding. Indeed in this one point there are quite a few other characters who are prominent in Hafez’ poetry which I haven’t mentioned here. This is just an indication.

If I wrote everything I learned in the lectures this would be an impossibly long post, in truth it would be a short book. And I have already mentioned the purpose of this post is to give an indication of what the Hafez lessons are like rather than to teach about Hafez. So I will write here about one thing we learned: the structure of a ghazal, which become useful shortly.

Structure or shape (قالب /qā’leb/) of a ghazal (غزل /gha’zal/)

A ghazal is a type of poem with certain features which makes it a ghazal. First some terminology: a ghazal is composed of couplets or verses (بیت /beyt/, plural ابیات /ab’yāt/). Each hemistich, or half verse, is called a mesra (مصراع /mes’ra/). A ghazal usually has from about 5 to 15 verses.

For much of this article I will use the main ghazal in the first lesson of the text book as an example. It is called غم مخور (/gam makh’or/), which more or less translates to “do not grieve”, or the more poetic ‘grieve not’. It is also sometimes called “The Lost Joseph”. It has a special place in my heart now and I have committed it to memory, and I sometimes use the two words غم مخور (/gam makh’or/) by way of a short maxim (زبانزد /za’bān’zad/).

Even with poetry a picture is worth a thousand words, so here is the poem with some highlights. The PDF linked after the explanation may be clearer and includes a nastaliq version too. After that there is a recording of the poem.

Structure of a ghazal - gam makhor
Structure of a ghazal – gam makhor

The key points in the picture are:

  • The difference between a verse or couplet and a hemistich should be obvious.
  • The rhyme (قافیه /qā’fi’yeh) appears in blue. In traditional poetry (شعرهای سنتی /she’r’hā’ye son’a’ti/) the rhyme is mandatory. Thus the need for the rhyming part is a reason why the ghazal form of poetry is limited to about 15 verses. At that stage it becomes increasingly harder to find suitable words. Note that the rhyme appears in the both hemistichs of the first verse, but only in the second hemistichs from then on. The rhyming letters, the end part of each of the rhyming words in this poem, have the sound ān: can’aān, gol’e’stān, sā’mān, khosh’khān,’ dur’ān, pen’hān, tu’fān, mogh’i’lān, pāi’yān, gar’dān, qor’ān.
  • Green shows the radif (ردیف /ra’dif/). The word radif has several translations, including row, line, succession, and pillion passenger. Perhaps the word ‘refrain’ would be suitable here. I am struggling to find a better translation of this word into English, so I will use the word radif as a loan word from now on. The two words غم مخور are found at the end of the first hemistich, and are then repeated at the end of each verse. They are exactly the same throughout. The radif is not always present as, unlike the rhyme, it is not compulsory.
  • Red shows the pseudonym (تخلص /takh’a’los/). Hafez’ name appears in the last verse. This verse is sometimes referred to as the بیت تخلص (/beyt’e takh’a’los/). تخلص can be translated as pseudonym or nom de plume. The word تخلص is interesting by itself. It means ‘free’ (رهایش /ra’hā’yesh/), so one can say that the poet is freeing himself (and the reader) from his poem. Here is another example of تخلص from the poem ‘Love Story’ (قصهٔ عشق /qes’se’ye eshq/): حافظ! چه طرفه شاخ نباتی است کلک تو (/hā’fez chay tor’feh shākh’e na’bāt’ist kel’ke to/).

One feature that should be noticeable in the picture is the drawn out printing. This style is called kashida or keshida from the verb ‘to draw (out)’ or ‘to pull’ (کشیدن /kash’ee’dan/). Certain letters are drawn out to fully justify the text, other letters cannot be drawn out at all. This style is typically used in printed Persian poetry books, and is less seen in ordinary printing except as a decoration. It can also be seen in Iranian newspapers, but the font size is usually so small and the columns so narrow that one doesn’t particularly notice it.

Second part – the main poem

Usually towards the end of the first part of the lesson, or sometimes starting in the second part, we would then read a poem from the text book. Each of us would read from two to four verses (بیت /beyt/) of the poem, with Dr Shahbazi correcting our pronunciation or rhythm and rhyme until the end of the poem was reached. But… we didn’t just read ‘our’ two to four verses, as we continued from the beginning and went around again. So I might read verses 1 to 3, then on the next round I would reads 7 to 9. It helped to pay attention to the errors and to the successes of our classmates.

We would then read the poem one verse at a time, and the theme of the poem, the meaning of the words, and complex or subtle or indirect meanings of words or phrases would then be explained. We quickly became acquainted with some of the literary vocabulary that goes hand in hand with poetry in any language: metaphor (استعاره /est’e’ār’eh/); allusion (کنایه /ke’nā’ye/); simile (تشبیه /tash’bih/); and my two favourite new words: part of a simile that is being likened (مشبّه /mosh’ab’ba/), and part of a simile unto which a thing is likened (مشبهٌ‌به /mosh’ab’bah’bon’beh/). When I saw these last two words in Mir Jalaleddin Kazzazi’s edition of the Shahnameh named ‘Ancient Book’ (نامهٔ باستان /nā’meh’ee bā’stan/) I beamed with contentment.

A sample explanation

To better establish and to demonstrate the style of explanations that we saw in the classes I am going to use the first verse of gam makhor as an example.

یوسف گمگشته باز آید به کنعان، غم مخور
کلبهٔ احزان شود روزی گلستان، غم مخور

  1. یوسف (/you’sof/) refers to حضرت یوسف (/hez’rat’e you’sof/), Joseph or Yousof, one of the most prominent prophets (پیغمبران /pey’gam’bar’ān/) in Islam. The twelfth سورة (/sur’ah/) of the Quran is devoted to his story. His story is also in Genesis in the Old Testament, and he is mentioned in the New Testament as a symbol of faith towards God.
  2. The verb گشتن (/gash’tan/) in گمگشته (/gom’gash’teh/) has a couple of meanings: to rotate (گردیدن /gar’di’dan/), and to become (شدن /sho’dan/). Here it means ‘to become’.
  3. These two words together یوسف گمگشته (/you’sof’e gom’gash’teh/) mean the Lost Joseph, whose story should be familiar to many people.
  4. باز آید (/baz ā’yād/) is a contraction of باز می‌آید (/bāz mi ā’yād/) meaning ‘is returning’. Just as in English, the present tense in Persian can be used with a future meaning.
  5. کنعان (/can’aān/) Canaan is the name of a large historical area encompassing modern day Palestine, probably part of Jordan, Lebanon, and eastern Egypt.
  6. مخور (/makh’or/) is a literary construction whereby the م (mim) is substituted for a ن (nun), so this means نخور (/nakh’or/). The verb خوردن (/khor’dan/) means ‘to eat’. In English we would say ‘to be consumed by something’, whether hate or love or fear or something else. That certainly has the right sense for the depth of meaning invoked here. Compound verbs with the particle خوردن usually have a deeper and stronger meaning than other compound verbs made with کردن (/kar’dan/) or دادن (/da’dan/), which are very commonly used. Some other examples would be: شکست خوردن (/she’kast khor’dan/), meaning to suffer defeat; زخم خوردن (/zakhm khor’dan/) to be injured; حسرت خوردن (/khas’rat khor’dan/) meaning to sigh or to envy or to begrudge: حسرت مال دیگران را مخور (/has’rat māl’e dig’ar’ān rā makh’or/), do not begrudge the property of others.
  7. کلبه (/kol’be/) means house.
  8. احزان (/ah’zān/) is the plural of حزن (/hozn/, or /huzn/), meaning grief or sorrow.
  9. These two words کلبهٔ احزان (/kol’be’ye ah’zān/) taken together mean the house of sorrows. That is a metaphor (استعاره /est’e’ār’eh/) for the house of Joseph’s father Jacob (Yaqoob).
  10. شود (/sha’vad/) is a contraction of می شود (/mi sha’vad/) meaning ‘it is becoming’, and again this verb is in the present tense but can also be used with a future meaning.
  11. روزی (/roo’zi/) means one day. Perhaps tomorrow, perhaps six months time, or perhaps in twenty years time. But one day…
  12. گلستان (/gol’e’stān/) means rose garden, which is a place of beauty and happiness.
  13. غم مخور (/gam ma’khor/) is repeated. These two words are the row or line (ردیف).
  14. In the first verse the words کنعان and گلستان form the rhyme (قافیه).
  15. غم مخور at the end of the first hemistich and at the end of every verse is the row or line (ردیف /ra’dif/).

In prose but not prosaic language one could translate this verse into English as: the Lost Joseph is returning to Canaan, grieve not, the house of sorrows will become a rose garden, grieve not.

One hopes it is clear from this brief explanation of just one verse that we didn’t merely read Hafez poetry by way of rote and imitation (تقلید /taq’lid/) with no understanding. That would have been useless (بیهوده /bi’hoo’deh/) and unsatisfying. We read to understand these poems. Learning and enjoying learning something is a reward (پاداش /pād’āsh/) in itself. And learning something with such a strong message of hope that this poem delivers in every verse is doubly rewarding.

Homework (مشق یا تکلیف /mashq yā tak’lif/)

Homework consisted of reading a part of the introduction, usually about six to eight pages. That may not sound like much, but it must be remembered that this book contains higher level language, and new vocabulary and concepts. I spent a fair amount of time looking up these new words, sometimes successfully sometimes not.

Take, for example, the word ریاستیزی (/ri’yā’se’tiz’ee/), which is the title of section 8-5 in the prologue: I could not find this word in a dictionary anywhere. I did find several texts online containing this word, some of which referenced Hafez. I did understand it was a compound of ریا /ri’yā/ meaning ‘hypocrisy’ and ستیزی /se’tiz’ee/ from the infinitive ستیزیدن /se’tiz’i’dan/ meaning ‘to quarrel’ or ‘to struggle’. But I wasn’t sure if this word meant ‘quarrelling with hypocrisy’, or ‘hypocrisy with quarrelling’, which are two entirely different ends of the stick. I spent a lot of time on this one word, probably more than I should have done. After reading the text of the section, and finding another compound word ستم ستیزی /se’tam se’tizi/ meaning ‘fighting against oppression’, I decided on the first meaning. But it does illustrate how one can be held up on a single word. Most of the ‘new’ words were not quite so tricky, most were simply new to me. With this word I should have looked for it, and having not found it reasonably quickly, made a note of it and ask in the lesson. But sometimes some of these words can gain a compulsive life of their own. And I don’t like the notion of being beaten by a word.

We usually worked through the book in order, but sometimes we jumped to another part of the book. We were told in advance which lesson we would read during the next session. Preparation was expected, including doing the exercises. I’m hardly the best student, but I did enjoy this so it felt less and less like a chore.

How I practise reading Hafez

In three words the way I practise is: I read aloud. I want to read Hafez well, and the only way I can improve is by reading Hafez a lot. Hearing my own voice is also important but not due to some misguided and false sense of pride. I think that reading silently is not much use, because we tend to accept and skip over our own mistakes. If my tongue is being twisted by some Persian words I want to hear them, because I then know that I need to work on them more. And I think that we need to make these sometimes strange or new sounds as a form of exercise for our vocal cords.

The Persian language has some sounds which we simply do not have in English, particularly these two letters: خ /khe/, and ق /qāf/. The first of these I can pronounce well enough though inevitably I slowly slip into lazy pronunciation and the sound becomes too soft. But I am at least aware of that fault (عیب /eyb/). The second letter ق ‘qaf’ is still problematic for me. Sometimes I produce the correct sound, but many times I do not. This second letter does sometimes weigh on my mind.

In addition to the ghazals in the text book I read quite a few others in my own time. This is pretty much essential to develop one’s knowledge and appreciation of Hafez further. I bought a book of Hafez ghazals at a bookshop here in Tehran. Many of these editions of the Divan of Hafez are physically large and quite heavy – too heavy to carry around in my shoulder bag as a bit of light reading. Other editions are exclusively in nastaliq which I explain below I find problematic to read.

Fortunately (خوشبختانه /khosh’bakht’ā’neh/) Hafez’ work is available online too. Ganjoor is a good source and has many works from about 70 other Persian poets too, including Sa’adi, Molana, and Ferdowsi. I prefer reading physical books or at least a printout.

Augury by Hafez (فال حافظ /fāl’e hā’fez/)

Bibliomancy (فالگیری از کتاب /fāl’gir’ee az ke’tāb/) is a form of divination or augury by using a book. Augury by the Divan of Hafez (فال حافظ /fāl’e hā’fez/, or تفأل حافظ /ta’fa’ol’e hā’fez/) is relatively common in Iran, and it is has its own section in the text book. There are some rituals associated with it, such as ablution (وضو /vo’zu/), and picking up the Divan of Hafez with respect, and many others. After these rituals are complete the book is then opened. The augury does not have to be carried out by the person who wants it – there are some people in Iran who make a living by conducting augury by Hafez for others.

One occasionally sees people in the streets of Tehran (and elsewhere in Iran) who are down on their luck selling Hafez augury papers for whatever one feels like offering. I buy one from time to time for myself, and also occasionally give them as gifts to one or two select people.

The photograph below shows a very typical augury paper. It is folded in half and sealed with glue which easily prises apart. The paper is marked with فال از حافظ (/fāl az hā’fez) and فال حافظ (/fāl’e hāfez). The photograph top right shows the tomb of Hafez in Shiraz.

On opening it one is presented with a short Hafez poem which is invariably printed in nastaliq. Nastaliq is a calligraphic script, and calligraphy (خوشنویسی /khosh’ne’vi’see/) is an important Iranian art form. It can sometimes be seen as headlines, or on advertisements, or signs showing company names, or poetry, or as decorations with similar function to paintings. Some of this khoshnevisi is very intricate. I still have some problems reading nastaliq as I don’t practise this skill very often. So I know that I need to work on this, and I must own up that in this I have been lazy. Nastaliq is used far more widely Urdu in Pakistan than it is used in Iran to write Persian. Compare a typical Pakistani newspaper online here, and a typical Iranian newspaper online here.

After the ghazal comes the augury in prose. It is not a direct line-by-line rewriting of the poem. One might think of it as somewhat similar to a horoscope in prose (نثر /nasr/). Horoscopes (زایچه /za’ech’e/) and augury by book have some clear differences, however. Horoscopes are based on the position and movement of the stars, which can be measured and predicted accurately. Augury by book is based on what one chooses either at random or by fate, according to one’s own belief. The interpretation or exegesis of either is, of course, subject to very wide opinion. For some people one or both are nonsense, for others they are a bit of harmless fun, while for others still they are serious matters on which a lot may depend. In the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi when Siavash is born his father King Kay Kavoos consults the astronomers, and Siavash’s doomed fate and destiny is clear.

I have reproduced the ghazal here in plainer text. It has a rhyme (mandatory) in the words: bād, iād, bād, shād, bād, and bād. There is no radif. The takhalos is present.

The interpretation of this short ghazal is that the person seeking the augury should be happy. The world is a changing place and is not constant. Even King (Prophet) Suleiman (Solomon) one day died. So be happy, and act on this augury.

Hafez recordings (ضبط /zabt/)

Like a turtle (لاک پشت /lāk posht/) I am sticking my neck out here a little way by publishing some of my own recordings of Hafez ghazals. I am by no means the best reciter of Hafez, nor do I have the best accent. Any mistakes of pronunciation are my own, and not from the tuition at Dehkhoda. So criticism of any kind is welcome, though I prefer the constructive variety.

Hafez translations (ترجمه‌ها /tar’jom’eh’hā/)

As for reading translations of Hafez, this is a very tricky subject. I would say that some Hafez ghazals, or at least some verses are quite straightforward to translate into foreign prose and to explain. For example, the first half-couplet from ‘gam makhor’: The Lost Joseph is returning to Canaan, do not grieve; or The Lost Joseph will return to Canaan, do not grieve. One can substitute other more poetic words for what I have written, but the meaning is clear. But even then I know that some people interpret more in this half-couplet than is apparent to me. For them Hafez poetry in general has a far deeper meaning or, meanings which differ with circumstances.

I have seen some translations of this half-couplet as: Your Lost Joseph will return to Canaan, do not grieve. However there is no possessive pronoun in this couplet, so even with my limited knowledge I must dispute these translations. I have also seen some very ‘free’ translations of Hafez poetry which to me are just not quite good enough – they lose too much. But my point here is not to criticise individual translations – quite the opposite. If somebody is taking the time to translate Hafez at all then that is to be commended. But I must state that relying on translations (including mine) is not the best way to read Hafez.

Meanwhile other ghazals and verses and ideas are far more difficult and probably impossible to translate well or fully. In these cases anyone who does these translations must be making liberal use of ‘artistic license’. How does one translate the concept of ‘the perfect man’ or ‘the complete man’ (پیر مغان /pir’e mogh’ān/)? Is ‘The high priest of the Magi’, or ‘the high priest of the Zoroastrians’ sufficient? I don’t think so. And the phrase ‘the complete man’ is hardly poetic. In any case both of these are wrong in the context of Hafez’ poetry, as he used this construction with his own special meaning. Possibly the best way to use this word in a translation is to take it as a loan word. But if one uses this as a loanword without explanation that is also problematic, because by itself it doesn’t mean anything.

Even harder than any of this is translating Hafez into a ghazal form in a foreign language, maintaining the rhyme and the radif. It may be possible with some ghazals in the hands of accomplished cognoscenti, but I don’t imagine it would be easy.

There is a certain magic in Hafez’ poetry that can only be discerned in Persian, so there really can be no substitute to reading Hafez in Persian. That is quite a tall order. I don’t expect that many people will invest so much of their time into learning a foreign language in order to read some poetry in that language unless they have a lot of motivation to do so. So while reading a translation of Hafez, one must be aware that in many cases this will not offer the best experience because it is impossible to do so.

Final thoughts

Reading Hafez now (September 2019) is possible for me. I certainly encounter new words which I don’t know the meaning of, or words which I have seen previously and forgotten. Some words seem to be more easily absorbed and recalled than others. To be proficient in a language one needs a large vocabulary, and this is exactly the same with a specialist subject like Hafez.

Without even the smallest amount of doubt (کمترین مقدار شک /kam’tar’in meq’dār’e shak/) the Hafez classes were among my favourite classes at Dehkhoda (my other favourite is the Shahnameh). The classes weren’t easy. But at the same time topics were clearly explained and so I learned a lot very quickly. It will not come as a surprise that I recommend taking some literature classes at Dehkhoda.

One final but important thing: if there are any factual errors in this post, they are mine. I don’t have all of my notes from the Hafez lessons in front of me, and therefore much of this is written from memory.

About the author: Sadface