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literature

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Hafiz (ca 1320/26-1389/90)  

Much of the sexuality in the lyrics of the great Persian poet Hafiz is homoerotic and infused with a homosexual mysticism.

It has often been written by Western scholars studying Persian literature that the Persians (Iranians) quote Hafiz more frequently than Westerners quote Shakespeare. Many scholars in both the East and the West consider him the greatest lyric poet of all time.

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Because Persians in his time and for several centuries thereafter had little inclination to record or study the lives of their writers, little is known about the life of Hafiz, although he was popular in his own day. He was born Shams al-Din Muhammad Hafiz in the town of Shiraz some time between 1320 and 1326. His father died when he was a child.

Hafiz apparently married and fathered a son. Most, but not all, scholars believe he was a Sufi. Whatever his religious beliefs, he was at one time banished from Shiraz at the request of religious leaders because his ghazals were viewed as having a negative influence on society.

There is no definitive version of Hafiz's Divan; various "complete" editions range from 573 to 994 poems. Nevertheless, despite the problems with authenticating his biography and other works, Hafiz's contribution to literature has been immeasurable. Goethe, Emerson, Edward Carpenter, and Gide all fell under his spell; Goethe seems to have been particularly inspired. Hafiz is sometimes called "the master of the erotic ghazal," and much of the sexuality in his work is .

His ghazals are infused with a homosexual mysticism that startles many Western minds because of the expression of male-male love as not merely approaching but actually reaching a state of divinity. Hafiz believed one can see an image of God in the face of one's beloved. His religious fervor is matched by his intense carnal desires, but he sees no contradiction in the two: "The higher life lusted for the dimple in your chin," he says in one poem.

Perhaps the most quoted couplet in all his ghazals are the lines "If that Tartar, that fair-skinned Turk of Shiraz, gets hold of my heart / I'll give Bokhara and Samarkand for the Indian-black mole on his cheek." They exhibit a playfulness typical of many of his ghazals, and this style has won him many admirers. But it is his most serious ghazals that have put him in the rare company of Shakespeare as one of the greatest lyric poets the world has ever seen.

For gay readers, even the most cursory glance at a good translation of his work (be warned that some translators change the pronouns to make it appear that all the objects of his affection are female) is rewarding beyond expression. "With looks disheveled, flushed in a sweat of drunkenness / His shirt torn open, a song on his lips and wine cup in his hand / With eyes looking for trouble, lips softly complaining / So at midnight last night he came and sat at my pillow. . . ."

Keith Hale

     

 
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An illustration in a posthumous edition of Hafiz's Divan (ca 1585).
  
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    Bibliography
   

Arberry, Arthur J. Fifty Poems of Hafiz. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1962.

Avery, Peter and John Heath-Stubbs, trans. Hafiz of Shiraz: Thirty Poems. London: John Murray, 1952.

Bell, Gertrude. Teachings of Hafiz. London: Octagon, 1979.

Browne, Edward G. Literary History of Persia, Vol. III: The Tartar Dominion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964.

Clarke, H. Wilberforce. The Divan-I-Hafiz. Bethesda, Md.: Ibex Publications, 1997.

Ladinsky, Daniel. The Subject Tonight is Love: 60 Wild and Sweet Poems of Hafiz. North Myrtle Beach, S. C.: Pumpkin House Press, 1996.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Hale, Keith  
    Entry Title: Hafiz  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 14, 2007  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/hafiz.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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