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31

 

himself with his kingdom — and never knew that the poet had the better of the bargain!

 

The date of Hafiz's death is traditionally 1389, and even here the poet ran into controversy. His poems were considered scandalous by the orthodox Muslims for their frank praise of wine and sensuality. But the people loved his poetry, and the mystics marveled at the depth of his lyrics. And so a great shout was raised over whether to bury him in correct fashion or to treat him as an infidel. Legend says that the dispute was settled by choosing an arbitrary couplet from the poet's own Divan, which read:

 

Withdraw not thy foot from the bier of Hafiz

For though drenched in sin, he goeth to Paradise.

 

This settled the argument, and began a tradition still observed in Persia of using the Divan as an oracle. Hafiz was in fact buried in his native Shiraz, and the monument to him there is known as the Hafiziya — a beautiful shrine in a lovely garden. Inscribed on the tomb is a ghazal, of course, and one of the means of ascertaining the date of death is through the couplet:

 

If you would know when he sought a place in the dust of Musalla, seek the date in the dust     of Musalla.

 

"Dust of Musalla, " (khak-i-Musalla) can be reduced to numerical code by the "abjad system" which assigns a numerical value to each letter of the Semitic alphabet. This phrase would equal 791, which is in the Western calendar, 1389.

 

This notation system is only one of a number of levels of meaning contained in the Arabic and Persian languages. It is precisely this characteristic of the language that enabled Hafiz and the Master-poets to construct a poetic form capable of expressing every subtle shade of the lover-Beloved relationship. Each person could respond to the poems according to his own level of understanding, interpreting the words in light of his own associations. It was possible for the poets to play on psychological associations of words; a given line, well constructed, could in fact be translated in a number of ways, often with completely opposite meanings in English — much as certain compositions of Bach are capable of being interpreted forwards, backwards, or even upside-down on the keyboard. Aside from word-plays and puns (the Arabs are the greatest of all punsters), there were the Sufi technical terms to consider. Many of the attributes of "wine" or the "Beloved " actually were names for experiences on the Path, names which would be known only to those sharing that experience. And due to the ferocious fanaticism of the orthodox, and the political intrigues of the day, it was necessary for the Sufis to speak in these terms purely for self-preservation.

 

This can be very disconcerting to scholars, who have no conception of the variety of levels on which the form operates. Especially disastrous is the scholar who falls in love with the meter or sound of the poetry and so creates his own translation without knowledge of the mystical element. Such an example is the famed Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, translated by Edward Fitzgerald in the latter part of the last century. With no access to the cultural Gestalt, the subtle implications of each word eluded Fitzgerald. For example in Persian there are over 30 different words for "sun", and the word "sun" may also mean ten other things depending on inflection or placement. He translated a quatrain:

 

The Vine had struck a Fibre, which about

If clings my Being — let the Sufi flout;

Of my base metal may be filed a Key

That shall unlock the Door he howls without.

 

Superficially, this would appear to indicate that Khayyam was anti-Sufi, but the

 

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