17 January 2011

Hafiz and Gertrude


Poems are written by fools like you and me,
But only God can make a tree.


Anonymous of course and true. Very true.

And each of us is a tree. So you will know a person by the sanctuary and succor you find beneath their canopy, the fragrance of their flowers, the scent and taste of their fruits. In the blazing sun of noon we all seek respite and then sometime later a pleasing curtain from the night.

This post was planned to be an explication of why I have no new poems, but I am getting suspiciously proasic. What a surprise.

Returning to trees, what springs to mind is the following lines from Revelation by Sri Chinmoy:

Drunk deep of Immortality,
I am the root and boughs of a teeming vast.


Read the whole poem I suggest.

Where was I? Explication. Rhymes with frustration.

What touches me deeply is that from checking out my analytics page, the deus google sent someone to my blog after they typed in "my sorrow aches my heart want to be carefree". And they actually spent some time looking around. So I better post something useful.

Anyway, today I ordered up some more Hafiz books and read the introduction to a translation of his work by a certain Gertrude Lowthian Bell written in 1897. I first tried eight local bookshops looking for the books I wanted and none had them. Then I briefly dreamt of opening a shop that selt only awesome volumes of poetry along with occasional food and sublime coffee. I am such a damn hippy, except the concept of stock control troubled me briefly. Also, shoes would be mandatory.

Right, some quotes and meta-quotes from Gertrude:

"The world," he said, "is like unto the shadow of a cloud and a dream of the night; for the one has no resting-place, and when the dreamer awakens there remains to him but a vain memory of the other."

this is Shah Shudja, a relative of Hafiz, writing to his family about property matters following the death of a King

"Thou art but the glass," the poet concludes, "his is the face reflected in the mirror; nay, if thou lookest steadfastly, thou shalt see that he is the mirror also." In a parable, Jami illustrates the universal presence of God, and the blind searching of man for that by which he is surrounded on every side. There was a frog which sat upon the shores of the ocean, and ceaselessly, day and night he sang its praise. "As far as mine eyes can see," he said, "I behold nothing but thy boundless surface." Some fish swimming in the shallow water heard the frog's song, and were filled with a desire to find that wonderful ocean of which he spoke, but go where they would they could not discover it. At last, in the course of their search, they fell into a fisherman's net, and as soon as they were drawn out of the water they saw beneath them the ocean for which they had been seeking. With a leap they returned into it.

this is from Jami's Yusuf and Zuleikha in which he sets forth this doctrine of the creation

The conception of the union and interdependence of all things divine and human is far older than Sufi thought. It goes back to the earliest Indian teaching, and Professor Deussen, in his book on Metaphysics, has pointed out the conclusion which is drawn from it in the Veda. "The gospels," he says, "fix quite correctly as the highest law of morality, Love thy neighbour as thyself. But why should I do so, since by the order of nature I feel pain and pleasure only in myself, not in my neighbour? The answer is not in the Bible (this venerable book being not yet quite free from Semitic realism), but it is in the Veda: You shall love your neighbour as yourselves because you are your neighbour; a mere illusion makes you believe that your neighbour is something different from yourselves. Or in the words of the Bhagaradgitah: He who knows himself in everything and everything in himself, will not injure himself by himself. This is the sum and tenor of all morality, and this is the standpoint of a man knowing himself a Brahman."

Gertrude's interpretation

Be that as it may, one who sings the cool rush of the wind of dawn, the scarlet cup of the tulip uplifted in solitary places, the fleeting shadows of the clouds, and the praise of gardens and fountains and fruitful fields, was not likely to forget that even if the world is no more than an intangible reflection of its Creator, the reflection of eternal beauty is in itself worthy to be admired. I wish I could believe that such innocent delights as these, and a wholehearted desire for truth, had been enough for our poet, but I have a shrewd suspicion that the Cupbearer brought him a wine other than that of divine knowledge, and that his mistress is considerably more than an allegorical figure. How ever willing we may be to submit to the wise men of the East when they tell us that the revelry of the poems is always a spiritual exaltation, it must be admitted that the words of the poet carry a different conviction to Western ears. There is undoubtedly a note of sincerity in his praise of love and wine and boon-companionship, and I am inclined to think that Hafiz was one of those who, like Omar Khayyam, were wont to throw the garment of repentance annually into the fire of Spring. It must be remembered that the morality of his day was not that of our own, and that the manners of the East resemble but vaguely those of the West; and though as a religious teacher Hafiz would have been better advised if he had less frequently loosened the rein of his desires, I doubt whether his songs would have rung for us with the same passionate force. After all, the poems of St. Francis of Assisi are not much read nowadays. Nevertheless, the reader misses a sense of restraint both in the matter and in the manner of the Divan. To many Persians, Hafiz occupies the place that is filled by Shakespeare in the minds of many Englishmen. It may be a national prejudice, but I cannot bring myself to believe that the mental food supplied by the Oriental is as good as the other. But, then, our appetites are not the same.

The tendency in dealing with a mystical poet is to read into him so-called deeper meanings, even when the simple meaning is clear enough and sufficient in itself. Hafiz is one of those who has suffered from this process; it has removed him, in great measure, from the touch of human sympathies which are, when all is said and done, a poet's true kingdom. Of a different age, a different race, and a different civilisation from ours, there are yet snatches in his songs of that melody of human life which is everywhere the same. When he cries, "My beloved is gone and I had not even bidden him farewell!" his words are as poignant now as they were five centuries ago, and they could gain nothing from a mystical interpretation. As simple and as touching is his lament for his son: "Alas! he found it easy to depart, but unto me he left the harder pilgrimage." And for his wife: "Then said my heart, I will rest me in this city which is illumined by her presence; already her feet were bent upon a longer journey, but my poor heart knew it not." Not Shakespeare himself has found a more passionate image for love than: "Open my grave when I am dead, and thou shalt see a cloud of smoke rising out from it; then shalt thou know that the fire still burns in my dead heart-yea, it has set my very winding-sheet alight." Or: "If the scent of her hair were to blow across my dust when I had been dead a hundred years, my mouldering bones would rise and come dancing out of the tomb." And he knows of what he writes when he says, "I have estimated the influence of Reason upon Love and found that it is like that of a raindrop upon the ocean, which makes one little mark upon the water's face and disappears." These are the utterances of a great poet, the imaginative interpreter of the heart of man; they are not of one age, or of another, but for all time.

Nice work Gertrude.

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