Thus said the Poet: “When Death comes to you,
All ye whose life-sand through the hour-glass slips,
He lays two fingers on your ears, and two
Upon your eyes he lays, one on your lips,
Whispering: Silence!” Although deaf thine ear,
Thine eye, my Hafiz, suffer Time’s eclipse,
The songs thou sangest still all men may hear.
Songs of dead laughter, songs of love once hot,Songs of a cup once flushed rose-red with wine,
Songs of a rose whose beauty is forgot,
A nightingale that piped hushed lays divine:
And still a graver music runs beneath
The tender love notes of those songs of thine,
Oh, Seeker of the keys of Life and Death!
While thou wert singing, the soft summer wind
That o’er Mosalla’s garden blew, the stream
Of Ruknabad flowing where roses twined,
Carried thy voice farther than thou could’st dream.
To Isfahan and Baghdad’s Tartar horde,
O’er waste and sea to Yezd and distant Ind;
Yea, to the sun-setting they bore thy word.
Behold we laugh, we warm us at Love’s fire,
We thirst and scarce dare tell what wine we crave,
We lift our voices in Grief’s dark-robed choir;
Sing thou the wisdom joy and sorrow gave!
If my poor rhymes held aught of the heart’s lore,
Fresh wreaths were theirs to lay upon thy grave—
Master and Poet, all was thine before!
SHEMSUDDIN MAHOMMAD, better known by his poetical surname of Hafiz, was born in Shiraz in the early part of the fourteenth century. His names, being interpreted, signify the Sun of the Faith, the Praiseworthy, and One who can recite the Koran; he is further known to his compatriots under the titles of the Tongue of the Hidden and the Interpreter of Secrets. The better part of his life was spent in Shiraz, and he died in that city towards the close of the century. The exact date either of his birth or of his death is unknown. He fell upon turbulent times. His delicate love-songs were chanted to the rude accompaniment of the clash of arms, and his dreams must have been interrupted often enough by the nip of famine in a beleaguered town, the inrush of conquerors, and the flight of the defeated.
The history of Persia in the fourteenth century is exceedingly confused. Beyond a succession of wars and turmoils, there is little to be learnt concerning the political conditions under which Hafiz lived. Fifty years before the birth of the poet, Hulagu, a grandson of the great Tartar invader Chinghis Khan, had conquered Baghdad, putting to death the last of the Abbaside Khalifs and extinguishing the direct line of the race that had ruled over Persia since 750. For the next 200 years there is indeed a branch of the family of Abbas living in Cairo, members of which were set up as Khalifs by the Mamluk Sultans of Egypt; but they were destitute of any real authority, and their position was that of dependants in the Mamluk court.
The sons and grandsons of Hulagu succeeded him as lords of Persia and Mesopotamia, paying a nominal allegiance to the Great Khan of the Mongols in Cambalec or Pekin, but for all practical purposes independent, and the different provinces of their empire were administered by governors in their name. About the time of the birth of Hafiz, that is to say in the beginning of the fourteenth century, a certain Mahmud Shah Inju was governing the province of Fars, of which Shiraz is the capital, in the name of Abu Said, the last of the direct descendants of Hulagu. On the death of Mahmud Shah, Abu Said appointed Sheikh Hussein ibn Juban to the governorship of Fars, a lucrative and much-coveted post. Sheikh Hussein took the precaution of ordering the three sons of Mahmud Shah to be seized and imprisoned; but while they were passing through the streets of Shiraz in the hands of their captors, their mother, who accompanied them, lifted her veil and made a touching appeal to the people, calling upon them to remember the benefits they had received from their late ruler, the father of the three boys. Her words took instant effect; the inhabitants rose, released her and her sons, and drove Sheikh Hussein into exile. He, however, returned with an army supplied by Abu Said, and induced Shiraz to submit again to his rule. In 1335, a year or two after these events, Abu Said died, and the power of the house of Hulagu crumbled away. There followed a long period of anarchy, which was brought to an end when Oweis, another descendant of Hulagu, seized the throne. He and his son Ahmed reigned in Baghdad until Ahmed was driven out by the invading army of Timur. But during the years of anarchy the authority of the Sultan of Baghdad had been considerably curtailed. On Abu Said’s death, Abu Ishac, one of the three sons of Mahmud Shah Inju who had so narrowly escaped from the hands of Sheikh Hussein, took possession of Shiraz and Isfahan, finally ousting his old enemy, while Mahommad ibn Muzaffar, who had earned a name for valour in the service of Abu Said, made himself master of Yezd.
From this time onward the governors of the Persian provinces seem to have given a nominal allegiance now to the Sultan of Baghdad, now to the more distant Khalif. The position of Shiraz between Baghdad and Cairo must have resembled that of Venice between Rome and Constantinople, and, like Venice, she was obedient to neither lord.
Abu Ishac had not steered his bark into quiet waters. In 1340 Shiraz was besieged and taken by a rival Atabeg, and the son of Mahmud Shah was obliged to content himself with Isfahan. But in the following year he returned, captured Shiraz by a stratagem, and again established himself as ruler over all Fars. The remaining years of his reign are chiefly occupied with military expeditions against Yezd, where Mahommad ibn Muzaffar and his sons were building up a formidable power. In 1352, determined to put an end to these attacks, Mahommad marched into Fars and laid siege to Shiraz. Abu Ishac, whose life was one of perpetual dissipation, redoubled his orgies in the face of danger. Uncertain of the fidelity of the people of Shiraz, he put to death all the inhabitants of two quarters of the town, and contemplated insuring himself of a third quarter in a similar manner. But these measures did not lead to the desired results. The chief of the threatened quarter got wind of the King’s design, and delivered up the keys of his gate to Shah Shudja, son of Mahommad ibn Muzaffar, and Abu Ishac was obliged to seek refuge a second time in Isfahan. Four years later, in 1357, he was given up to Mahommad, who sent him to Shiraz and, with a fine sense of dramatic fitness, had him beheaded in an open space before the ruins of Persepolis.
The Arab traveller Ibn Batuta, who visited Shiraz between the years 134o and 1350, has left a description of its ruler: “Abu Ishac,” says he, “is one of the best Sultans that can be found” (it must be confessed that the average of Sultans was not very high in Ibn Batuta’s time); “he is fair of face, imposing of presence, and his conduct is no less to be admired. His mind is generous, his character remarkable, and he is modest although his power is great and his territories extensive. His army exceeds the number of 30,000 men, Turks and Persians. The most faithful of his subjects are the inhabitants of Isfahan; but he fears the Shirazis, who are a brave people, not to be controlled by kings, and he will not trust them with arms.” This view of his relations with the two towns tallies with Abu Ishac’s subsequent history, and points to a considerable power of observation on the part of Ibn Batuta. But he relates a tale which would seem to show that Abu Ishac was not unpopular even in Shiraz: on a certain occasion he wished to build a great gate in that city, and hearing of his desire the inhabitants vied with each other in their eagerness to satisfy it; men of all ranks turned out to do the work, putting on their best clothes and digging the foundations with spades of silver. Abu Ishac shared the passion of the age for letters, and was anxious to be accounted a rival to the King of Delhi in his generosity to men of learning; “but,” sighs Ibn Batuta, “how far is the earth removed from the Pleiades!” The Persian historian who describes Abu Ishac’s execution, quotes a quatrain which the Atabeg is supposed to have written while he was in prison:
“Lay down thine arms when Fortune is thy foe, ‘Gainst Heaven’s wheel, Wrestler, try not a throw Drink steadfastly the cup whose name is Death, Empty the dregs upon the earth, and go.”
So perished the first patron of Hafiz.
From 1353 to 1393, when Timur conquered Shiraz for the second and last time, the greater part of Persia was ruled by members of the house of Muzaffar. Scarcely a year passed undisturbed by civil war, scarcely a year in which one of the sons or grandsons of Mahommad did not suffer imprisonment or worse ills at the hands of his brothers. Mahommad himself was the first to fall. Shah Shudja seized his father while he was reading the Koran aloud with a poet of his court, and caused him to be blinded. A few years later the grim life beat itself out against the prison walls of Ka’lah-i-Safid. “Without just cause,” sings Hafiz, “the victor of victors suffered imprisonment; guiltless, the mightiest head was laid low. He had overcome Shiraz and Tabriz and Irak; at the last his own hour came. He who, in the eyes of the world, was the light he had kindled (i.e. Mahommad’s son, Shah Shudja), through those eyes which had gazed victorious upon the world, thrust the hot iron.” A stern and pitiless man was this Mahommad, brave in battle, wise in council, ardent in religion, but hard and cruel beyond measure, a perfidious friend and a relentless enemy. The Persian historian, Lutfallah, relates that on several occasions he had seen criminals brought before Mahommad while the Amir was engaged in reading the Koran. Laying the book aside, he would draw his sword and kill the offenders as they stood, and then return unmoved to his devotions. Shah Shudja once asked his father whether he had killed 1000 men with his own hand. “No,” replied Mahommad, “but I think that the number of them that I have slain must reach 800.”
After his death, Shah Shudja reigned in Shiraz, and his brother Shah Yahya in Yezd. Shah Shudia was a man of like energy with his father, but it was an energy directed into different channels; the stern religious ardour of the elder man was changed into a spirit of frenzied dissipation in the younger. Whenever he was not engaged in conducting expeditions against his brothers and nephews, he was taking part in. the wildest orgies in Shiraz. He was scarcely less cruel than Mahommad. In a fit of drunkenness he ordered one of his own sons to be blinded, and though, at the instance of his vizir, he repented and sent a second messenger hot foot after the first, it was already too late to save the boy. Before Shah Shudja’s death the knell of the house of Muzaffar had sounded— Tamberlain and his Tartar hordes had advanced into Northern Persia. In 1382 Shah Shudja sent a propitiatory embassy to him with gifts— jewels and silks, horses, a scarlet dais, a royal standard, and a Chinese umbrella; and Timur in return sent the King a robe of honour and a belt studded with jewels.