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The Green Sea of Heaven: Fifty Ghazals from the Diwan-i Hafiz-i Shirazi

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Hafiz-i Shirazi (d. 1389 CE) is acknowledged to be the pre-eminent poet of Iran. Throughout the Persian-speaking world his mystical love poetry is recited and sung in the bazaar; on the radio; and at familial, literary or spiritual gatherings. His Diwan, or collected works, is held in such high esteem that, like the Qur’an, it is used for divination and augury.

In 1995 The Green Sea of Heaven: Fifty Ghazals from the Diwan of Hafiz, Ms. Gray’s translations of Hafiz, was published by White Cloud Press. The translations, now in their second printing, have been favorably reviewed in both academic and literary circles. The book’s extensive introductions and annotations, on Hafiz and Sufism and the ghazal form, are widely-cited in literary media.

In concert with Reza Derakhshani and other musicians Ms. Gray has performed Hafiz, in the original Persian and in translation, at Harvard University; at the Freer Gallery of the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D. C.; for the Foundation for Iranian Studies; for the Canadian Broadcasting Company; and at locations in New York City and elsewhere. The Green Sea of Heaven, a CD produced by Mr. Derakshani and Ms. Gray in 2002, is also available from White Cloud Press.

Selected Ghazal's

Ghazal 22

Remember the day of union with the friends.
Remember those times, remember.

From bitter sorrow my mouth became like poison.
Remember the revelers’ cry of “Drink!”

The friends are free of the memory of me
although I remember them a thousand times.

I was overtaken in these bonds of calamity.
Remember the efforts of those who serve the truth.

Although there are always a hundred rivers in my eye
remember the Zindehrud, and those who plant gardens.

After this Hafiz’s secret will remain unspoken.
Alas, remember those who keep the secrets.

Ghazal 23

Preachers who display their piety in prayer and pulpit
behave differently when they’re alone.

It puzzles me. Ask the learned ones of the assembly:
“Who do those who demand repentance do so little of it?”

It’s as if they don’t believe in the Day of Judgment
with all this fraud and counterfeit they do in His name.

I am the slave of the tavern-master, whose dervishes,
in needing nothing, make treasure seem like dust.

O lord, put these nouveaux-riches back on their asses
because they flaunt their mules and Turkish slaves.

O angel, say praises at the door of love’s tavern,
for inside they ferment the essence of Adam.

Whenever his limitless beauty kills a lover
others spring up, with love, from the invisible world.

O beggar at the cloister door, come to the monastery of the Magi,
for the water they give makes hearts rich.

Empty your house, O heart, so that it may become home to the beloved,
for the heart of the shallow ones is an army camp.

At dawn a clamor came from the throne of heaven. Reason said:
“It seems the angels are memorizing Hafiz’s verse.”


“This is a groundbreaking work, one that places the ghazal of Hafiz into a contemporary English poetic idiom. Ms. Gray captures the rhythms, the paradoxes, the ironies, the sudden changes in tone and voice, the ambiguities, the spark and the bite of the original. After too long a wait, we encounter Hafiz, come alive in an English style that is at once natural and intricate. This is a remarkable achievement.”

Michael Sells

John Henry Barrows Professor of Islamic History and Literature, University of Chicago

Author of Approaching the Qur’an: The Early Revelations, Mystical Languages of the Unsaying, and Desert Tracings: Six Classic Arabian Odes.

“These are truly remarkable and moving translations: the first English versions of Hafiz to read as poetry while still capturing the unique qualities of concision, multivalent meaning and spiritual depth which have for centuries made his Persian ghazals the acknowledged masterpiece and exemplar of poetic art throughout the Eastern Islamic world.”

James W. Morris

Professor of Theology, Boston College

Author of Ibn ‘Arabī: The Meccan Revelations, and The Reflective Heart: Discovering Spiritual Intelligence in Ibn ‘Arabī’s Meccan Illuminations.

“The Persian lyric verse of Hafez (c. 1320-c.1390), the most revered Middle Eastern poet in history, resists translation for two chief reasons: a texture of culture-specific and language-specific ambivalence of imagery impossible to communicate faithfully in another language, and suggestive aural effects of regular quantitative metrical patterns and a monorhyme scheme (aabaca, etc.) also impossible to replicate in another language. However, the untranslatability of Hafez’s ghazal poems has not deterred translators. Since the early 1980’s, English versions by A. A. Kashani (1984), M. Boylan (1988), P. Smith (1986, 1993), D. Cloutier (1993) and R. Saberi (1996) have appeared. Gray’s versions differ from these others because she knows Persian, which Boylan, Smith, and Cloutier do not, and she can write English which Aryanpur and Saberi do not. Although in prose and devoid of poetic effects, Gray’s versions, with the original Persian texts on facing pages, offer both an accessible introduction to a representative selection of Hafiz’s ghazals, and the most popular view of the thematic level on which his verse operates, the reading of conventional images of love and wine as Gnostic or Sufistic expression. Gray’s notes gloss words and imagery in Sufi terms, while Shayegan’s introduction gives predisposed readers stimulus for a meditative experience of individual ghazals.”

Michael C. Hillman

Professor of Persian Studies, University of Texas at Austin

Author of Religious Studies Review, Vol. 22, No. 4 (October 1996).

“Western scholars of classical Persian poetry have frequently felt humbled before the grand ocean of allusions and historical references, stock phrases and metaphors, ever-recurring images and figures, tantalizing integration of rhythm and rhyme and word-play and meaning, from all of which leaps forth the ghazal—ghazals, the hard-as-rock genre of Persian poetry, of which Hafiz of Shiraz is the unparalleled master. To be sure, the very form of this genre is unique to its own milieu: ghazal is a single poem containing within itself a whole multiplicity of smaller poems: for each verse of the ghazal, the bayt, is an integral whole, related to other bayts only—at least apparently—by a meter that is fixed and by a rhyme that reappears.

Given all this, translating a Persian ghazal is no easy matter. Steeped in tradition, it requires long curtains of explanatory footnotes hanging from the rod of each translated verse; but how clumsy such an exercise would look! And then, the translator must at once be highly learned in the Persian literary tradition and profoundly skilled in poetic craft. These are the twin requirements for those daring ones who undertake this daunting task.
Here is an English translation of fifty ghazals of the great Hafiz: a translation with a rich flow that is surprising, with a vigilant faithfulness to the original that is commendable, and with a tender and learned poetic care that is both a scholarly and an artistic joy. Elizabeth Gray presents us with a bouquet of Shirazi flowers, blazing in their colors and so fresh. She is to be admired both for her erudition and her verbal skills. And more, we must admire her also for her cultural courage.

The plan of this work is very sensible. First, Gray provides a very useful introduction; here she presents the historical setting in which the 14th century Poet Hafiz was composing his ghazals; she explicates the nature of this genre itself, including its formal and technical requirements; she speaks of the challenges faced by a translator; and she utters an authoritative word of caution to the reader: “brandish lightly..the templates of Western literary criticism”[!] (p. xxi). Yes, we must heed her advice.

Then she juxtaposes the original Persian text and her translation; and here there exist no footnotes, no heavy curtains, no clumsiness. To be sure, notes do exist—but far removed from the translations, at the end of the book. This was an intelligent structural decision. These notes are minimal, not too extensive, not too pedantic. And they are highly beneficial. In some cases, they constitute packed short essays on some of the most abstruse stylistic, conceptual, and historical elements of the Persian poetic tradition. It seems, then, that the work has a wide scope: its magnetism would pull scholars, students, and enthusiasts alike.

This is not to say that there is no room for disagreement with Gray, For example, in Ghazal 6, both lines of the third bayt contain the same root word kharab (kharabi/kharabat): why translate them differently (“ruin/tavern”)? One would remain close to the original by maintaining that same root word, and, it seems, such a rendering was easily possible. Also, while pointing out that the Persian language does not admit of grammatical genders, Gray tells us that she has carefully avoided taking a gender decision—but then she actually does, and even though she remains consistent in the sameghazal , her decision is sometimes puzzling. In Ghazal 37, Hafiz, speaking of the alchemist, and at the height of his craft, employs alchemical terminology (bayt 8): “naqd,” which has to do with metal casting; and “sanjad” (from sanjidan), which literally means “weighing”; but ths richness and fullness of the poet’s imagery does not manifest itself in the translation. Here and there one notes also inconsistencies in Gray’s transliterations.

Indeed, Gray is at the peak of her talents when she remains literal. The remarkably powerful ghazalwith the radif (a word repreated at the end of each bayt) “bas!” is just as remarkable in the translation; Gray renders the word literally: “enough!”; and more, she maintains it at the end of every translatedbayt. What a treat to the reader! Again, her translation of “saba” as “dawn wind” instead of the standard “morning breeze” is as fresh as the dawn itself.”

S. Numanul Haq

General Editor, Studies in Islamic Philosophy, Faculty of Near Eastern Languages and Literatures, University of Pennsylvania.

The Harvard Review, No. 8 (Spring 1995)