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Wine & Prayer

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Native Persian speakers hold a special bond with Hafiz. Poems from his Díwán (collected works) are memorized by men, women, and children from all strands of society, from scholars to school children, entrepreneurs to nomads. Hafiz was the unrivaled master of the ghazal, a lyric form roughly equivalent to the English sonnet in length, intensity, and complexity.

Wine & Prayer is a new edition of Elizabeth Gray’s 1995 work The Green Sea of Heaven. In this new volume, Gray has joined with Iraj Anvar, a scholar of Sufism and Persian poetry, expanding the book from fifty to eighty translations of Hafiz’s brilliant ghazals. This work brings to each reader Hafiz’s poetic genius, expressing his passion for the Divine Beloved and his scandalous (to the Muslim clergy of his day and ours) exaltation of music and wine as vehicles of transcendence and ecstasy.

Wine & Prayer presents the ghazals of Hafiz in English translations that capture the subtleties, paradoxes, and spiritual depths of the poet hailed by Persians as “the Tongue of the Invisible” and the “Interpreter of Mysteries.”


“Elizabeth Gray’s previous translation of Hafiz (Green Sea of Heaven) was a classic. It achieved the almost impossible, rendering the virtually untranslatable Hafiz into beautiful and accurate poetry. Here, in Wine and Prayer, we are treated to an expanded edition of that classic, featuring 30 new luminous ghazals. There are so many fake translations of Hafiz floating around, offering ‘versions’ that have no earthly connection to anything that the Persian poet and sage of Shiraz named Hafiz ever said. Elizabeth Gray offers us something different: poetic translations rooted in close readings of the original Persian, developed in consultation with a native speaker scholar. Wine and Prayer is highly recommended for all lovers of Hafiz and Sufi poetry.”

Omid Safi

Professor of Islamic thought at Duke University

Author of Memories of Muhammad and Radical Love: Teachings from the Islamic Mystical Tradition

“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)