You may think you love Hafiz
Hafiz (sometimes Hafez) was the pen name of a noted Persian, Sufi poet who was born in 1326 CE in Shiraz.
I thought I loved what I’d read of Hafiz. In fact, very few of us have ever read, listened to or enjoyed the work of Hafiz.
The most widespread “Hafiz” poems read and recited in the English language are the work of American visionary-poet, Daniel Ladinsky. They are not translations of Hafiz, they aren’t even mostly adaptations of Hafiz.
“Incredible as it may seem, there is not a single poem (gazel) of Hafiz of which any one of the poems in The Gift: Poems by Hafiz The Great Sufi Master is a translation or adaptation or extrapolation or deconstruction; no poem in the book is in dialectic relation to a specific Persian text. Nada, besides the obvious fact that Mr. Ladinsky’s poems ignore Hafiz’s Gazel form. One parable in the book, “The Difference Between,” belongs to Indian folklore. Hafiz did not write it; in fact, narrative is alien to Hafiz’s elliptic, serialist lyric style.” 
What’s up? It turns out Mr. Ladinsky write poems he feels have been transmitted to him by Hafiz.
“I feel my relationship to Hafiz defies all reason and is really an attempt to do the impossible: to translate Light into words — to make the luminous resonance of God tangible to our finite senses. About six months into this work I had an astounding dream in which I saw Hafiz an an Infinite Fountaining Sun (I saw him as God), who sang hundreds of lines of his poetry to me in English, asking me to give that message to ‘my artists and seekers’” 
Mr Ladinsky makes no secret that he’s not translating. He’s upfront that he’s transmitting new material from Hafiz.
So why do so many people wind up thinking they’ve read a Hafiz poem? Because following what’s really going on is complicated and social media prize brevity over fidelity . So things get simplified, details get lost and within two or three copies or reblogs, Mr Ladinsky’s poems from his book entitled “The Gift: Poems by Hafiz” (you see the problem), turn in to “Some poem by Hafiz (tr. Daniel Ladinsky)” because “original visionary material received by Daniel Ladinsky” doesn’t abbreviate easily. A couple more steps and the “tr. Daniel Ladinsky” part gets dropped.
I’m not saying Mr Ladinsky is without guile in this matter, he obviously benefits from the confusion. Hafiz is famous. He isn’t so much. He probably sells a lot more books out of the confusion.
Also, he’s a really good, mystical poet. His stuff really appeals to people and illuminates aspects of the spiritual journey for millions of people. It might not be Hafiz, but it’s inspiring a lot of people just as Rumi, Hafiz and many other visionary, mystical poets have. Perhaps one lesson here is that we could be celebrating this really lovely living, mystical poet in place of pretending he’s a dead poet from Persia.
But of course, what this all does is obscure Hafiz himself and the particular style of his ghazals. I’m no expert at all, but Hafiz’s style is not the kind of groovy, spiritual-but-not-religious material Mr Ladinsky does so well. Here’s a few renderings (not word-for-word translations) by Thomas Rain Crowe of couplets from Hafiz’s ghazals:
As the Beloved passes by in a open boat, all He sees are strangers,
And this is why He always wears a veil
O lord, tell me how it is that wine sticks in the lip of a pitcher,
And yet when it is poured a sweet glugging fills the air.
The Beloved has stolen even the sweet solitude from my heart,
And I am content.
The smoke from my burning heart
Gags all those with ignorance as their goal.
So, if you’ve loved the work of Daniel Ladinsky, thinking it was Hafiz, then come out of the closet as a Ladinsky-lover without shame. Post your sexy, New Age Ladinsky poems on Facebook with no beguiling veil, no AKAs, no fake Persian passport. Celebrate this living, American poet writing from his sacred inspiration.
But if you’re actually interested in the work of Hafiz, find another translator. There’s a lot of Hafiz online these days, you can even hear him read in Persian. The Wikipedia page gives a decent list of starting points (which notably do not include “The Gift” by Daniel Ladinsky).
Drink the wine, Beloved.
Some references for further reading.
- “Daniel Ladinsky (Translator)”
- “I Fell Hard for Daniel Ladinsky: Correction”
- “The Gift: Poems by Hafiz” by Daniel Ladinsky