When there are difficult times in my life, I am grateful to be forty-five years old. Though in many ways I feel young in spirit, there are those nagging memories of a lifetime that is longer than if I was twenty-five years old. These memories serve to remind me that I have lived through more hard times than I am suffering right now.
Besides the memory of dogs that could have bitten but chose not to, there are the things of beauty we pick up along the way. We have found people who loved us. We’ve seen the northern lights, we’ve read the Gospels or sat in meditation and found some peace in the middle of a chaotic existence.
I remember laughing at those who declared themselves disciples of Jesus or that their newfound understanding of the universe as a vast intelligence has brought them an understanding they didn’t have previously. That their souls have been touched by God.
I don’t laugh now because there are things like that in my life. My understanding of Jesus and the question of his divinity or humanity are not always orthodox. I owe a lot to the Buddhist teachers I have met and their different, though I believe complementary, view of the Divine and the practical means of changing one’s understanding of the world and spirit.
A poet who walks right along the division between these two worlds and makes himself at home in either one is Hafiz. Born around the year 1320 and died in 1389, Hafiz was Persia’s most beloved poet and lived most of his life in Shiraz, the town of his birth. At his death, he was thought to have written some 5,000 poems, of which 5-700 survive.
I beg Daniel Ladinsky’s forgiveness. Although the copyright would certainly have run out on the poems of a 688-year-old poet, the translations written by Ladinsky are copyrighted from 1999. The poems I quote here are from Ladinsky’s work, The Gift. I trust these few, short poems will fall under the fair use doctrine.
Many of my favorite poems by Hafiz are very short. They have the substance of a parable or a Zen koan. There’s also a quality about them by which Hafiz manages to have the whole meaning turn within a phrase. As in, “The Sun Never Says”:
The Sun Never Says
All this time
The sun never says to the earth,
With a love like that,
It lights the
For Hafiz, God is the Beloved. And the love Hafiz knows is that of an adult. He makes no effort to say sexual love or desire can’t be part of the relationship. If were the creation of God, wasn’t desire God’s idea for us to experience and adapt to the situation? For Hafiz, the lover knows God as well as he or she knows the object of desire:
What the Hell
I always keep a secret.
All my words
Are sung outside Her window,
For when She lets me in
I take a thousand oaths of silence.
Then She says,
O, then God says,
“What the hell, Hafiz,
Why not give the whole world
If God had been presented as being so desirable by the church of my childhood, would I have ever left? If I had never left, would I have discovered other views of the Divine like those of Hafiz?