Hafez was born in the beautiful city of Shiraz in Iran. As a young child he was called Shams–ud-din Mohammed. Hafez proved to have a prodigious talent for literature. At an early age he successfully memorized the Qu’ran, and this is why he took the pen name of “Hafez” – Hafez means one who has memorized the entire Qu’ran by heart. As well as studying the Qu’ran Hafez was also introduced to the other great Sufi poets such as Rumi, Farid –ud-din Attar and Saadi, these Sufi poets would later have some influence on the poetry of Hafez.
A famous story about Hafez tells how he fell in love with a beautiful woman. He saw her in his local area whilst delivering bread. He became so enchanted with love for this woman that he could think of nothing else. Hafez started to write love poems dedicated to his sweetheart, and these became famous throughout Shiraz. Unable to live without his beloved, Hafez resolved to undertake a 40 night vigil at the tomb of Baba Kuhi'. Babu Kuhi was a famous poet who promised to fulfil 3 desires of anyone who could stay awake for 40 nights at his tomb.
On the first night Hafez had a vision of the Angel Gabriel. He was so enchanted with her beauty, he resolved to seek only God who would by nature be infinitely more beautiful than any human form. Gabriel then revealed to him where he could find a spiritual master who would be able to lead him towards God. This master was Muhammed Attar, who lived a humble life in Shiraz.
From this point Hafez became a prodigious poet producing hundreds of poems which expressed a seekers longing for union with the divine. His poetry made Hafez famous and he gained the respect and love of many local inhabitants. However his ecstatic and unorthodox poetry gained him the displeasure of the ruling Muslim orthodoxy. Because of this Hafez twice had to flea the city of Shiraz, on many occasions he was only saved by his sharp wit.
At the age of about 60, his Master Attar, finally granted Hafez his life long desire - union with God. From this point Hafez’s poems reflected a new consciousness, no longer was there any sense of separateness from God.
Hafez wrote about 5,000 poems, although unfortunately these were never written down and therefore there is some scholarly dispute about the authenticity of some poems. In the West Hafez has only become famous in the last century. One of the most important early translations was by Gertrude Bell in 1897. Recently there have been new translations and versions by authors such as Daniel Ladinsky. These have helped Hafez become a well renowned poet in the West. The poetry of Hafez has a universal attraction.
It is said Hafez once stated,
“No one could ever paint a too wonderful picture of my heart or God.”