Going Home Again
Review: Drunk on the Wine of the Beloved: 100 Poems of Hafiz, translations by Thomas Rain Crowe, Shambhala, 2001, 144 pages, $12.95 (Canada $19.95), ISBN: 1-57062-853-X
Thomas Rain Crowe, poet and translator of French poets such as Yvan Golli and Guillevic and previous collections of the Persian poet Hafiz, returned home in 1979 to the mountains of North Carolina, rooting himself and his work in the basic elements of spirit, land and language. In this new collection with Shambhala, Drunk on the Wine of the Beloved: 100 Poems of Hafiz, he takes us home to the truths that transcend political factionalism, religious fanaticism, and literary provincialism.
About Hafiz, he says in his introduction that “No spiritual institution could contain him.” He was raised a Shiite Muslim but “also praised Jesus, Abraham, and Moses in his poems, as well as Zoroaster and other prophets, saints and martyrs of all the great religions.” What we have then is the essential message of Union, not divisiveness, not a life of fragmentary experience, not the ego-centric emphasis of most contemporary life; in short, Hafiz, through these translations, is taking us home again.
How is it possible that 700 year old Persian poems can do such a thing? It is through the combination of Voice [Hafiz is essentially an oral poet], theme [love & desire for the Beloved as the essence of salvation], and the poet's language faithfully translated into our own.
The oral poet understands that the voice unites us. Print this made possible and required a distance between writer and reader. It has also enforced an alienation into our lives that causes us to hunger for the authentic, unifying human voice. The religious poet recognizes this hunger for unity, using it to focus us on the Divine. The Hafiz poems are seductive, as they must be to ensure we share his desire for the Divine, but they seduce without ego-driven desire and with the realization that the voice unites: “O Hafiz, if it is union with the Beloved that you seek, / Be the dust at the Wise One's door, and speak!”
Truth, love, compassion, selflessness, these are the themes of Hafiz' poems, all centered around the image of Wine. Wine is a metaphor for the intoxicating state produced by the Beloved, the breakdown of the ego, but it is also becomes a rebuke to those who use religion to control and confuse people, who fear the ability of the supplicant to find her own way to salvation:
When you are a guest here in the Winehouse it is a rule
That you must respect all drunks, even those drinking from the dregs.
For us, Western readers of English, none of the poems are possible without the translator who can make the 700 year old Persian language contemporary. Hafiz composed in a rigid, oral, couplet form called the ghazal. Thomas Rain Crowe takes this ancient form and makes it alive with our own language while still retaining the echoes of the old ways embodied in the ghazal. No better example is this poem. Speak it out loud and participate in this 700 year old journey, sharing wine with the poet Hafiz.
Like the morning breeze, if you bring to the morning good deeds,
The rose of our desire will open and bloom.
Go forward, and make advances down this road of love;
In forward motion, the gain is great.
To beg at the door of the Winehouse is a wonderful alchemy;
If you practice this, soon you will be converting dust into gold.