Perhaps the greatest of the lyric poets of the Persian tradition, his standing is so high that he is often called “the tongue of the unseen.” It is a common practice to open his works at random in order to take a “sortilege,” or random reading, as prediction or advice. He lived in the time of Tamerlane and there is a persistent fiction that Tamerlane met him and asked what right he had to give Tamerlane’s capital of Samarkand to his Beloved. During this period Shiraz and its province were a haven for Persian culture and his tomb in Shiraz has remained a revered site.
Many of his lyrics are about love although other subjects such as the possible meaninglessness of life occur. The love poems are interpretable in many ways, and readers have understood the “Beloved” as God or as a young boy or both or neither. In some way there will never be a definitive understanding of Ḥāfiẓ, about whose life comparatively little is known. His ambiguity probably adds to his charm. He sometimes calls himself a “rend,” which is close in meaning to “libertine,” although other passages show moving piety **Add hyperlink to Browne 286/Bell. His suitability to many moods is one of many reasons Persian-speakers memorize his poems.
The language of Ḥāfiẓ is bold and its images memorable. An example is his line:
O beloved who draws a polo-stick of pure amber over the moon,
Do not make me with my whirling head yet more agitated.
In this line, Ḥāfiẓ begins with the image of the Beloved drawing a lock of black hair over her/his face, which is metaphorically called a polo-stick, which allows Ḥāfiz to use the metaphor of the whirling polo-ball for his confused head in the second hemistitch.
The text of the collected poems change from one manuscript to another. The “authentic” Ḥāfiẓ text may be as elusive as the authentic understanding of his view of life. Certain longer poems, written on specific occasions as panegyrics, ties him to specific events and well-known rulers of Shiraz.