Hafiz: The poetry of Persia

27th February 2019


Poetry, performance and patronage in fourteenth century Iran is the subject of a new book by Wadham Senior Research Fellow, Dominic Parviz Brookshaw.

Hafiz and His Contemporaries is a socio-political, historical, and literary contextualisation of Shams al-Din Muhammad Hafiz of Shiraz (d. 1390), who remains an elusive and opaque character for many.

Hafiz was a Persian poet whose collected works remain some of the most admired in Persian literature. His life and poems have been the subject of much analysis, commentary and interpretation, influencing post-14th century Persian writing more than any other author. 

In the book, Hafiz’s ghazals (short, monorhyme, broadly amorous lyric poems) are read comparatively against similar texts composed by his less-studied rivals in the hyper-competitive, imitative, and profoundly intertextual environment of fourteenth-century Shiraz. By bringing Hafiz’s lyric poetry into productive, detailed dialogue with that of the satirist, ‘Ubayd Zakani (d. 1371), and the marginalised Jahan-Malik Khatun (d. after 1391; the most prolific female poet of premodern Iran), our received understanding of this most iconic of stages in the development of the Persian ghazal is disrupted, and new avenues for literary exploration open up.

This study re-assesses Hafiz’s place in the Persian poetic canon through reading his poems alongside those produced by professional poets in other major centres of Persian literary activity who enjoyed comparable fame in the fourteenth century. 

Recognising the aesthetic achievements of his contemporaries forces us to accept that Hafiz was but one member of a band of poets who jostled for the limelight in competing, often intersecting, patronage and reception networks that facilitated intense cultural exchange between the cities of post-Mongol Iran and Iraq. 

Hafiz’s ghazals, characterised by conscious and deliberate hybridity and ambiguity are products of a creative mind bent on generic experimentation. Dominic comments: “While in no way seeking to deny the mystical stratum of the Persian ghazal in its fourteenth-century manifestation, this study emphasises the courtly and profane dimensions of the form and regards Hafiz through a sober lens with keen attention to his dynamic role at the heart of a vibrant poetic community that was at once both fiercely local and boldly cosmopolitan.” 

Hafiz and His Contemporaries is published by Bloomsbury 

Dominic Parviz Brookshaw is Associate Professor of Persian Literature at the University of Oxford, and Senior Research Fellow in Persian at Wadham College.

  • Dominic Brookshaw

    Dominic Brookshaw