Luke Nikkanen – Hafez, Sa’di, Rumi

Response Paper 7

Hafez, Sa’di, and Rumi all write about aspects of Sufi spirituality, but all approach it from their own angles. Their stylistic and narrative differences reflect their own unique positions on their relationship to God and how to best attain Sufi goals of unity with the beloved. The poems I will be reflecting on in this paper are Hafez’s I’ve Known the Pains of Love’s Frustration, Sa’di’s The Sweet-And Sour-Faced Honey-Sellers, and Rumi’s The Union of the Lover Who was Not True.

Hafez’s approach to mystic ideas was by far the most melancholy. His poems reflect a  yearning for days lost, but also hold out a sense of hope. He wants to recall better times and the structure of these poems are reflective, in a way, of remembering a time in which humans and god were united as one entity. In I’ve known the pains of love’s frustration, he says: “Without you, in this beggarly poor hut, I have endured such desolation – ah don’t ask! Lost on love’s road, like Hafez, I’ve attained A stage…but stop this speculation -ah don’t ask!” (p. 33, v. 12) Hafez places himself in his suffering, alone. This suggests a much more transcendent approach to God and an emphasis on one’s own mental reasoning to achieve goals of unity. Hafez expresses an acknowledgement of the fleetingness of life but still finds some sort of solace in the “you”, or the lingering presence of the other person that somehow makes up for one’s limited existence. His emphasis on repetitions invoke the memory of someone through repetition. He seems to embrace the melancholy in life because he knows that, in some way, it is a necessary part of attaining divine understanding. Hafez’s approach to mysticism is thus more in entangled in the suffering of the individual and the importance of looking into one’s self to understand the meaning of life. His poetry offers a far less conventional approach to Sufism.

Sa’di’s poems are structured in a way more similar to moral tales, to means of communicating a code of conduct by which to behave. His poems depict people performing actions that are judged by the poet, as if he himself has attained a higher state . These poems involve teaching people the virtue of good deeds and, above all, good intentions behind actions They do not present examples of people who have reached godliness, and is more about an immersion into the world of corruption and impurity than a celebration of the good qualities of life. The poems often have a pious person stacked up against an impious person to contrast their qualities. In The sweet-and sour-faced honey-sellers, he describes a merchant who has a negative disposition. He describes a conversation that his wife has with him:  “His wife said to her husband playfully: ‘Bitter is the honey of a sour-faced man!’ An ugly nature takes a man to Hell, From Paradise a goodly disposition comes…” (p. 41, v. 2245) It is important to note the communal aspect of this poem, in that it is the man’s beloved who gives him advice and not the voice of God himself, or the man’s own internal awareness. Sa’di’s approach to mysticism thus places more emphasis on the flaws of humanity and the need to overcome the negativity surrounding the ego.

Rumi also engages in more more long form poems. They are  also moral tales to some extent, but they involve God in the conversation. His works are far more explanatory, bringing light to more esoteric elements of Sufism and parsing them out so that the average person can understand them. Furthermore, he humanizes religious figures and tales about their own conditions, making God more present and less mysterious. In the union of the lover who was not true, Rumi tells the story of a man separated from his lover who tries in vain to communicate with her while speaking to God. He says “Why does love shed blood so relentlessly? To make outsiders to love’s truths all flee.” (P. 287, V. 4755) In this sense, Rumi’s approach to union with the beloved is far more in tune with a God-given understanding of suffering. While Hafez depicts people who are doomed to experience separation alone, Rumi interweaves the presence of God that in a sense reduces the agency of humanity. Later in the poem, he says, “You made the means for this act for this reason: so I won’t think ill even of a tree’s thorn. When legs break, God gives wings, which are worth more…” (p. 291, v. 4810) Again is this notion of God being ever present and performing miracles. Rumi’s approach to Sufism seems to be the most mainstream and widely accessible in this case, because he expresses universal aspects of the human condition with divine justification. Without the power of God, humans seem hopeless in their attempts to reach a higher state.