Mohit Dubey: Hafez, Rumi, Sa’adi, Oh My!

Hafez, Rumi and Sa’adi constitute three main pillars of the literature of Sufi poetry. Although these three poets share many similar qualities as exemplars of poetic mysticism they also have unique forms of expression based on their cultural context and individual experience. Although each poet uses similar metaphors, storytelling structures, and poetic forms, their own perspectives come into play in their interpretations of Sufi concepts. For example, in the poem that begins with “a corner of the wine-shop is the temple where I pray”, Hafez explores the Sufi notion that zuhd, or renunciation, must be rooted in love for God. Hafez does this in a unique way through both the controversial invocation of wine-shops as parallels and equals to mosques, in the sense of the drunkenness achieved in both, as well as in his method of signing his poems with a personal address, as in the line “Though sin’s not ours to choose, Hafez, keep to the disciplined and noble way you’ve traveled on, and say, ‘It’s I who’ve sinned.’” This brings to life the very personal and sometimes litigious nature of Hafez’s Sufi perspective. On the other hand, in her poem “The beggar who would not leave the mosque”, Sa’adi explores the Sufi notions of faqr, poverty in God, which also requires strength and struggle in the way of God as opposed to meekness. In contrast with Hafez, Sa’adi’s poetry is much more morally instructive and focused on storytelling, as if she were giving a Friday prayer on the topic. She makes very sparse use of metaphors and prefers to focus on the story at hand to best deliver its ethical lesson: “You can dissociate your heart from someone only when knowing you can make shift without him”. Finally, Rumi shows his mastery of the interweavement of paradox, metaphor, hadith and Sufi concepts in his poem “A Sufi asks a servant to look after his ass” from the second volume of the Mathnawi. In this poem, Rumi tells a story which encapsulates the Sufi experience and ritual of sama, or listening in meditation, but delves into deeper territories through the extensive use of metaphors as in “The Sufi sage much more in bricks can view than you see in a mirror facing you” [1] and “our bodies are like walnuts my friend – real men beyond their bodies will ascend” [1]. Unlike Hafiz who repeats and develops extensively the metaphor of drunkenness, and unlike Sa’adi who brings theological and ethical issues to the foreground, Rumi uses a fluidity of concepts, a broad range of metaphors including drunkenness and mirrors, as well as hadiths and Quranic references to create a strikingly balanced poem. In this way, each of these poets is able to speak to any specific aspect of Sufi thought, but tends to do so from a specific angle as captured in their choice of language.


1) Rūmī, Jalāl Al-Dīn, and J. A. Mojaddedi. The Masnavi, Book Two. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print. Page 13