Wednesday, February 13, 2008

LOVE IS... Drunk with Pleasure, Like the Islamic Poet Muhammed Shams ud-din Hafiz

I find it incredible how much today's image of Islam has been taken over by militancy and fundamentalist privation. In the face of this very limited definition of Islam, it's wonderful to realize that there was, and is, a broader, more liberal and inclusive Islam. That there was, and still is, an Islamic path that is a sensual, homoerotic celebration of abandoning restraint and pursuing ecstasy as another pathway to merge with the Divine.

Hafiz (sometimes spelled Hafez) was born in the Persian city of Shiraz (what is now Iran) around 1326. He wrote in a particular verse form, the

"erotic ghazal," a lyric poem of six to fifteen rhymed couplets unified not by logic but by symbols and images: often the ghazal is compared to a thread of pearls. Love and wine were traditional themes of the ghazal because they symbolized ecstasy and liberation from restraint. Hafiz took these subjects and made them his own while infusing them with his own brand of Sufi mysticism and its yearning for a total, obliterating union of the earthly with the divine.

Here's one of his amazing ghazals:

With locks disheveled, flushed in a sweat of drunkenness,
His shirt torn open, a song on his lips and wine cup in his hand -

With eyes looking for trouble, lips softly complaining -
So at midnight last night he came and sat at my pillow.

He bent his head down to my ear, and in a voice full of sadness
He said: "Oh, my old lover, are you asleep?"

What lover, given such wine at midnight,
Would prove love's heretic, not worshipping wine?

Don't scold us, you puritan, for drinking down to the dregs;
This fate was dealt us in God's prime Covenant.

Whatever He poured into our tankard we'll swallow;
If it's liquor of Paradise, or the wine that poisons.

A laughing wine cup, a tangle of knotted hair -
And let good resolutions, like those of Hafiz, be shattered!

LOVE IS... this, too.


These quotes above are from pgs. 148-151 of "The Gay 100: A Ranking of The Most Influential Gay Men and Lesbians, Past and Present" by Paul Russell.

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