Before we enter into this, something should be said on the origins and the history of the ghazal. The term itself can be met with from the earliest times in Arabic poetry. In pre-Islamic bedouin poetry, love songs were named so but it is not quite certain that the word was used already to denote separate poems. Perhaps ghazal was originally the name of a particular lyrical topic rather than of a concrete form of poetry. Although a certain amount of influence from Arabic love poetry is undeniable, the origin of the Persian ghazal cannot be seen as a simple continuation of an
Arabic tradition. Oral poetry as it was practised in Persia prior to Islam must have been influential as well; this kind of poetry continued to be the main genre of the repertoire of minstrels during the early Islamic period.
The practice of love poetry in Persian in the tenth and eleventh centuries was initially purely secular. It seems that, during that period, ghazals were still mainly known as songs performed by minstrels. Though most poets of the time must have composed ghazals, hardly any specimen of an independent poem of this kind has survived. One of the reasons for this poor state of documentation may be that these love poems were not considered to be serious enough to be preserved in writing. The only material from which we can form a picture of this early Persian love poetry are the introductive sections of panegyrical qasidas, which seem to reflect the love poetry as it was practised at the courts of the Samanid emirs and the early Ghaznavid sultans.
The written ghazals date, as far as we know, from the early twelfth century, when for the first time sizeable collections of them are known to have existed from the divans of Persian poets. It may not be accidental that this coincides with the ever more frequent use of ghazals for the expression of mystical love. Ghazals were only considered worthy to be kept for later use and to be distributed to new audiences when they were no longer seen as mere frivolous songs about love and wine.
Since then, the fusion between the secular and the mystical in Persian ghazals has become such an essential characteristic that, in most instances, it is extremely difficult to make a proper distinction between the two. The decision whether a given poem should be called a Sufi ghazal or a profane love song very often does not depend so much on the poem itself, but on what we know about its writer, that is the answer to the question: does the life of the poet provide us with clues of a mystical affiliation, or is the poet only known as a court poet?
There are at least three reasons why one should be very cautious with such deductions. First, the history of Persian literature is still full of uncertainties. Especially in the case of the medieval poets, the evidence available for their biography is usually very slight. Even if we do have traditional accounts of their lives, the distinction between pious fiction and historical reality is often hard to make. Secondly, it should be realised that ghazals were only transmitted as isolated pieces of poetry, detached from the context to which they belonged originally. It may very well be that many poems of a seemingly profane content were actually meant to be used in a Sufi gathering or in a pious sermon where the occasion provided the proper meaning to poems which, taken at face value, might look quite frivolous. Thirdly, it should be considered that the ambiguity of their ultimate meaning has become an essential feature of the genre.
To some extent the interpretative dilemmas just mentioned present themselves in the case of Sanà'l of Ghazna (d. 1131). There is enough historical evidence to qualify Sanà'l as a religious poet who was associated with preachers and mystics. He was also the earliest writer of mystical ghazals to leave a substantial collection. We find among them most of the themes and images which secular and mystical poets used alike, and which constituted the common stock drawn upon by all subsequent writers of ghazals. Many of these poems would not be classified as mystical poems if we did not know that they were indeed written by Sanà'l, and may very well have served him at any of the religious séances in which he was involved.5
More difficult to assess are a number of poems written by Sanà'l for the Ghaznavid Sultan Bahràmshàh (reigned 1118-ca. 1152). They are really ghazals, mosdy describing a Beloved in terms which, though not explicitly mystical, are evidently referring to transcendent Beauty. To this, however, a brief panegyric has been attached marking the same ghazals as pieces of court poetry. This kind of ambiguity, in which the beloved (ma'shuq) not only seems to reflect the Divine (ma bud) but also the person of a wordly patron (mamduh), can be found with later poets as well, not least in the case of Hàfiz.6
Most important in Sanà'î's ghazal poetry is the introduction of a cluster of antinomian themes centering on the figure of the 'qalandar', a tramp who flouts all the rules of good and pious behaviour, to which we will return later.
Among Sana f s contemporaries Sayyid Hasan-i Ghaznavl (d. ab. 1160), also known under the name Ashraf, should be mentioned as an interesting early poet of the ghazal. He began his career as a court poet of Bahramshah, but left Ghazna to travel to other places, especially in Western Persia and Khurasan. It is worthwhile noting that, apart from his literary fame, he acquired the additional reputations of a religious scholar and a very successful preacher.
In the twelfth century, prominent poets of the court like Anvarl (d. ca. 1165), Jamal ad-Din Isfahan! (d. 1192) and KhaqanI (d. 1199) became interested in the writing of ghazals, although all three were celebrated writers of qasidas in the first place. Many of their ghazals show the influence of Sana'l, even to the extent that a transcendental interpretation of their lyricism is by no means always excluded.
A truly mystical poet, who after Sana'l, deserves to be put into focus, was Farld ad-Din 'Attar (d. ab. 1220). Very little is known with certainty about his life and mystical affiliations except that he earned a living as a pharmacist in the bazaar of Nishapur/ His Divan of lyrical poetry consists mainly of ghazals. According to Hellmut Ritter, who has analysed a great number of 'Attar's poems and compared some of them with Sana'I's ghazals, the mystical intention of the former is more outspoken than in the latter's poems.8 What links the two poets together, in particular, is the importance they gave to antinomian motives. On the other hand, quite of few of his ghazals have the character of short poetic sermons rather than lyrics.
The name of Maulana Jalal ad-Din Rum! (1207-73) is often mentioned as the third master of mystical poetry in a line including Sana'l and 'Attar and culminating in his work. He was born in Balkh which, until it was devastated by the Mongols, was one of the great centres of Islamic civilisation in eastern Persia (presently the northern part of Afghanistan). His father Baha ad-Dln Valad was a renowned theologian and preacher as well as a profound mystic.9 When Jalal ad-Din was still very young, his family travelled to the west settling down eventually in Konya, a city in Anatolia which in those days was still called Rum. At the beginning he followed in the footsteps of his father; he became the revered teacher of a growing number of pupils. In 1244 an enigmatic dervish by the name of Shams ad-Din TabrizI turned up in Konya, who claimed to have reached the highest position imaginable in mystical love. His appearance made a crushing impact onjalal ad-Din. Shams ad-Din became not merely a very intimate companion, but actually an object of worship to him. These feelings were only heightened when in 1247 Shams suddenly left him. Rum! sent his son Sultan Valad to Damascus to bring him back to Konya; but not for long, however, as a few months later he disappeared again, probably having been murdered by jealous people from Rumi's own circle.
Many poems in the Divan-i kabir ('The great Divan'), the huge collection of Rumi's ghazals with more than 3,200 poems, give expression to his mystical relationship to Shams ad-Din. The latter's name is often mentioned in clasp themes, as in this indication of the true inspiration of Rumi's poetry:
Behold, without regarding the letters, what is this language in the heart;
Pureness of colour is a quality derived from the Source of Action.
Shamsi Tabriz is seated in royal state, and before him
This unique use of the device of personalisation betrays the intensity of Jalal ad-Din's identification of Shams with the manifestation of the mystical Beloved in the flesh. These ghazals exhibit an almost inexhaustible wealth of imagery which is unparalleled in Persian literature.11
In the same century, Fakhr ad-Din 'Iraqi (d. 1289) made the most extensive use of the antinomistic theme, which since Sana'I and 'Attar had become fully integrated in the ghazal. With 'Iraqi, it acquired a special significance because it corresponded to the poet's actual way of life according to a biographical tradition which, although it certainly contains many legendary traits, may very well have a historical background. In his youth, he joined a group of antinomian dervishes when they passed through his native town Hamadan, having fallen in love with a boy who belonged to this group. Their wanderings brought him to Multan (presently in south-west Pakistan), where he entered the ChistI Order as an adept of the famous Shaykh Baha ad-Din Zakariya. He continued to express himself in ecstatic poems using a highly offensive imagery, which eventually caused his expulsion from Multan. Returning to the Middle East, he settled down for some time in the Anatolian town of Konya. There he attended the teaching of Sadr ad-Din Qunavl, one of the earliest expounders of the mystical philosophy of Ibn al-'Arabi. Inspired by the new theories about the 'Unity of Being', he wrote the Lama'at, a treatise on the theory of love in the style of Ahmad Gazall's Savanih. After a visit to Egypt he went to Damascus, where he
1 o died and was buried near the tomb of Ibn al-' Arabl.
The fame of Musharrif ad-Din ibn Muslih ad-Din Sa'dl (d. 1292 or
1294) of Shiraz is, at least in Persia, based equally on his role as a poet of the ghazal as on the Gulistan and the Bustan, works which are best known to Western readers. Sa'dl collected his numerous ghazals into four collections which are known under the titles Tayyibat ('Perfumed Poems'), Bada'x ('Eloquent Poems'), Khavatim ('Sealed Poems') and Ghazaliyat-i qadim ('Old Ghazals'). Also with Sa'dl, the mystical intention is not in all poems self-evident, but this need not lead to the contrary conclusion. The Czech historian of Persian literature Jan Rypka cautioned: 'It is indeed not advisable to look for Sufism always and everywhere - either in Sa'dl or in other poets.'14 There can be no doubt, however, that Sa'dl participated fully in the development of the ghazal which made the poem in the first place a vehicle of mystical emotions, or at least of an eroticism which is embedded in an awareness of its transcendental potential. Our knowledge about Sa'dl's life and his personality is almost entirely dependent on what he tells about himself in his works. He did not shrink from using biography as an element of fiction, describing journeys he never could have made or encounters with persons he could not have met. However, there is little reason to doubt the general picture of a man attracted to the life of a dervish, though not to the more extreme aspects of mysticism, and the kind of revered religiously minded person who deserved the nickname 'Sheikh' which the tradition has given to him.
Amir Khusrau Dihlavl (1253-1325),15 who was the son of a Turkish military man from Central Asia, became the first great poet of the Persian tradition in India. He spent his days as a courtier, mostly in Delhi, but was at the same time an intimate adept of Muhammad Nizam ad-Din Auliya, a leading sheikh of the Chishti Order. His biography, therefore, makes it quite obvious that mysticism must have been the main inspiration of his ghazals. He collected his lyrical work in no less than five albums. Their titles reveal that Khusrau saw them as the reflection of stages in a progress towards inner purification and perfection marked by the various stages of his life: Tuhfat as-sighar ('The Present of Youth'), Vasat al-hayat ('The Middle of Life'), Ghurrat al-kamal ('Dawn of Perfection'), Baqiya-yi naqiya ('The Pure Remainder') and Nihayat al-kamal ('Final Perfection').
A scholar of Islamic law, who at the same time was heir to a local mystical tradition, was 'Imad ad-Din (1291-1371),16 nicknamed Faqlh-i KirmanI, 'the jurisprudent of Kirman'. At an early age he succeeded his father as the director of a Sufi convent. As he relates in one of his masnavi poems - to which we shall return in the next chapter - he wrote ghazals to be recited during the gatherings held in this convent.
Another mystic of the same period was Khvaju KirmanI (1290— 1352 or 1361),17 a member of the KazarunI Order in the southern province of Fars. As as a poet of ghazals he followed in the footsteps of Sa'dl, although he is best known for his masnavis. Salman-i Savaji (d. 1376), on the other hand, was first of all a court poet serving the Mongol dynasty of the Jala'irids at Baghdad. He is regarded as the last medieval master of the qasida, which he applied to religious panegyrics of the Prophet and 'All. He is also, however, appreciated as a writer of mystical ghazals, whose use of imagery has been compared to the style of Hafiz.
Hafiz (d. ab. 1390)18 is by universal consent the greatest Persian poet of ghazals. His poetry poses the problem of the distinction between the profane and the mystical in its most acute form. The question has been discussed over and again in modern times, not only by Western critics, but equally by Persian scholars, and as yet no unanimity has been reached. Also in this case, biography is an important issue in the argumentation. Like his older fellow townsman Sa'dl, he was in touch with the local court of Shiraz, at least during most of his active life. Traces of his contacts with rulers and courtiers have been found in his poems in the form of panegyrical references. Some of them are of an allusive nature and their interpretation therefore remains uncertain. It is evident, however, that Hafiz, like Sana'! and others did before him, wrote several panegyrical ghazals, mentioning the name of his patron at the end of the poem.
Against all this it could be held that Hafiz makes an intensive use of all the images and motives which, for centuries already, belonged to the stock-in-trade of the mystical ghazal. Most Oriental commentators of previous centuries have given mystical readings of his poetry. The matter is further confused by the kaleidoscopic nature of Hafiz' verse. In any given poem one may find a great variety of elements, some of them pointing in the direction of a transcendental meaning, others allowing the possibility of a secular interpretation.
During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, when the two great masters of Shiraz lived, the ghazal was firmly established as the most important Persian lyrical form, and it kept this position for many centuries. In the period immediately following, its character as a mystical poem became much more outspoken. Many poets were Sufi sheikhs in the first place, and made use of the ghazal as a means to express their teachings in imaginative language. At the centre of their poetry stands the theosophical doctrine of Ibn al-'Arabl (d. 1240) on the 'Unity of Being' (wahdat al-wujud), which had become predominant in Sufism. The poetry of love, which gave words to the yearning for unity with the Beloved, lent itself easily for the formulation of the awareness of existential unity. Yet, there was an unmistakable shift from the expression of emotional states to a more intellectual attitude.
Kamal ad-Din Mas'ud, better known as Kamal-i Khujandl (d. ca. 1405) was born in Central Asia but spent most of his life in Tabriz. Sultan Husayn Jala'iri, who was the Mongol ruler of
Western Persia in his days, gave him a garden and a convent where he could teach. This is only one of many signs of the great interest that men of worldly power took in Sufism. Kamal's poetry is said to have exerted an influence on Hafiz's.19
A contemporary of Kamal, who also lived in Tabriz, was Maulana Muhammad Maghribl (d. 1406-7), nicknamed Shirln ('The sweet'). He derived his name from his investiture with the Sufi cloak (khirqa) which was performed by a sheikh during a journey of the poet to North Africa. In spite of his high rank as a mystic, Maghribl also had good relations with Mlranshah, the Timurid governor of Adharbayjan, who for some time was his pupil.20 The great Sufi sheikh Shah Ni'mat-Allah Vail (d. 1431), founder of the Ni'matallahl Order (one of the main Sufi traditions of Persia and India), was born in a family of Sayyids from Aleppo,
Syria, which had settled down in the Persian city of Kirman. He
was also a prolific writer of ghazals. Qasim-i Anvar (d. 1433)
entertained relations with Safl ad-Din, the sheikh of the Safavid
Sufi Order in Ardabil (Adharbayjan) from which in the sixteenth century emerged the first Shi'ite dynasty governing the whole of oo
Persia. Qasim is also known as a writer of masnavvs.
Maulana Nur ad-Din 'Abd ar-Rahman Jami (1414-92), was a leading sheikh of the Naqshbandl Order, the dominant Sufi organisation at the court of the Timurids in Herat. He left an enormous oeuvre containing virtually all the genres, in prose as well as in poetry, which had been current in the previous centuries. His collection of hagiographies, Nafahat al-Uns, is an important source for the history of Sufism and includes a section on mystical poets. His lyrics, including many ghazals, were assembled in three volumes, according to the stages of his life, following the example set by Amir Khusrau of Dihll: Fatihat ash-shabab ('The beginning of youth'), Vasitat al-'iqd ('The middle pearl of the necklace'), and Khatimat al-hayat ('The seal of life'). The influence of Jami exceeded the boundaries of Persian poetry and is noticeable in the Persian-style poetry of classical Ottoman-
Of the numerous other ghazal poets at least Baba FighanI (d. about 1500) should be mentioned, because he made a strong impact on ghazal poetry in the Safavid period.24 The mystical ghazal continued to be important during the subsequent centuries, especially in the works of the poets who belonged to the school of the so-called 'Indian style'. Their most prominent representative in Persia was Sa'ib of Tabriz (d. 1676), whose tremendous output exhibits the use of the poetic possibilities of o c the ghazal at a rare height of complexity. Even in the twentieth century, Muhammad-Husayn Shahriyar (d. 1988), the greatest modern master of the ghazal, could breathe new life into this ancient form of mystical poetry.26
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