1. Hafiz as a mystical and poetic figure

In this essay I would like to offer my own reading of the mystical poetry of the Persian-Iranian poet of the 14th century, Hafiz. This reading is done from the focus or point of view of thinking of mysticism as drunkenness, of getting into how drunkenness can constitute a mystical way and of considering how wine marks out a possible grammar of mysticism as excess. A clarification at the beginning seems to me to be important. When speaking about drunkenness we are utilizing a concept as a metaphor or symbol for what the mystic experiences in his/her encounter with the divine. With that, we are not making reference to a physical drunkenness produced by an excess of alcohol in the blood, but rather we want to understand wine and its effects from a poetic and figurative symbolic point of view.

Hafiz has been characterized as the “best representative of Sufi poetry” (Nasrollah S. Fatemi). Sufism and the Sufi constitute the spiritual and esoteric heart of Islam. In the judgment of Nasrolloh S. Fatemi, “in Hafiz, the great mystical poet of Persia, we find the best manifestations of the Sufi ideas.”[1] Personally, one of the things that most calls my attention in the mystical manifestations is the freedom with which they are expressed in the life of human beings. There is a disruptive character that is almost anarchical in the mystical experience, in as much as it presents a language marked by playful, poetic and symbolic criteria. In mysticism, there arises an excess of these sentiments. Such imagery forces the mystic to try to babble about his experiences with the holy or the divine by making use of symbolic language.

In the case of Hafiz of Persia, it will be the symbols of wine and drunkenness that will allow him to express what it is that happens in his relationship with the original source of life, with the holy, with God. The Sufi poet and mystic feels as if he were drunk inside. He experiences an authentic mystical drunkenness. This has been recognized by Luce Lopez Baralt. For the purposes of a study of the Islamic mystical symbolism found in John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, he writes, “Although the Sufis might not be the first to use wine and vineyards as an archetype of spiritual wisdom (already in the Gilgamesh and the Mishnah we find the same association), in Islamic mystical literature, after numerous centuries of usage, there has entered into the lexicon the equivalence of wine being understood invariably as mystical ecstasy.”[2]

In reading the poetry of Hafiz, we are able to find expressions like: drunkenness is the highest representation of love; wine as symbol and representation of what is experienced in the encounter with God; holy illumination that occurs in the midst of a drunkenness with wine; suggestive images like the liquor cabinet or sacred spaces like the tavern.

Our intention in this essay is to offer an authentic taste of the poetic wine of Hafiz. For that reason, we are going to take a look at some of the poems from the book The Love Poems of Hafiz that allow us to deduce the figures and symbols which we have mentioned above. Toward the end of the poems, we will draw some reflections concerning the Dionysian character of mysticism and we will try to go more deeply into some points that might allow us to recapitulate and try to understand the poetry of the great Persian mystic.

  1. A taste of poetry, wine and mysticism

The Wine Harvest”

Here I find myself again.
Wine has taken me over.
Again, wine has conquered me with its caresses.

A thousand times blessed, you red wine that give to my face
The colors of happiness!

Blessed be the hand that
Has harvested the grape bunch!
O, that the foot that trampled on it
May not ever totter!

Those who drink pure wine like Hafiz
Are the ones who become drunk with the only one in the cup of eternity!

“The Tavern”

On the last day, Hafiz,
Even though you might still have the cup in your hands,
From the tavern you will be able to be led into Paradise.

The Roses of the Night”

Take now the cup and drink,
The wine cupboard offers up pure wine.

“In the Tavern”

Drink the wine to the sound of the harp,
And put the heaviness far away from yourself.
If they tell you “Drink no more”, respond
God is full of mercy.

“The Absence”

Give me the cup, oh Sakil,
That mirror that evokes in us those who are absent.

  1. Some clues for reading the poetry of drunkenness of Hafiz

We have offered some of the intense mystical poems of Hafiz, pointing out in them the imagery and symbol of wine, of drunkenness, and of the experience of the encounter with the divine expressed through the figures of the wine cupboard and the tavern. It is suggestive to think how the great figures of mysticism show us that the way to encounter God can be expressed as an excess, an overflowing. Some time ago I listened to Rabbi Marcelo Kormis who indicated that in order to enter into mysticism (in his case Jewish) it was necessary to deconstruct thought. Gershorn Schomem, one of the most representative figures of the study of the Jewish Cabala says that mysticism has to do with leaving the framework of the customary, it has to do with play, with a relationship to magic and with the power of creation through symbols of crisis.

It is also interesting to take notice that wine, as the road toward the encounter with the sacred, involves the presence of others who collaborate in its offering. Thus, in the poem “The Wine Harvest”, Hafiz thanks and blesses all those who picked the bunches of grapes and those who smashed the grapes in order to make the wine. The figure of the wine cupboard also stands out (The Roses of the Night”) in that it offers wine when the cup is empty, the cup that can be the symbol of the life of the mystic. What also stands out is the sacred place of the tavern, which for Hafiz is the door which gives access to Paradise. This sense of tavern-paradise can also be found in the Koran. In Sura 76 concerning men (the suras are the chapters of the sacred book of Islam) one reads that to the just, upon their arrival in Paradise, wine will be offered. The Koran says:


Your recompense for having been patient is a garden and silk.


In it they will be reclined on beds and they will not see the heat of the sun nor the cold.


The shadows will be above them, nearby, and fruits will lower themselves submissively.


Others will circulate among them with plates of silver and cups that will be of crystal.


Crystal of silver, whose proportions will have been measured precisely (That is, they will have the transparency of crystal, being made of silver)


In it they will be given to drink a wine whose substance will be ginger


And there will be a fountain called Salsabil (which means a fountain of sweet and free-flowing drink.

Perhaps for that reason the tavern is the space to gain access to Paradise in that both sacred spaces share the presence of wine and its delights as the symbol of eternal life and of the consequent encounter with God. In this, we believe that the figure of the “helpers” proposed by the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben can help us to think about the wine cupboard, about those who crushed the grapes or in those who serve in the tavern. For Giorgio Agamben the helpers announce the existence of the “land of plenty”, the new world. Therefore, they are messianic or eschatological persons. Ibn Arabi, another great Sufi mystic, talks about the “helpers of the messiah”. These are men who, in profane time, already possess the characteristics of the messianic time . They already belong to the last day. The function of the helper is to be a translator of the language of God into the language of men. For Ibn Arabi, the world is a translation of the divine language, and, following this logic, that in which the helpers reveal a hidden mystery and announce the Messiah who will come to straighten out what has become twisted.

  1. A Dionysian life for our time?: The longing of a vital mystic

Finally, a word about the Dionysian character as a figure and imagery of wine and of drunkenness as a possibility for living in our time. The philosopher Eduardo Nicol, in his book The Idea of Man, explains that mysticism is the original mode of gaining access to the divinity. The mystics speak about the ascent that they have had when they have encountered the sacred or the divine. It is an experience that is proper to them, but can be communicated to the community as an education and deification through a symbolic and approximative language. Mysticism will never offer codes that are certain, but rather they will always be a babbling. Olvari Sanchez speaks about the “pathways of expression” as the form in which mystics communicate their experiences.

What happens in mysticism is the so-called negative character, which, in the words of Javier Melloni, supposes “being guided beyond perplexity”,[3] assuming that perplexity represents the heart of the mystical way. In turn, it indicates the importance of babbling the words through which we express the aspects that we wish to communicate. It is in the midst of this perplexity and this Profundity where, as Melloni says, “all words disappear.”[4] And in another place, this time speaking about the work of theology as linguistically dispositive in search of a way to express the event of the sacred, Melloni himself says, “Theology does not become a construction of a system of thinking  in which God is sequestered but rather a permanent deconstruction of every system in order to open oneself to a God who is always greater, hidden in the capacity to think itself, to inquire and investigate what God has given to humankind in order for them to encounter each other.”[5]

For that reason, and in dialog with Eduardo Nicol, we set forth the thought that mysticism is linked to Dionysius. The god Dionysius is a figure of enthusiasm, he is the figure who alters the established order, he is the crazy god. The Greek world recognized in Dionysius the source of inspiration, a driving force. Perhaps, and for our time, it might be necessary to think and to propose a mystical theology of a Dionysian character, a spirituality that gives space to creativity, to madness, to play and to wine, one that avoids encountering God with washed-up concepts. The madness of wine, drunkenness as a mystical pathway, the figure of the wine cupboard and the tavern, all of the suggestive imagery of Hafiz can help us to think about the longing for the encounter with God, a longing which, we think, is actualized in moments of profound crisis.

The mystic and the poet express their words in moments of a profound dark night, with a lack of a sense of the daily routine, the apparent silence of God. The mystic and the poet work with human, spiritual, social, cultural and personal crises. And from within those crises, they are able to offer us small lights by which to walk in time, in days, and to make sense of experiences that make us beings who are open to the world, to others and to transcendence.


[1] Nasrollah S.Fatemi “Hafiz, el major representante de la poesía sufi” (Estudios de Asia y África, Vol 18. No. 4 (58) (October – December, 1983), pp. 584-603 (20 pages).Published by El Colegio de México, Estudios de Asia y África. //https:-//www.jstor.org/stable/40312722

[2] Luce López Baalt, “Simbología mística musulmana en San Juan de la Cruz y Santa Teresa de Jesús.” In : http://www.cervantesvirtual.com/obra-visor/simbologa-mstica-musulmana-en-san-juan-de-la-cruz-y-santa-teresa-de-jess-0/html/021e4a2a-82b2-11df-acc7-002185ce6064_11.html?fbclid=IwAR3DZBNKD2Q3VDhecctmvJ4E5ry-jVYl7DUfFD8_YU6uLverOpjlhl7EJ2o

[3][3] Javier Melloni, Hacia un tiempo de síntesis (Fragmenta Editorial, Barcelona, 2011) p. 191

[4] Javier Melloni, “Prólogo”, in Abdemumin Aya and José Manuel Martín Portales, El Dios de la perplejidad (Herder, Barcelona, 2010), pp. 9-11.9

[5] Ibid., pp. 9-11.11

[Image from Wikipedia]

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From Chile. Layperson. Professor of Religion and Philosophy. Masters in Fundamental Theology. Qualified in teaching at University level. Associate Academic Instructor in the Faculty of Theology of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile and Academic in the Alberto Hurtado University (belonging to the Society of Jesus). He has lectured in Fundamental Theology, Theological Anthropology and an Introduction to the study of the Bible. His areas of interest, research and educational work are: Theological Anthropology, the place of the mystical in human life and the theology of the Resurrection.
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