Háfiz, The breast is surfeited with pain


The following is my translation of a ghazal by Hafiz, one of the greatest poets in the Persian literary tradition.

A ghazal is common form in classical Persian poetry, and consists of seven or more lines of verse. A line, or bayt, in Persian poetry consists of two parts, much like couplets in English. In a ghazal, the first and second part of the first line will rhyme, and thereafter the same rhyme will be maintained in every second part of the succeeding lines. The poet has a myriad meters to choose from, of which thirty were in common use. Ghazals are often compared with sonnets, and although this likening is apt from the perspective that the sonnet is a form of comparable importance in Western Literature, it should be kept in mind that ghazals do not always possess the tight coherency that is prized in the best sonnets, but rather each line can be independent from the others. This is is especially seen in ghazals by Hafiz. 

The following ghazal I have translated into rhyming fourteeners, a form not seen very often since Shakespeare’s childhood, but which has been used to good effect by prominent poets since that time. The meter is iambic, and the name fourteener is in reference to the number of syllables in a line.

Hafiz lived through the Mongol invasions of Persia, and the despondent tone of the ghazal could be read as the poet’s lamentation of the harsh realities of Medieval life. 

View interlinear file with the original Persian


Ghazal 470 by Hafiz

Translation by Joshua Hall

The breast is surfeited with pain—would that there be a cure!

Or yet a friend to help this heart this loneliness endure!

Whose eye in hope doth seek its solace from the shifting spheres?

Give me a cup, that I might have short respite from my tears.

Unto a man of sense I said, look thou upon the world;

He laughed, “Hard times these are and strange, the lands to tumult whirled.”

By Chegel’s Candle I in patience’ well was set aflame;

The King of Turks is free from cares, but what Rostam is there to name?

While in the path of love, all ease and safety is but grief;

So piercèd be that heart that wants from this thy pain relief.

The people of affluence have no path to th’ eremite;

A guide is world-aflaming, not removed from sorrow’s bite.

No Adam hath been found, though all the world hath been assayed;

Another world must needs be built, another Adam made.

Arise, that thou may’st love that Samarqandi fair,

For his perfume the scent of flowing Muliyan doth bear.

What do Hafiz’s tears compare to love’s immensity?

Since therein all the seven seas must but a dew-drop be.


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