Chapter X

The Valley of the Shadow of Hafiz


In June and July 1899, Payne spent six weeks in the Swiss Jura, visiting Ballaigues, Yverdon, Bienne and Macolin.

On his return he writes to Lady Lewis 9 July, 1899: “Please tell Madam Hirsch218 when you write to her how very sorry I was to miss seeing her. Please give her and Mr. Hirsch my kindest regards. It was a great pleasure to me to see them en passant par Les Troyens219 in February last and a reminder of old times.

“I found also a pleasant surprise, not in the least expected, in the shape of a private letter from A. Balfour’s secretary to the effect that I had been granted a pension of £100 a year. This will relieve me from all anxieties in the pecuniary way, my wants being small and more ideal than material, and enable me to pursue the quest after health with some chance of success. Please accept my heartiest thanks for your most kind exertions on my behalf. I own, I feel, the success entirely to you and am very grateful, whilst at the same time feeling no small compunction at all the trouble I must have given you.”

The letter of 4 November, 1899, to Lady Lewis commences with the usual tale of influenza. He goes on : “Hafiz I must finish before I die; when it is done and printed I can say ‘Domine nunc dimittis’ and can die getrost, content to leave to posterity to do that justice to my work which has been completely denied me by my contemporaries.”

Lady Burne-Jones was at this time engaged upon a biography of her husband​—​the work which eventually appeared as the Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones, and she applied, through Lady Lewis, to Payne for assistance. In this letter Payne says: “I hope, by the way, that Lady Burne-Jones’s enquiry does not imply that she wishes me to write anything about her beloved husband; it would pain me to refuse, and yet I feel the utter impossibility of doing anything else, ungracious as it seems.”

Having completed his translation of Omar Kheyyam, Payne returned to the Hafiz, which was eventually published in 3 vols. in 1901. If the average Englishman were asked what he knew of Hafiz he would probably recite Sir William Jones’s elegant lines:

Sweet maid, if thou would’st charm my sight,

And bid these arms thy neck infold,

That rosy cheek that lily hand

Would give thy poet more delight

Than all Bocara’s vaunted gold

Than all the gems of Samarcand.

This is all very pretty, but unfortunately it is not Hafiz. The slim, seductive beauty whom Hafiz sings had neither a rosy cheek nor a white hand. What she really could boast was a black mole,220 which in the East is regarded as one of the most coveted accompaniments​—​an enhancer, indeed​—​of female beauty; hence it was for the lady’s mole, and not for her rosy cheek, which, by the by, was really green,221 that Hafiz in his ecstasy would have thrown away two whole cities.222 As for the concluding stanza of Jones’s poem there is not in it a single word or thought that corresponds with the actual utterance of Hafiz. Numerous other writers have rendered into English certain of Hafiz’s ghazels, but it was reserved for Payne to make an isometrical translation of the entire "Divan," that is to say the whole of Hafiz. When we point out that the “Divan” consists of 615 ghazels and 78 other poems, altogether equivalent to about 20,000 English decasyllabic lines, and that Payne rendered the whole of this enormous mass in accordance with the metrical scheme of the original, some conception will be formed of the gigantic nature of his achievement. Indeed, compared with it all his other enterprises of the kind​—​even the translation of the Nights​—​were as child’s play.

The work was prefaced by some original lines by Payne​—​one of the most lovely poems that he or any other man ever produced​—​that blaze of beauty “The Prelude to Hafiz.”223 With what wonderful words of invitation he introduces us to the superb Persian!

Here be rubies red and radiant, of the colour of the heart,

Here to topazes sun-golden, such as rend the dusk apart,

Here be sapphires steeped in heaven, for the salving of your smart.

If your souls are sick with sorrow, here is that which shall appease.

If your lips are pale with passion, here is that which hath the keys

To the sanctuaries of solace and the halidomes of ease.

But the whole of this inimitable poem should be read. Every stanza gives transports to the soul. There is nothing better even in Hafiz himself. It is true, as Payne declares, that Hafiz takes the whole sweep of human experience, and he irradiates all things with his sun-gold and his wisdom. To Shiraz, his native town, he was passionately attached, and no inducements could persuade him to abandon the waters of Ruknabad and the earth and air of Musella.224 Did he not burst out with:

Hail to Shiraz and its station past compare!

God preserve it from cessation! is my prayer.

O’er our Ruknabad an hundred “God preserve it’s!”

For its dulcet waters life eternal bear.225

He certainly paid a short visit to Yezd,226 whose king treated him with indifference, and to Hurmouz227 where he experienced favours, but he found no place like his beloved Shiraz.

There is a well-known picture by Rembrandt representing the artist himself, with his arm round his wife, who is seated on his knee, and with his right hand clasping and raising a tall glass of liquor, and he is looking with a merry eye towards the spectator. That is very much the attitude of Hafiz towards the world, though we are not prepared to hold him up as a model of constancy. Indeed, the lady whom he seats on his knee, and whose wrists and neck he endues with “bracelets of jacinth and jasmine,” while he drinks to her from a cup encrusted with pearls and rubies, is not always necessarily the seductive Leila. It is always, however, “the Beloved,” though it did not seem to matter very much which Beloved. If Shireen prove inconstant, Hafiz is not inconsolable. There is Cradled-Moon, Musk-Deer, Strutting-Pheasant, Rose-in-hood, and other Peri-faced damsels! for Allah is very bountiful. Without a “loveling” of some sort to overcome him by her witchery Hafiz would not be Hafiz. Gazing upon her beseeching face hung about with ebon and grisamber-perfumed tresses, he in his ecstasy compares it to the moon in the cloudy zone of Scorpion. But when he wants another kiss (which he was nearly always wanting) she says provokingly that he must wait, seeing that according to the Persians it is unlucky to transact business when the moon is in that sign.228 Sometimes he sincerely wishes that the fires enkindled in him by her beauty could be extinguished:

Lo, no strength I have remaining in me, friend,

For that fair she is and lovesome past apprize.

Short our hand is and the date is on the palm;

Lame our foot and far as heaven the emprise.

If Hafiz is fond of wine and roses, as well as of ladies, it is, he says, because in the beginning the clay of his life was blended with grape-juice and rose-water. But love, roses and wine by no means monopolize his work; and even the lines that do bear on these subjects are held by almost all orientals to admit, like Solomon’s Song, of a sacred interpretation. “Of religious liberty,” to use the biting words of James Mew, Hafiz “is everywhere a supporter; he did not know any better​—​he was only an infidel.”

In one of the ghazels we are reminded that between ourselves and the realization of our hopes there is no exterior barrier. “Thou thyself art thine own obstruction,” he says; “up and no more be stayed.” In Ode 345229 Hafiz laments the indifference of the age to its men of genius and worth, but perhaps he is at his best when at his very saddest, as in the magnificent Ode 528230:

I went to the garden one morning

That I might pluck a rose,

When, suddenly, full in my hearing,

The song of a bulbul rose.

With love for a rose afflicted,

Like me was the wretch become

And so to the meadow-breezes

Was casting his tale of woes.

Reflecting on this incident he comes to the conclusion that

Full many a rose in the garden,

Hath blossomed on this our world;

But no one, without a thorn-prick,

E’er gathered thereof a rose.

Hafiz, no hope of joyance,

Have from this round of life;

For in it a thousand thorn spikes

And not one rosebud grows.

This, it will be said, is as sad as a chapter in Ecclesiastes. Yes, and it is as beautiful. But the question will be asked, Is Payne’s work all that could be wished as a translation? Did he perform for Hafiz what in so splendid a manner he performed for the Arabian Nights? Those who go to the work for a faithful rendering of the original will say, “It is perfection”; but those who had expected a beautiful series of poems such as a Payne unfettered could give will say emphatically “No.” Indeed, they will find it in many places uncouth, forced and hard to read, for it is open to the same criticism as the rendering of Omar Kheyyam. The truth is Payne had once more attempted the impossible. He sacrificed himself on the altar of Hafiz, just as previously he had sacrificed himself on the altar of Omar Kheyyam. An isometrical translation from Hafiz cannot possibly result in high, or rather sustained high poetry. The too terrible birth agonies left their impress upon the offspring. Yet what a feast Payne has given to the English-speaking world! Yacoub Artin Pasha, minister of education at Cairo, one of the first of native scholars and a devotee of the great Shirazi said that with Payne’s Hafiz in hand he well-nigh forgot that he was reading a translation, so happily does the English rendering combine faithfulness to the meaning and reproduction of the manner of the original.

The enormous amount of thought and work that were necessary to the production of this translation led Payne to describe this period to me as “The Valley of the Shadow of Hafiz.” By the time it was finished his health once more broke down. The strain had been too much for him, and a long illness ensued.

In his Introduction to Hafiz, Payne associates that poet with Shakespeare, Socrates and Mendelssohn​—​men who differ toto coelo from the rank and file of humanity​—​calling them the Parthenogeniti of life, “intemerate and free they were born, as the flowers of the field, and pure and incontaminable shall they abide for ever.”

Hafiz in the east, like Virgil in the west, was often used for bibliomantic purposes.

Of the extreme beauty of Payne’s original poem, “The Prelude to Hafiz,” I have already spoken. Let me here impress upon the reader that all Payne’s Preludes, Dedications, or whatever they are called are worthy of the closest study. They are little works of art; but occupying the places they do, they are in danger of being overlooked. One calls particularly to mind:

“This is the house of dreams” (Masque of Shadows), “To Richard Wagner” (Poems of Life and Death), “Like as the sunflower” (New Poems), “The Prelude to Hafiz” (Hafiz), “Sine me liber” (Collected Poems), “Song Birds” (Carol and Cadence), “A Grave at Montmartre” (Heine), “The flower that bloweth” (Flower o’ the Thorn), and “Introit” (The Way of the Winepress).

Ashbee died in 1900, and in May 1901 Payne lost his friend F. F. Arbuthnot, who to the end preserved all his gentle and lovable characteristics. His curious work The Mysteries of Chronology had appeared in 1900. Among his last compositions were prefaces for oriental works by Rehatsek and Steingass and an original work The Life of Balzac, the MS. of which is in my possession. He was buried at Shamley Green, Guildford. He left money for the Oriental Translation Fund, and his memory will always be honoured by Orientalists. Dr. Steingass died in January 1903. “I was much attached to him,” said Payne to me, “and felt his death sorely.”

[218] Lady Lewis’s sister.

[219] An opera (a trilogy rather) by Hector Berlioz.

[220] Payne’s translation, i. p. 12.

[221] Payne’s Omar Kheyyam, Quatrains No. 368 and 622 and note. The Orientals consider the dark down on the cheeks of their girls a beauty and call it “green,” in allusion to the first minute blades of grass.

[222] “Bokhara, ay, and Samarcand.”​—​Payne’s translation, i. p. 12.

[223] Also printed in Sir Winfrith, published by the John Payne Society.

[224] A suburb of Shiraz.

[225] Payne’s translation, ii. p. 136.

[226] Payne’s translation, i. p. 3; iii. p. 153.

[227] Payne’s translation, iii. p. 153.

[228] Payne’s Hafiz, ii. p. 76.

[229] Payne’s translation, ii. p. 158.

[230] Payne’s translation, iii. p. 98.