Having spoken about the relationship between the poet and the prophet, Hazrat Inayat Khan now begins to explore the poetic imagery used by Sufi poets, particularly those of Persia. The previous post in the series is here.
Sufi poetic imagery stands by itself, distinct and peculiar in its character. It is both admired and criticized for its peculiarity. It is different from the expressions of other poets born in other countries because of its Persian origin and the particular qualities of Persia. These qualities include the fine climate, the ancient traditions, its being the place where, it is said, wine was tasted for the first time. It is a land of luxury, beauty, art and imagination. It was natural that with Persian thinkers of all periods who thought deeply about life, about life’s nature and character, that their expressions should become subtle, artistic, fine and picturesque. In short, it is the dancing of the soul. In all other living beings, the soul is lying asleep; but when once the soul has awakened, called by beauty, it leaps up dancing. Then its every movement makes a picture, whether in writing, poetry, music or whatever it may be. A dancing soul will always express the most subtle and intricate harmonies in the realm of music or poetry.
When we read the works of Hafiz and of many other Sufi poets, we shall find that they are full of the same imagery, and this is partly because that was the time of Islam. The mission of Islam had a particular object in view; and in order to attain that object, it had strict rules about life. A free thinker had difficulty in expressing his thoughts without being accused of having done a great wrong towards the religion and the state. These free thinkers of Persia, with their dancing souls and continual enthusiasm, began to express their souls in this particular imagery, using words such as ‘the beloved,’ ‘wine,’ ‘wine-press,’ and ‘tavern.’ This poetry became so popular that not only did the wise benefit from it, but also the simple ones enjoyed the beauty of its wonderful expressions, which made an immediate appeal to every soul. No doubt souls who were already awakened and those on the point of awakening were inspired by these poems. Souls who were opening their eyes after the deep slumber of many years began to rise up and dance. As Hafiz said, ‘If those pious ones of long robes listen to my verse, my song, then they will immediately begin to get up and dance.’ Hafiz says at the end of the poem, ‘Forgive me, Oh pious ones, for I am drunk just now!’
This concept of drinking is used in various connections and conveys many different meanings. In the first place, imagine that there is a magic tavern where there are many different kinds of wine. Each wine has a different effect upon the person who drinks it. One drinks a wine which makes him light-hearted, frivolous, humorous. Another drinks a wine which makes him sympathetic, kind, tender and gentle. Someone else drinks one which makes him bewildered at everything he sees. Another drinks and finds his way into the ditch. One becomes angry after drinking, while another becomes passionate. One drinks and is drowned in despair. Another drinks and begins to feel loving and affectionate. Yet another drinks a wine that makes him discouraged with everything. Imagine how interested we should all be to see that tavern! In point of fact, we live in that tavern and we see it every day; only, we do not take proper notice of it.
To be continued`…