Fourteenth century poet Hafiz is one of Persia’s most celebrated poets. Not so much is known about him, and it’s thought that only a small portion of his prodigious work survives. At first glance, many of Hafiz’s poems read like heartbroken laments, penned at closing time after a rowdy night at the tavern. However, they can also be read at another level where the poet is talking about the Divine as much as he is talking about a flaxen-haired wench. This poem is an ode to impermanence and an urgent reminder of the brevity of our lives that echoes Virginia Woolf’s thoughts as she watched a moth die on her windowsill, and is addressed by Zen Master Seung Sahn in his teachings on life and death.
What is wrought in the forge of the living and life—
All things are nought! Ho! fill me the bowl,
For nought is the gear of the world and the strife!
One passion has quickened the heart and the soul,
The Beloved’s presence alone they have sought—
Love at least exists; yet if Love were not,
Heart and soul would sink to the common lot—
All things are nought!
Like an empty cup is the fate of each,
That each must fill from Life’s mighty flood;
Nought thy toil, though to Paradise gate thou reach,
If Another has filled up thy cup with blood;
Neither shade from the sweet-fruited trees could be bought
By thy praying—oh Cypress of Truth, dost not see
That Sidreh and Tuba were nought, and to thee
All then were nought!
The span of thy life is as five little days,
Brief hours and swift in this halting-place;
Rest softly, ah rest! while the Shadow delays,
For Time’s self is nought and the dial’s face.
On the lip of Oblivion we linger, and short
Is the way from the Lip to the Mouth where we pass—
While the moment is thine, fill, oh Saki, the glass
Ere all is nought!
Consider the rose that breaks into flower,
Neither repines though she fade and die—
The powers of the world endure for an hour,
But nought shall remain of their majesty.
Be not too sure of your crown, you who thought
That virtue was easy and recompense yours;
From the monastery to the wine-tavern doors
The way is nought.
What though I, too, have tasted the salt of my tears,
Though I, too, have burnt in the fires of grief,
Shall I cry aloud to unheeding ears?
Mourn and be silent! nought brings relief.
Thou, Hafiz, art praised for the songs thou hast wrought,
But bearing a stained or an honoured name,
The lovers of wine shall make light of thy fame—
All things are nought!