The Presence of Hafiz in Goethe’s Writings

The article discusses the ways a great European poet, Goethe, became aware of and was influenced by the ideas of one of Iran’s great poets, Hafiz, who had preceded him nearly by four centuries. Despite the time lapse, both had quite similar philosophies of life and viewed their contemporary social and political conditions with comparable outlooks. So deep were the similarity of values and attitudes that Goethe proceeded to embark on an imaginary trip to the land of Hafiz, which produced one of the German poet’s major works entitled West-oestlicher Divan. Despite the complexity of its ideas and expressions, this masterpiece opened a new vista in the German classical and romantic period which in turn introduced the rest of Europe to Iranian culture and its literary and poetic achievements. Since 1814, according to the author, Goethe diverted his full attention to the study of Oriental and Eastern culture and literature. The publication of a German translation of Divan of Hafiz in the same year had introduced him to the Persian poet. In his imaginary trip, Goethe proceeded from China to India and Arabia and finally settled in Iran, the land of Hafiz whom he called his twin brother.

In the writing of West-oestlicher Divan,Goethe was influenced, the author suggests, by three main characteristics evident in both Hafiz’ poetry and Eastern culture. The first was Hafiz’ masterful juxtaposition of worldly feelings and metaphysical/ mystic sensations. The second was the Persian poet’s style that liberated Goethe from the confines of traditional European poetic forms. The third was the pervasive values in Iranian culture that in Goethe’s view had traversed geographic boundaries and engulfed all of the Eastern world.

Hamid Tafazoli
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