Prof. Alexander Fedotov during one of his many travellings to Asia (source: Facebook)

A visit to the tomb of the poet Hafez

Prof. Dr. Alexander Fedotov

This text is given to the Persian Bridge of Friendship blog by the widow of Professor Alexander Fedotov – Snejana Todorova-Fedotova. Alexander Fedotov was a Bulgarian orientalist of Russian origin, who was a specialist in East Asia, but also in the Mongolian and Tibetan space. He also had mutual sympathy for Iranians, Indians and other Asian nations.  

In 2012 I had the extraordinary good fortune to visit Iran. I won’t hide it – it was a long-held dream of mine. My interest in the country during my school years determined my career direction – so I dedicated myself to the Orient and became an Orientalist.

One could talk endlessly about Iran, its history, philosophy and literature, but no story would be complete, so rich is the Iranian cultural treasure. Thousands of books have been written about Iran, but none tells the whole story – so much is still to be learned. In this year, declared by UNESCO, at Iran’s proposal, the Year of Dialogue among Civilisations, we are talking about Iran’s cultural greatness, its thinkers, philosophers and poets, whose fame continues to spread even today, whose works continue to stir the minds and hearts of people.

One of these poets was Shamsiddin Muhammad (1325-1390), known throughout the world as Hafez. He was born and lived in Shiraz, one of the most beautiful cities in Iran. Shiraz, located in the south of Iran, is called ‘the city of roses’. He has been praised by not a few Iranian and foreign writers and poets. The narrow streets of this city still preserve not a few legends and tales of its illustrious inhabitants. Many tourists still come to Shiraz today to immerse themselves in the colourful atmosphere of the Orient, to feel its ancient history, to experience the unforgettable poems of Saadi, Hafez and other poets.

A quiet and warm February evening in Shiraz. My translator and I go to Hafezie, the tomb of Hafez. This place has long since become the true symbol of the city: the light pavilion, as if woven from air, above the poet’s tomb seems to embody the grace of his gazelles. The heavy tombstone and white marble columns “sacralize” the last refuge of the poet, in whose work we find perfect Sufi messages wrapped in the enigma of the mystical. The pavilion seems to sink in the light of the setting sun. At this moment, it probably looks like a true paradise hidden among dense, evergreen gardens. Silence and perfection! The first flowers of spring remind us with their fragrance of the joys of earthly life, sung by Hafez.

Behold, many strangers come to the tomb of the great poet. I watch them with interest: some of them speak Farsi. They decipher the inscriptions on the tombstone, admire the architectural perfection of the ancient craftsmen, read Hafez’s works. I understand there are scholars who have come to Shiraz to attend an international symposium dedicated to the work of the famous poet. The work which is studied today in many countries of the world and which excites not only ordinary readers but also sophisticated connoisseurs of sophisticated literature, literary scholars, philosophers, mystics. This further convinces me that Hafez’s poetry is not a purely Iranian national phenomenon. It is a worldwide phenomenon that deserves the utmost attention from scholars. 

As I listened to the multilingual crowd, as I watched Iranian families arrive at Hafez’s grave with all their families, I thought that all these people were actually coming to meet the poet himself. His spirit could be felt everywhere – in the thin pavilion, in the marble of the tomb, in the beautiful garden, in the ornate rows of his Farsi verses… But above all, his spirit blended with the serenity, goodwill and peace that reigned there. One by one, the people who came dissolved into Hafez’s cosmos, into the timeless grandeur of his spirit. Hafez had gathered them all – children and adults, Iranians and foreigners, professionals and laymen like me.

I went with my interpreter to the teahouse located in the same place. This tea house is said to have existed for hundreds of years, probably since the time of Hafez himself, who, like all Iranians, loved to chat with his friends over a cup of hot tea. A traditional Iranian teahouse – porcelain teapots, glass teacups, hookahs with aromatic tobacco, smelling now of apple, now of vanilla – you name it. And again that calm, unruffled even by the quick-witted guys serving everything at the minute. Typical Iranian sweets – an object of desire for the little ones, huge hookahs – a reason for a full-day stay in Hafezie for adults. And again the spirit of Hafez – vigilant, observing everything, permeating everywhere. 

Time seems to have stopped, not even the sun is in a hurry to set. A few black birds call noisily from the tall trees, but people don’t notice. The people have given up talking. Hafezie blurs all distinctions – there are no rich and poor here, only those who want to share something with their friend, to ask for advice, to laugh or cry. Hafezie attracts everyone – I saw a large group of foreign tourists there, there were even people from America. They commented animatedly about the view, sipped their tea and even smoked shisha. Even if they had never heard of Hafez before, after that night the great Iranian poet gained many new readers.

And we absorbed Hafezie’s extraordinary atmosphere. I fell silent and looked around. I noticed how diligently the students read their textbooks, how respectfully they treated their elders, how many families came to the teahouse, and with what pleasure they indulged in the ancient tradition. Hafezie became a veritable centre of Shiraz life – colourful, polyphonic, rich and vibrant.

Two Iranian ladies opened the newly purchased volume of Hafez’s Divan to speculate. A tradition familiar to me from Alexander Pushkin’s poems. Hafez’s poems have long since become a guide to life. Here the girls were pleased with what they read in their chosen ghazals. They noticed my interest in what they saw and talked to me. Polite questions, behind which, however, was a real interest in me, the European who had arrived in faraway Shiraz. An unforgettable photo. Two lovely Iranian girls, my translator and me. By the way, that’s not all: when I developed the film and printed the photos, I saw that Hafez was in the picture with us. No wonder. Therefore, he never left Shiraz!

Photo: Hafez’s tomb in Shiraz (source: Persian Bridge of Friendship)

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