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Goethe and Hafiz

Poetry and History in the "West-östlicher Divan</I>


Shafiq Shamel

This book offers a study of West-East cross-cultural and cross-contextual literacy by investigating Goethe’s relationship to the poetics of fourteenth-century Persian poet Hafiz in the West-östlicher Divan. Goethe’s collection of poetry, this book argues, constitutes a turning point in the history of German poetic subjectivity. The intellectual and historical significance of the Divan is examined by considering Goethe’s conception of history both in relation to Hegel’s philosophy of history as well as the linear notion of progress throughout the nineteenth century. Furthermore, the book demonstrates how the rise of aesthetics and the transition from a theological to a secular-humanistic conception of history and humanity in Europe positively influenced the reception of non-European literatures at the end of the eighteenth century. Hafiz, as argued here, owes his textual presence in the Divan to a cross-cultural and cross-temporal poetic vision that has its roots in the European Enlightenment. The book also elaborates on the role translation plays in the development of poetry and poetics as exemplified in the works of Sir William Jones (1746-1794) and Josef Freiherr von Hammer-Purgstall (1774-1856), translators of Oriental poetry into English and German.


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Chapter 3 The Present behind the Past: Hafiz in Shiraz


The poet-court relationship, as indicated in the previous chapter, has a long history going back to pre-Islamic times in Persian courts. This seems to have been still intact during the lifetime of Hafiz in the fourteenth century. The courts were still involved in promoting – or censoring – the art of poetry. Although I have not come across records to clearly indicate in what ways the courts might have been involved in shaping the art of poetry in Shiraz during the lifetime of Hafiz, one can still safely assume that the institution of poetry was not what it is today. After all, the court as audience of poetry does seem to have played a very significant role in conditioning what could be said and by what means it was articulated. Against this backdrop, the poet’s achievement and work cannot be grasped comprehensively without recognizing the historical situation and context that surrounded the poet. This, however, is not to say that the value of a poem by Hafiz, for example, would be contingent upon its relationship to the historical events and political, moral, and religious institutional structures surrounding it. The ideal situation from a literary-historical and critical perspective, however, would be to come to an understanding of a poem as a field of negotiating forces. The poetic forms, too, has to be considered from such a viewpoint. Aside from being a source of pleasure, the poem is also a textual locus transforming views, ideas, feelings, thoughts, judgments, sense impres- sions, or simply life...

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