Oyster Boy Review 16  
  Winter 2002
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» Levee 67


Drunk on the Wine: 100 Poems of Hafiz

Cy Dillon

Thomas Rain Crowe has a knack for timing, and this affordable translation of one of the Islamic world's most important poets comes at a time when it will draw attention it might not have gotten last year. City Lights Bookstore chose it as one of its books of the month recently, saying "During a time of international political and religious chaos and violence, perhaps no other work is more essential to our survival and recovery."

Crowe has a passion for Hafiz, and does justice to the tradition of the ghazal form as well as to the role of Sufism in Hafiz's writing in the readable introduction. Crowe's explanation of his role as "impersonator" is remarkably clear, as is his reason for emphasizing the sound of the poems. The selection of one hundred ghazals allows us to gauge Hafiz's range in this form without creating a massive tome, and Crowe also chooses wisely in avoiding a scholarly translation with reams of notes and textual tables.

In fact, only one minor flaw prevents the book from conveying something close to the experience of Hafiz's Islamic readers, and Crowe alludes to it in his introduction: "we must be careful not to read too much literalness into these scenes" [of drinking in a tavern]. I submit that it is the sensual appeal of wine, dirt, sex, and sentiment that helps Hafiz maintain his hold on the imagination of the Middle East after all these centuries. The wine of this communion is rendered impotent as Welch's if it is not real wine before it is intoxication for the spirit. Let's hope this is not the last we hear from Crowe on Hafiz, and I hope in the future he will allow the lips of the Beloved to be lips of flesh.