In Iran, A Poet's 700-Year-Old Verses Still Set Hearts Aflame : Parallels The 14th century Persian poet Hafez remains venerated in Iran, even though he wrote of wine, romance and other topics not necessarily welcome in today's Islamic Republic.
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In Iran, A Poet's 700-Year-Old Verses Still Set Hearts Aflame

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In Iran, A Poet's 700-Year-Old Verses Still Set Hearts Aflame

In Iran, A Poet's 700-Year-Old Verses Still Set Hearts Aflame

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/466408554/466512381" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right, just ahead of Valentine's Day, we're going to visit the tomb of a poet who wrote often of love. Hafez is buried in Shiraz, the Iranian city where he lived almost 700 years ago. He remains venerated in Iran, even though he wrote of romance and other topics not obviously welcome in the modern-day Islamic Republic. One of his lines reads, oh cup bearer, set my glass afire with the light of wine. Our colleague Steve Inskeep met some of the people who visit his tomb even today.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: We've reached here at the end of the day. The setting sun is still shining on the mountainsides, just beyond this courtyard. The tomb of Hafez is here in the center, beneath a roof on pillars. People gather around and sometimes place their hands on the carved stone - including a woman who kept her hands there, both of them, for what seemed like several minutes. Afterward, we asked her what she was doing.

FIROOZEH MOHAMMAD-ZAMANI: I think you have to connect with it, with him, to understand what happens with us.

INSKEEP: Firoozeh Mohammad-Zamani says that when her hands were on the tomb, she was having a conversation with Hafez. They talk a lot.

MOHAMMAD-ZAMANI: I have to hear what he is telling me.

INSKEEP: And what did you hear?

MOHAMMAD-ZAMANI: Love - all the time, love.

INSKEEP: When we first approached her, she paused a moment before answering our questions. She was waiting for Hafez to tell her if it was OK to let us into the conversation. Fortunately for us, the poet agreed.

MOHAMMAD-ZAMANI: Every time that I'm coming here, something special happen to me. This time, it's you.

INSKEEP: Firoozeh says she has traveled to this tomb many times from her home, which is hundreds of miles away. She wore loose black clothes, a purple knitted cap and a Wilson brand backpack. She gestured toward a Hafez poem which is inscribed on stone near the tomb.

MOHAMMAD-ZAMANI: This one is so special for me - so deep, the deepest one. All the time, it take care of me

INSKEEP: He takes care of you - or the poetry does. It makes you feel better.

MOHAMMAD-ZAMANI: Yes. The poem is coming to my head and I can understand, oh, in this way I have to do this now.

INSKEEP: The poet is advising her what to do when in her life. Firoozeh told us she is not a typical Iranian because she is a golfer - indeed, a former member of the national golf team, and a golf instructor. But in taking advice from the writings of Hafez, she is utterly representative. People open the writings of Hafez at random and take advice from whatever line they see. In a second courtyard beyond the tomb, we found two friends sitting on a wall. They were both women in their 20s. One wore gray; the other, deep red. They draped themselves in headscarves and loose cloaks in an Iranian style that manages to be elegant even while meeting the rules for modesty. One of the women, Shaghayagheh Aghazadeh, had just opened a book of Hafez, pulling the covers apart just so and reciting the top right-hand verse. The words brought tears to the other young woman's eyes.

SHAGHAYAGHEH AGHAZADEH: (Speaking Farsi).

INSKEEP: Her friend had posed a question to Hafez. They didn't say exactly what the question was, which is part of the ritual. You ask in private. But they said it was some romantic query - not a surprising subject given that Hafez once wrote, it seemed that love was an easy thing, but my feet have fallen on difficult ways. In the gift shop of the tomb, shelves hold decorative volumes of Hafez.

EMILY OCHSENSCHLAGER, BYLINE: (Speaking Farsi).

INSKEEP: That's our producer, Emily Ochsenschlager, who bought a book for her fiance. And on the shelves, we noticed a detail that suggests the poet's immense role in Iranian life. You can buy a two-book set. One book is the writings of Hafez; the other is the Qur'an. Iranian clerics have had to reconcile themselves to his influence despite his talk of love and alcohol. Lay not reproach at the drunkard's door, he writes. Where is the wine? More conservative readers see it all as a metaphor for imbibing the love of God. Less conservative readers find political meanings in poems. No ruler of this nation could ever be entirely comfortable with the verse that reads, the sultan's crown with priceless jewels set encircles fear of death and constant dread. It is a head-dress much desired, and yet are you sure it's worth the danger to the head?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: If you want help telling your own fortune, you can find it on your way out of the tomb of Hafez. We met a man standing at the entrance. He was holding cards and papers that bore words of Hafez, as well as more generic sayings of wisdom. On the papers stood a colorful little bird named Sarah. She is trained to pick out a paper that will answer some question about your future.

What do we do?

MEHDI SALIMIAN: Make a wish.

INSKEEP: Make a wish, the man said. The bird pecked a paper in the box. The man eased it upward with his thumb. And suddenly, the bird had the slip of paper in its beak. I can't recall just what my paper said, nor was I really sure what it meant. I can recall some other words found among the poems of Hafez. The poet from Shiraz once wrote, when I am dead, open my grave and see the cloud of smoke that rises around your feet. In my dead heart, the fire still burns for thee.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: That was our colleague Steve Inskeep. He is just back from Iran and his reporting continues tomorrow on Weekend Edition with the story of a woman who spent her life weaving Persian carpets.

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