Hafiz, Kalidasa, or Anonymous?

Two readings in Singing the Living Tradition, the 1993 Unitarian Universalist hymnal, have been bothering me. I’m not sure I believe their attributions.

(1) The first, #607, is a reading attributed to Khwaja Shams-ud-Din Muhammad Hafez-e Shirazi, better known by his pen name Hafiz (or Hafez):

“Cloak yourself in a thousand ways, and still I shall know you, my Beloved.
Veil yourself with every enchantment, and yet I shall feel your Presence, most dear, close and intimate.
I shall salute you in the springing of cypresses, and in the sheen of lakes the laughter of fountains.
I shall surely see you in tumbling clouds, in brightly embroidered meadows.
O beloved Presence, more beautiful than all the stars together,
I find your face in ivy that climbs, in clusters of grapes, in morning sun on the mountains, in the clear arch of the sky.
You gladden the whole earth and make every heart great. You are the breathing of the world.”

I didn’t find this poem searching either Google Books or Archive.org. Admittedly, Hafiz wrote hundreds of poems, so I can’t say that I’ve made a definitive search. However, I did notice that when searching the Internet for specific phrases from this reading, what comes up are mostly Unitarian Universalist Web sites.

I have no idea where this reading came from. It sounds somewhat like Hafiz. But who’s the translator? Where’s the reference to the Persian original? And then when I do a Web search for the final phrase, “breathing of the world,” there’s a lot of Unitarian Universalist sources that turn up. I wouldn’t be surprised if this turned out to be a Unitarian Universalist interpretation of a genuine Hafiz poem. I also wouldn’t be surprised if this turned out to be another poem by that most prolific of American poets, Anonymous. Given all this, the best attribution for this reading is probably “Unknown.”

But a big part of the attraction of this poem is that it’s supposed to be a Sufi poem. Many American Unitarian Universalists get their God fix by finding a non-Western author who expresses theistic sentiments; God seems less threatening when it comes from the non-Western world. I have to wonder if some Western religious liberal wrote this, using a pastiche of Sufi-sounding sentiments, to safely express their theism — which sounds like a kind of religious colonialism that I don’t want to have any part of. With that ugly possibility in mind, until someone can prove to me that this is a genuine translation of a Hafiz poem, I don’t think I want to use it.

Update, 5/31: Lisa identified this as a quote from Goethe; see the comments.

(2) The second reading which has been bothering me is #419, the one that begins begins “Look to this day!” The hymnal says, “Attributed to Kalidasa.” But should it really be attributed to the ancient Sanskrit poet? The first appearance of this quotation on Google Books appears in the 1895 Cornell University class book; thereafter, it appears in many different popular publications. But a search of Google Books and of Archive.org brings up no instance of this reading appearing in any translation of Kalidasa’s work, nor in any translation of any Sanskrit poems. To me, it doesn’t sound much like Sanskrit poetry, but it does sound a lot like one of those late nineteenth century American verses used as fillers by editors of periodicals.

Here’s the version reprinted in the April, 1911, newsletter of Bullfinch Place Church (Unitarian), Boston:

“Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth—the glory of action—the splendor of beauty.
For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today well-lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.
Such is the salutation of the dawn.”

In the absence of proof that this really is a Sanskrit poem, the best attribution for this is “Anonymous.” With that attribution, this is still a good inspirational reading — no need to dress it up by calling it Sanskrit.

11 thoughts on “Hafiz, Kalidasa, or Anonymous?”

  1. Interesting puzzles. For Hafiz the translation might be very loose and he certainly was translated starting early in the 19th century. One source I found states that the most popular and the first that translated the whole of the Divan (classical collection of Hafiz’s works) was that by H.Wilberforce Clarke published in 1891. Gertrude Bell also translated some in 1897. However, what is in the hymnal doesn’t seem to be very old at all. What was the earliest date you found?

  2. Erp, I did text searches of the nineteenth century translations I could find; I searched Bell’s translation, can’t remember if I did Clarke’s. I haven’t yet had time to look through older UU hymnals to see when this first appears.

  3. Lisa, good call. In Goethe’s West-eastern divan: in twelve books, trans. Edward Dowden (London, Toronto: J. M. Dent, 1914?), pp. 142-143, there’s a poem that sounds very like what’s in the hymnal — see below. A looser translation would wind up like the reading in the hymnal. So now at least we can attribute the reading from the hymnal to “Goethe, inspired by Hafiz; translator from the German unknown.”

    Thyself in thousand forms thou mayst conceal,
    Yet all-beloved, straight thou art known to me;
    Thou mayst fling over thee some magic veil,
    Thou, the All-present, straight art known to me.

    In the young cypress’s most pure aspiring,
    All-burgeoning-beauty, straight thou art known to me;
    In the canals’ pure life of waves untiring,
    Thou, All-caressing, straight art known to me.

    If beamlike flung in air the fount escape,
    How gladly, All-sportive, thou art known to me;
    If the cloud shape itself but to reshape,
    All man-fold, in it thou art known to me.

    In the pied carpet of the meadow shining,
    All-diverse-starred, how fair thou art known to me;
    Does ivy fling her thousand arms entwining,
    O All-embracing, there thou art known to me.

    When on the mount morn kindles, thou straightway,
    The All-rejoicing, greeted art by me;
    When o’er me deepens the pure dome of day,
    All-heart-dilating, thou art breathed by me.

    What lore through outward sense or inward came,
    Through thee, All-lessening, has been known to me;
    And Allah’s hundred names if I should name,
    A name for thee with each would sound to me.*

    *14th March 1815. The Ghazel is a litany of love parallel to the invocation of Allah by his ninety-nine other names.

  4. Thanks to Lisa, I tracked down an English translation of the Goethe poem.

    Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. 1914. West-Eastern Divan?: In Twelve Books. Translated by Edward Dowden. London?; Toronto?: J.M. Dent. http://archive.org/details/westeasterndivan00goetuoft.

    Bk 8, 51 (pg 142-3 14 March 1814)

    THYSELF in thousand forms thou mayst conceal, Yet all-beloved, straight thou art known to me ;
    Thou mayst fling over thee some magic veil, Thou, the All-present, straight art known to me.

    In the young cypress’s most pure aspiring, All-burgeoning-beauty, straight thou art known to me;
    In the canals’ pure life of waves untiring, Thou, All-caressing, straight art known to me.

    If beamlike flung in air the fount escape, How gladly, All-sportive, thou art known to me;
    If the cloud shape itself but to reshape, All man-fold, in it thou art known to me.

    In the pied carpet of the meadow shining, All-diverse-starred, how fair thou art known to me;
    Does ivy fling her thousand arms entwining, O All-embracing, there thou art known to me.

    When on the mount morn kindles, thou straight- way,
    The All-rejoicing, greeted art by me;
    When o’er me deepens the pure dome of day,
    All-heart-dilating, thou art breathed by me.

    What lore through outward sense or inward came, Through thee, All-lessening, has been known to me;
    And Allah’s hundred names if I should name, A name for thee with each would sound to me.

  5. The translation you quote is the looser, I think – Dowden seems to have added a good deal of antigue floweriness to what is much plainer in the original German – which is more modern to my ear.
    In tausend Formen

    In tausend Formen magst du dich verstecken,
    Doch, Allerliebste, gleich erkenn ich dich;
    Du magst mit Zauberschleiern dich bedecken,
    Allgegenwärtge, gleich erkenn ich dich.

    An der Zypresse reinstem jungem Streben,
    Allschöngewachsne, gleich erkenn ich dich.
    In des Kanales reinem Wellenleben,
    Allschmeichelhafte, wohl erkenn ich dich.

    Wenn steigend sich der Wasserstrahl entfaltet,
    Allspielende, wie froh erkenn ich dich!
    Wenn Wolke sich gestaltend umgestaltet,
    Allmannigfaltge, dort erkenn ich dich.

    An des geblümten Schleiers Wiesenteppich,
    Allbuntbesternte, schön erkenn ich dich;
    Und greift umher ein tausendarmger Eppich,
    O Allumklammernde, da kenn ich dich.

    Wenn am Gebirg der Morgen sich entzündet,
    Gleich, Allerheiternde, begrüß ich dich,
    Dann über mir der Himmel rein sich ründet,
    Allherzerweiternde, dann atm ich dich.

    Was ich mit äußerm Sinn, mit innerm kenne,
    Du Allbelehrende, kenn ich durch dich;
    Und wenn ich Allahs Namenhundert nenne,
    Mit jedem klingt ein Name nach für dich.

    https://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/2319/pg2319.html

  6. Thanks Lisa and Erp!

    Lisa, by “looser” I meant meter. (Though, now that I look at it, Dowden also kept Goethe’s repetition of “gleich erkenn ich dich.”)

    I’m still super curious to know who translated the version in the UU hymnal.

  7. Known translators (at least ones in the Stanford library) beside Dowden seem to be
    Martin Bidney (2010?)
    Eric Ormsby (2019)
    John Weiss (1877)
    Alexander Rogers (1890)
    Alex Page (1970) (by the unusually named Gehenna Press)
    J. Whaley (1979)
    (BTW there also seems to be a translation of Goethe’s work into Persian, 1949)

    There is also the question of who managed to get the wrong author. Some sources also state that some of the poems in that section of the work are actually by Marianne von Willemer and not Goethe though this one seems to be Goethe. Some other musical settings https://www.lieder.net/lieder/get_text.html?TextId=6630

    My guess is the translation for the hymn is either fairly modern or not published until fairly recently (otherwise it would appear in google books or the internet archive).

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