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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Go Gray
Elizabeth T. Gray is one of the very few translators who can come close to doing justice to Hafiz. Forget Ladinsky; if you want to get an idea what Hafiz really said, get Gray. To correct a misconception, the convention in Sufi poetry is to invoke Allah as a woman, lover of the male human Sufi. That's why so many Sufi poems are about love for women named Layla or...
Published on September 9, 2001 by yahyam

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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good for what it is
Gray's Green Sea of Heaven is not a bad book. In fact, is a more or less good one, and infinitely saner than the deceptively marketed doggerel penned by Ladinsky. The fifty ghazals are translated into a more or less literal (but literary) English idiom, and are accompanied by the original en face along with a (somewhat misleading) introduction by Daryush Shayegan...
Published on October 9, 2009 by A. Z. F.


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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Go Gray, September 9, 2001
This review is from: The Green Sea of Heaven: Fifty Ghazals from the Diwan of Hafiz (Library of Persian : Text and Contexts in Persian Religions and Spirituality) (Paperback)
Elizabeth T. Gray is one of the very few translators who can come close to doing justice to Hafiz. Forget Ladinsky; if you want to get an idea what Hafiz really said, get Gray. To correct a misconception, the convention in Sufi poetry is to invoke Allah as a woman, lover of the male human Sufi. That's why so many Sufi poems are about love for women named Layla or Salma. The Sufi vision of God tends to be female. This is more explicit in Arabic Sufi poetry, because Arabic uses gender unlike Persian. Muhyi al-Din ibn al-`Arabi said in Arabic we can call Allah either huwa 'He' or hiya 'She', the latter because the ultimate Divine Essence (al-Dhat) is Feminine. The genderless Persian pronoun leaves an interesting ambiguity that you can't duplicate in English, but by calling God "She," Elizabeth T. Gray is well within the authenticity of the Sufi poetic tradition. I have heard her speak about how she discovered these poems, and read Hafiz aloud; she told of her deep spiritual connection with these poems and the divine love they inspired in her, and of her visit to Hafiz's tomb in Shiraz. The poet himself must be smiling from Heaven upon seeing her presenting his poems to us moderns with such love and care.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful work, May 31, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Green Sea of Heaven: Fifty Ghazals from the Diwan of Hafiz (Library of Persian : Text and Contexts in Persian Religions and Spirituality) (Paperback)
I really enjoy reading this book. A warning though is in order when one encounters Sufi poetry. Often one might draw a false conclusion from reading Sufi poems that men like Hafez are nothing more than a drunk, alcoholic womanizers who can think of nothing but wine and women and whatever else that comes with these combinations. Those who understand Sufis and Sufi poetry in this manner are most likely projecting their own selves into Hafez and his like. Proper understanding of Sufis is possible only if one takes time to understand their "language", a language which all great Sufis have chosen very carefully to express their inner being, and unlike most modern men, their inner being was/is not confined behind the zipper though this may be impossible to imagine for 21st century men.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good for what it is, October 9, 2009
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This review is from: The Green Sea of Heaven: Fifty Ghazals from the Diwan of Hafiz (Library of Persian : Text and Contexts in Persian Religions and Spirituality) (Paperback)
Gray's Green Sea of Heaven is not a bad book. In fact, is a more or less good one, and infinitely saner than the deceptively marketed doggerel penned by Ladinsky. The fifty ghazals are translated into a more or less literal (but literary) English idiom, and are accompanied by the original en face along with a (somewhat misleading) introduction by Daryush Shayegan.

First off, the selection: the fifty ghazals are chosen out of Hafiz' mammoth corpus of over 400 poems. This means that they cannot even be representative of all of Hafiz' various abilities and lyrical tricks. The selection here seems, to me anyway, to be calculated to portray Hafiz as a religious, more Sufi-inclined poet in keeping with the American image/stereotype he has acquired. Almost all the great mystically-flavored poems are here including "saaqi be nur-i baade", "dar azal partow", "saalhaa del talab" and others.

However, what this volume (like most partial translations of Hafiz' work) lacks is poems displaying the other sides of Hafiz' lyrical genius: the bibulously amatory "Agar aan turk-i shiraazi," the heartbreaking lamentation for the city of Shiraz fallen to tyranny "yaarii andar kas nemibinam", and more carnal love-lyrics. This, I feel, is truly problematic. If there's one thing I find disturbing about the modern Western presentation of Hafiz, it's the idea that he was just a "Sufi poet" like Rumi (is it any wonder that people who claim to like Rumi in the west often also claim to like Hafiz?) True, he was and is a deeply spiritual poet whose faith often transcended the narrow boundaries set up by religious legal authorities. However, he was also a carnal lover, a drinker of very real (and very non-spiritual) wine and a man deeply attached to his hometown. Hafiz deserves to have his full story told.

Now, about the translations: they're as good as one could expect, given the limits that Elizabeth Gray has set for herself. She does not permit herself much invention, attempts to maintain as much of the polysemy of the original as possible and relies on footnotes to supply the much-needed context for readers who don't know Persian. The result is not great poetry, or even good poetry, but okay poetry that neither fully avails itself of the resources of the English literary tradition nor expands its boundaries in the manner of Ezra Pound.

Often, Gray's Hafiz, shorn of the connective music of rhyme and meter, merely sounds like flat, plodding surrealist modernism, or simply prose with line-breaks. For example, take the following incredibly musical line

Hame kaaram ze khwod kaami be badnaami keshid aari

All lovely "-aami"s and "-aar"s with a rhythm that simply carries you on to the next line. However, for this, Gray gives us

"In the end, my life has drawn me from self-concern to ill-repute."

As an impromptu translation on a Persian test, this might eke out a passing grade, but, as poetry, this line is a complete waste of the reader's time and effort. In addition to failing musically, it doesn't even convey the line's meaning: the speaker (in both love affairs and art) has lead a wanton life of self-interest and this has brought him the opprobrium of others. "life has drawn me from self-concern to ill-repute" echoes the syntax of the Persian in a way that completely obscures the intended meaning. Granted, I just chose one of Gray's worst lines. There are poems where she manages to acquit herself fairly well and produce decent, unremarkable English poetry. I simply find that putting a book's flaws on display is a better way to assess it's worth than by lauding it's finer moments.

English readers do not yet have a translation of Hafiz capable of expressing the poet's musical and lyrical genius in anything approaching a satisfactory manner, without developing a dysfunctional relationship with Anglophone aesthetics. That day will come. It may in fact come quite soon: Dick Davis' "The Faces of Love: Hafiz and the Poets of Shiraz" promises to be a momentous occasion for Hafiz in English when it comes out in late 2010 (from what I've read of early pre-publication excerpts anyway.)

In conclusion:

Buy this book if you want to have an intellectual introduction to the mystical side of Hafiz. If you want to experience it as pure poetry, I'm afraid not many of these poems will completely satisfy.

(As a side note, I also noticed that, in at least one case, the text from which the English was translated seemed to have come from a different edition of Hafiz' work than the one used to print the Persian text on the facing pages. On page 89, the second half of the eighth couplet reads "the sorcerers tried before Moses." The facing Persian on page 88, however, reads "Saameri pish asaa o yad-e beyzaa mikard," where "Saameri" translates as "the Samaritan" rather than as "the sorcerers." "Sorcerers" would be "Saaheri", instead.)
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is worth more than your money., July 30, 2007
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This review is from: The Green Sea of Heaven: Fifty Ghazals from the Diwan of Hafiz (Library of Persian : Text and Contexts in Persian Religions and Spirituality) (Paperback)
I strongly recommend this book. The translations are beautiful (and are direct translations, not renderings). The notes on each poem are extensive, and I find them alone interesting to read. My only qualm is that I think the cover's a little ugly, but I suppose you can always tape a nice picture over it.

(And of course, I would be remiss not to warn anyone interested in Hafiz away from a certain Daniel Ladinsky. Ladinsky invents his own original poetry and markets it as the work of Hafiz. It seems almost impossible to look up Hafiz without coming across this man's words falsely attributed to Hafiz.)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The only English translation of Hafiz worth reading, October 3, 2014
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ask57 (Puerto Rico) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Green Sea of Heaven: Fifty Ghazals from the Diwan of Hafiz (Library of Persian : Text and Contexts in Persian Religions and Spirituality) (Paperback)
Short of learning to speak Farsi, this is the best way to experience Hafiz. The ambiguities inherent to Persian language are in fervent display in the work of this master, inviting his readers to interpret the hidden meanings which are often transitory. That in part explains the reason for his enormous popularity in his native land and the difficulties in translating his work. Each reader, depending on his or her frame of mind and life experiences, will get something different from the reading of his poems. Iranian people often open his book seeking guidance, more so than any holy book. Given the multifaceted nature of his poems, almost all translations of his work have failed by presenting just one interpretation, that of the translator. I would go as far as saying all but one, Elizabeth Gray. Ms. Gray should be commanded for her service to Persian language. I challenge anyone to name a better translation or for that matter a more qualified translator of Hafiz. Five stars does not do justice to this work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it!, December 13, 2013
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mac maven (Crestone CO USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Green Sea of Heaven: Fifty Ghazals from the Diwan of Hafiz (Library of Persian : Text and Contexts in Persian Religions and Spirituality) (Paperback)
I purchased this book for a friend who has traveled all over the world. He loves the book's name and found the writing inspirational.
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13 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Academic But Not Uplifting, August 24, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Green Sea of Heaven: Fifty Ghazals from the Diwan of Hafiz (Library of Persian : Text and Contexts in Persian Religions and Spirituality) (Paperback)
Yet another stiff, unimaginative version of the great poet Hafiz. This is a poet of the heart and spirit, not someone who can be pinned down in word-for-word translation. Still, this is an honest academic effort; just not rewarding or uplifting for the spirit.
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11 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A PhD does not help when your dealing with spiritual mater, June 27, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Green Sea of Heaven: Fifty Ghazals from the Diwan of Hafiz (Library of Persian : Text and Contexts in Persian Religions and Spirituality) (Paperback)
One who writes with the intellect only will never do justice to Hafiz. Although the book is done in excellent taste, the words do not move well together (many translations). Referring to God as a female was both confusing and awkward to me. As a general rule most masters refer to God (the Doer) as male, and the soul (man or woman) as female. Thus, if we read about Hafiz making love to his lord, we know that it is a joining or merging of the soul (female), which is not the same as our so called worldly love. Maybe there is a good reason why the relationship is expressed this way.
If you're not familiar with Sufi terminology, you will have a tough time understanding the work, without continually bouncing to the beginning or end of the book and searching out the word's meaning. Even though the book's translation is dry and flat there is still great truths hidden in the work. This type of material is better translated by someone with poetic style or better yet someone with personal experience.
I give this book a low rating, however, if you like to read a book and value the intellectual and historical data, then this might be the book for you. We can even re-rate the book to 4 stars, but I would personally recommend a different author, by the name of Daniel Ladinsky. He makes the verses easier to read and shows Hafiz as the great lover of mankind, that he surely was. The book "I Heard God laughing" is one of the best books I have ever read, and would recommend it to all. However, I don't share D.L.'s interested in present masters.
This book is 170 pages, (34 pages as an intro., 27 pages at the end explaining the work, 54 pages in its original language (NOT readable), and about 54 pages of Hafiz. A big problem with most of our spiritual literature is that it is translated by someone of great intellect (maybe) but they have little or no personal experience when it come to true spirituality. The bible would be a good example of this, the scholars keep coming up with better ways to interpret the stuff but forget the most important part. God can not be known through the intellect, thus they only make it worse.
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4 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Try again, June 26, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Green Sea of Heaven: Fifty Ghazals from the Diwan of Hafiz (Library of Persian : Text and Contexts in Persian Religions and Spirituality) (Paperback)
One who writes with the intellect only will never do justice to Hafiz. Although the book is done in excellent taste, the words do not flow together. Referring to God's as a female was both confusing and awkward to me. As a general rule most masters refer to God (the Doer) as male, and the soul (man or woman) as female. I don't know if it's the intention as the writer to make some type of personal statement, but it seems out of place when translating someone as great as Hafiz.
If you're not familiar with Sufi terminology, you will have a tough time understanding the work, without continually bouncing back to the introduction and searching out the word's meaning. Even though the book is dry and flat there is still great truths hidden in the work. But, don't waste your money on this book, I'm going to donate my copy to the Palo Alto library, and you can find it there for free if your ever in the area. The book is not worth keeping and it's not good enough to give as a gift.
I gave this book a low rating, however, if you like to read a book and value the intellectual and historical data, then this might be the book for you. We can even re-rate the book to 4 stars, but I would personally recommend a different author, by the name of DANIEL LADINSKY. He makes the verses easier to read and shows Hafiz as the great lover of mankind, that he surely was. The book "I Heard God laughing" is one of the best books I have ever read, and would recommend it to all.
This book is 170 pages, (34 pages as an intro, 27 pages at the end explaining the work, about 54 pages in its original language (NOT readable), and 54 pages of Hafiz. A big problem with most of our spiritual literature is that it is translated by someone of great intellect but has little or no personal experience when it come to true spirituality. The bible would be a good example of this, the scholars keep coming up with better ways to interpret the stuff but forget the most important part. God can not be known through the mind only, thus they only make it worse.
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