James R. Newell | The Songs of Hafiz

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The Songs of Hafiz

by James R. Newell

These graceful and soothing acoustic recordings capture the essence of the classic imagery of 14th century Persian Sufi poet Hafiz of Shiraz and expresses them through an eclectic blend of world, folk and blues melodies.
Genre: Folk: Alternative Folk
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  Song Share Time Download
1. O Bartender
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5:45 $0.99
2. Into the Mirror of My Cup
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6:03 $0.99
3. A Blood Drenched Song
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4:16 $1.50
4. Handful of Roses
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7:27 $0.99
5. The Daughter of the Vine
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5:02 $0.99
6. Disciple of the Cup
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6:52 $0.99
7. The Line of My Beloved's Mouth
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5:44 $0.99
8. My Beloved Came
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5:04 $0.99
9. The Songs of Hafiz
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6:10 $1.50
Available as MP3, MP3 320, and FLAC files.


Album Notes
From Middle Eastern Poetry to Country Western Music

As the 21st century begins, we find ourselves in a real dilemma when we try to determine what world we live in. According to a theory that was popular some years ago, there is a First World identified with the industrial powers such as America and the leading European countries, followed by a Second World consisting of the Soviet bloc, and then an unfortunate array of countries consigned to the Third World. With the demise of the Soviet Union, however, there is no longer any Second World. So what happened to the Third World? According to some, such as Samuel Huntington in his Clash of Civilizations, there is a fatal conflict taking place between something called "the West" and the rest of the world. Huntington raises the specter of an "Islamic-Confucian conspiracy" against the West.
In reality, for the past two centuries at least we have been living in a single world. For a large part of this modern period, the primary political reality was the colonial domination of Africa and Asia by European powers (and America as well), who were favored by a superior military technology, which they believed made them culturally superior. But since the end of colonial domination half a century ago, artists have been initiating new negotiations of cultural relations.
One of the most stunning examples of this new relationship is the poetry of Rumi, who has become the best-selling poet in America, according to many accounts. Rumi was a great 13th century poet of Persian and one of the outstanding representatives of the Sufi tradition of mysticism, which has long been the backbone of Islamic spirituality. Through the translations of poets like Coleman Barks and Robert Bly, Rumi has reached new audiences, who can now appreciate his brilliant wit and his uncanny directness in a distinctly American idiom.
Rumi, although a colossus, is but one of hundreds of outstanding poets who made the Persian language flow with a genius of intense spiritual power. The Persian language was the vehicle of both politics and spirituality from southeastern Europe to Southeast Asia for nearly a millennium. In this vast enterprise of literary brilliance, one other figure stands out above the rest: Hafiz of Shiraz (d. 1392), a poet whose skill at the lyric was so definitive that he still is the standard of supreme mastery. His poetry is even used to tell fortunes -- he is known as "the tongue of the hidden world," because in the clear mirror of his verse, everyone can see their most intimate aspirations reflected with astonishing clarity.
Both Rumi and Hafiz have been afflicted with translators and pseudo-translators of appallingly bad quality. In the early days of the British East India Company, Persian was still the language of administration in India, and so colonial officers had to learn the courtly tongue in order to master the art of revenue collection. Since everyone had to pass the Persian examination, there were countless examples of classroom exercises of translation that demonstrated a bare minimum of understanding without coming close to any kind of literary sensitivity.
Among these slavish demonstrations of misguided affection, one can point to the case of Lt.-Col. Wilberforce Clarke as an example of the colonial translators of Hafiz. He undertook other translations as well, including a Persian manual of Sufi practice by `Umar al-Suhrawardi, and the great Persian epic on the Alexander story by Nizami. In neither of these can he be said to have been very successful, but he was a pioneer. The great virtue of his excruciatingly literal translation of Hafiz is that it preserves the metaphors and the figures of speech with remarkable clarity (including the convention of the male beloved, which encompasses the king, the Sufi master, and God). Clarke unfortunately attempted to imitate the rhyme of the original Persian, a language which (unlike English) is rich in short words that fall into familiar rhyming patterns; the result is not even close to decent English poetry. At the time when his book was published, at the end of the 19th century, it was still possible for Rudyard Kipling to produce thousands of verses with thumping meters and simple rhymes and be recognized as a poet laureate. But in the century that followed the publication of T. S. Eliot's poetry, not to mention Ezra Pound, Allen Ginsberg, and William Carlos Williams, it was no longer possible to write serious poetry in bouncing rhyme. Scholars of Arabic and Persian did not realize this, however. Stuck in a time warp, they thought 19th-century romanticism was immune to changes of taste. Translators of Hafiz such as A. J. Arberry continued to write in a style that was numbingly reminiscent of the worst parts of Fitzgerald's Omar Khayyam.
To be sure, there have been those who took the opposite tack, who basically composed their own verses but pretended to be translating from some Oriental genius. So thin was the relationship between their versions and the purported originals that one can hardly call them translations. Uncritical readers, impressed with the reputations of the original authors, have accepted these travesties with a docile credulity. This is a distinctly postmodern problem, in which the text disappears into advertising and self-promotion.
What has been missing in this process is an authentic American voice based on a genuine engagement with music. The Persian ghazal is a lyrical poem that has been preserved dynamically in musical performance. Unlike modern American and English poetry, it is not meant to be read silently and privately. Instead, it is performed for a community on the basis of musical forms that have been honed for generations. What possible equivalent can we find in American culture?
The answer has been provided, surprisingly at first glance, in country Western music. James R. Newell, the audacious initiator of this trend, brings unique gifts to this project. An accomplished musician with strong Nashville credentials, he has a solid feel for both the instrumental and the lyrical sides. As a divinity student at Vanderbilt with a deep commitment to comparative religion in its most practical sense, he cares passionately about the truth of the texts that he sings. He has taken the bare bones of Wilberforce Clarke's version of Hafiz and transformed them into the living body of country Western music. This alchemy definitely turns lead into gold.
Amazingly, country Western music is one of the only places left where rhyming verse is still powerfully alive. Even the preservation of the Persian endrhyme, pushing the verb to the end of the line, seems somehow inevitable rather than artificial. The themes that are familiar in this style -- drinking, hangover, love gone bad, and the devastating effects of beauty -- are very much the chief topics of Persian poetry as well. There are differences, to be sure: Persian poetry was recited in the court, with kings providing poets like Hafiz with handsome financial rewards, while the singers of country Western music deal with recording companies, radio stations, and concert audiences. In Sufi parlance, wine stood for the intoxication of divine love, the tavern was the abode of the Sufi master, and the face and tresses of the beloved were the attributes of God. A lot of the principles are pretty much the same, however. This overall structural similarity has permitted James R. Newell to create what is basically a new American idiom for the great Persian poet. I am grateful to him for the directness of his appeal to the bartender, replacing the stiff and ornate Victorian summoning of the cupbearer. His musical inventiveness is graceful and inspired. He enters into the seriousness of Sufi spirituality, bringing with him an undeniably American directness that gives up none of its own individuality. If you know the Persian originals, you will recognize these, with a sense of aesthetic shock, as quintessential and beautiful. If you hear them for the first time in English, you will hear a damn good song.
I have heard a lot of bad fusion albums done by people with no sense of humor. This is good, it is funky, and if Hafiz were here today, he'd leave his beer at the bar and step to the stage to make a request. Let's drink to a world where artists like this can bring us together.
Carl W. Ernst
Department of Religious Studies
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Song Lyrics

O Bartender (1)

O bartender, my friend, won't you pour me some wine
I thought that love would be easy, but it just grows harder with time

It was in the night a breeze brought the scent of musk from the head of that one so fair
and ever since that night, how my poor heart aches, from just one twist of his hair
Dye your prayer mat red with wine if the master tells you to
that holy one knows the secrets of the path and he will surely guide you through

O bartender, my friend, won't you pour me some wine
I thought that love would be easy, but it just grows harder with time

How can I be happy and free from doubt on this path to my Beloved one
At any moment the caravan bell may ring out and say "your time in this resting place is done"
Death is like a cold, dark whirlpool, a wave of suffering, just waiting to wash us away
you who rest in comfort upon the shoreline, how can you know our state?

O bartender, my friend, won't you pour me some wine
I thought that love would be easy, but it just grows harder with time

I have followed my own whim, and now all my work has brought nothing but disgrace and shame
this whole world talks about the mystery of love, but it remains a secret just the same
O Hafiz, if you long to be with him, don't be absent from him, no
when you visit with your Beloved one, abandon the world and let it go

O bartender, my friend, won't you pour me some wine
I thought that love would be easy, but it just grows harder with time

Into the Mirror of My Cup (179)

Into the mirror of my cup the reflection of your glorious face fell
And from the gentle laughter of love, into a drunken state of longing I fell

Struck with wonder by the beauty of the picture that within my cup I beheld
The picture of this world of illusion from the reflection of my mind fell

Beneath the sword of grief of love for you
there lies a joy no tongue can tell
For that one who was slain by you
found happiness the instant the axe fell

From the house of prayer into the house of drink I fell not of myself
From eternity it was meant to be you came to me and into drunkenness I fell

From the beginningless beginning beneath the veil your face was hidden well
but upon those with love and wisdom a ray from your most glorious face fell

All this world, reflected wonder, wine and love and song, in which we dwell
Is nothing but a fragment of the one whose reflection into my cup fell

With a loving eye and pure vision
the holy pilgrim saw your face so well
but he whose eye was clouded with thought saw you not
and into earthly desire fell

The holy ones who quote the scripture have seen your face and possess some of your wealth
But heartbroken and destitute, from their midst, into disrepute, Hafiz fell

A Blood Drenched Song (421)

If I cared about the insults of those who speak against me
I would not follow this path of sin and debauchery
This discipline of drunkenness is hopeless for me
I've become infamous, and there is no remedy

O breeze won't you sing this song to my friend
this blood drenched song to my friend
he has cut open my heart with just one slash
of his beautiful black eyelash
don't let my blood spill on you
or you will be infected with this madness too
O breeze won't you sing this song to my friend
this blood drenched song to my friend

Beloved, please believe me, and for God's sake pass it on
so all will know I wear the garment of a non-holy one
upon your forehead paint a beauty mark with my hearts blood
to show that my only religion is my Beloved One

O breeze won't you sing this song to my friend...

They call me foolish, the king of tormented mad men
but my foolishness has lifted me far higher than them
am I a sinner or a saint, which one shall it be?
Hafiz holds the secret of his own mystery

O breeze won't you sing this song to my friend...

Handful of Roses (2)

O Beloved, all earthly beauty is the reflection of your face
the curve of your chin is the aura of all grace
O Lord, my only companion is this desire to be with you
when it's fulfilled our hearts will be collected, your hair askew
longing only for the sight of you, my soul is at the edge of death
back it goes, forth it comes, what is your wish?

O won't you send me a handful of roses upon the wind
let me take some comfort from the dust of your rose garden
Hafiz says a prayer, listen and say 'amen:'
"May my daily food, be the sugar that falls from the lips of my friend."

Many have been sacrificed to you, upon this path of love
when you pass by, keep far from the dust and the blood
no one could find contentment, by simply gazing at you
let them sell this veil of chastity to those drunk with love
and perhaps one morning I will awaken from this restless sleep of mine
when a drop of sweat from your face falls upon my eye

O won't you send me a handful of roses upon the wind...

Though my cup has not been filled by you
who serve the God's their wine
still I pray that you may long live the life divine
won't someone tell my Master that he has caused my heart to break
I swear by my soul and yours, he is the cause of all my heartache

O breeze, deliver this message unto the men of God
may the fools who cannot see the truth
offer you their heads for a chaugen ball
though we are far from you, this desire to be nearer is not far from us
we are the slave of your king,
we sing your praises and send you our love
O King of Kings, as far off as a star
won't you send a message from where you are
let me be like the sky and kiss the dust of your court

And you send me a handful of roses upon the wind...

The Daughter of the Vine (268)

In the marketplace they made an announcement that I heard:
"you who dwell on the street of true love, listen and pay heed to these words"

"The daughter of the vine has escaped, she's on the loose so beware
she is out seeking her pleasure, be on the look out and take care"

"She wears a dress of ruby red, a crown of bubbles at her head
She will take away all of your reason, no man is safe in his own bed"

I would trade my soul for that sweet one, wherever she may be
for I know my soul will burn in hell if that sweet one remains hidden from me

A rose red woman of the night, she's a drunkard that's what she is
if you should see that street walking woman, won't you bring her to the house of Hafiz.

Disciple of the Cup (4)

Come here, O Sufi, for bright is the mirror of the cup.
Come and see this bright red wine, so that we may drink it up.

You will never catch the holy spirit, for it is no man's prey,
many have set their traps, but like the wind the holy spirit always gets away.

Enjoy the pleasure of the present moment, that is my advice
And remember that even Adam had to give up the garden of paradise

Time is offering you a banquet, enjoy a few cups, and go.
for you will never find constant pleasure anywhere in this world you go.

O heart your youth is gone and you have not plucked a single rose
O gray headed one just repeat the name of God, for that is the only skill you need to know.

O you drunkards are as shameless as the mystery behind the veil
The priests and the holy ones do not know this state and they will never understand my tale.

We have remained here at your threshold, what is our reward for the service we gave
please sir won't you look again, take a little pity upon your slave

I've given up all desire for rest, there is no rest that I dream of
for my heart has turned over it's reins into the hand of your love

Hafiz is the disciple of that cup that the whole world rejects
O Breeze, go tell my King that his slave sends him his respects.

The Line of My Beloved's Mouth (228)

The line of my Beloved's mouth, could sustain me as long as I live
But the mystery of His kiss, my Beloved will not give

Though desire leads me unto death, to my Beloved there is no path
Or if there is it remains a secret, my Beloved will not give

For one kiss from his lip, I have surrendered my life to Him
But my life he refuses to take, and his kiss he will not give

The morning breeze may caress his hair, but see how cruel this cold world is
That the power it gives to the wind, to me it refuses to give

in time I may reach my goal, if I remain patient as long as I live
but time is so fleeting and faithless, no assurance to me will it give

And now I long only for sleep, that I might dream of His glorious face
But I am unable to sleep through the weeping and wailing of Hafiz

My Beloved Came (44)

My Beloved came, sweaty and laughing, his shirt was torn, he was drunk again.
With his hair a mess, his lips were complaining, he was looking for a fight, and singing with a glass in his hand
He sat at my pillow last night when I was in a dream so deep
He whispered into my ear "Oh my lover, you have fallen asleep."

Whatever he has poured into our cup we have taken
Whether it was the wine of love or the cup of intoxication
We did not stop to question what was given from above
we worshiped the wine for itself, and were faithful to love

O you holy ones, please do not scold us for drinking down the dregs of his sacred wine.
that we should drink these dregs is our solemn duty It was sealed as our fate from the beginning of time
Oh, the laughter of the wine Oh, that knotted hair his
it's caused the ruin of so many fine souls, as it has ruined Hafiz.

Whatever he has poured into our cup we have taken
Whether it was the wine of love or the cup of intoxication
We did not stop to question what was given from above
we worshiped the wine for itself, and were faithful to love

The Songs of Hafiz (420)

To make a show of the desire for your beloved's lip
is to make an attempt upon your own life and fall into folly's grip
those who long to follow on this path should watch me very closely
let the pain remain inside your heart and love for love's sake only

Although my heart is on fire with distress and foaming with violence
the seal has been pressed to my lips and I drink this blood in silence
but if the love in the singers voice should strike me defenseless
I would fall into a trance and the songs of Hafiz would leave me senseless

How can I be free from heartache how can I be free from care
at any moment I may become a slave to a lock of my beloved's hair
it's not from holiness I wear religious clothes they're just a veil that's meant to hide
the hundred secret sins that I keep inside

Although my heart is on fire with distress...

There's only one thing that I long for and that's to drink the purest wine
but what will I do if I'm too drunk to hear the words of that master of mine
I can't even trust my own devotions as I have before
sometimes I'll drain glass after glass and continue to long for more

I only pray upon the day of resurrection Satan will not bless me with a sack
filled with the sins of a lifetime and place it upon my back
but my father Adam sold his garden for two grains of wheat and was done
if I did not sell the same for a single barley grain I would be an unworthy son

Although my heart is on fire with distress...


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