Hanzalah was born in Badghis, Persia (modern day Badghis Province, Afghanistan) and lived in the time of the Tahirids (820-872 a.d.), one of the early Persian dynasties after the Arabic attack on Persia.
Persian biographer, Muhammad Aufi, praises the verses of Hanzalah by saying the graceful flow of his expression is like the "Water of Paradise, and his verses have the freshness of cool wine (shamul) and the agreeableness of the northern wind (shamal).
So well known were the poems of Hanzalah that they were worth gathering into a Persian Divan, or 'Collection,' only a few fragments of which however, remain.
Here is a quatrain (the earliest Ruba'i thus far quotable), which contains an odd conceit founded on an old superstition; the poet warns his sweetheart that it is futile for her to throw rue-seed on the fire to avert the influence of the evil eye.
Rue and the evil eye
- Though rue into the fire my dear one threw,
- Lest from the evil eye some harm accrue,
- 'Twould naught avail her — either rue or fire ;
- Her face the fire — her beauteous mole the rue!
Run the risk
More potent, however, was the charm in another stanza ascribed to Hanzalah, for it inspired a simple ass-herd to win a crown. Chancing one day to read four of Hanzalah's verses, this donkey-driver became fired with the ambition to make an attempt to gain the throne; and, rising triumphant over every obstacle, he finally grasped the sovereignty. The inspiring stanza which served the ass-herd king, Ahmad of Khujistan, as a motto for his life's success was this :
- If lordship in a lion's jaws should hang,
- Go, run the risk, and seize it from his fang;
- Thine shall be greatness, glory, rank, and place,
- Or else, like heroes, thine be death to face..
Jackson, A. V. Williams. 1920. Early Persian poetry, from the beginnings down to the time of Firdausi. New York: The Macmillan Company. pp. 17–19. (in Public Domain).