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Mirza Shafi Vazeh (1796–1852; Azerbaijani: Mirzə Şəfi Vazeh, Persian: میرزا شفیع واضح), also known as the "sage from Ganja", was a classical bilingual poet in Azerbaijani and Persian,[Note 1] who continued the classical traditions of Azerbaijani poetry from the 14th century. His verses were translated into nearly all European languages.
Mirza Shafi was born in 1796 in Ganja. His grandfather Muhammed Shafi was a nobleman of Ganja, and his father Kerbelayi Sadykh was an architect in the palace of Javad-khan, the last ruler of Ganja. Young Shafi got his primary education at a madrassa, where he studied Arabic and Persian. Vazeh interrupted his education at madrassa after the death of his parents and his brother, and due to his daring stance against ignorance and the backwardness of the religious clergy. He began to work as a calligrapher, using his exceptional hand-writing skills to transcribe books, and later as a secretary and house keeper in the estate of Pusta-khanum, the daughter of Javad-khan.
In 1840 Vazeh moved to Tiflis where, with help of his former student Mirza Fatali Akhundov, he secured the position of teacher at a boys' school. In Tiflis, Vazeh became even more devoted to literature. In 1844 he established a literary society "Divan-i Hikmet" which gathered many prominent Azeri, Russian and foreign intellectuals living in Tiflis.
Among the members of this society was Friedrich Martin von Bodenstedt, a German poet and traveler, who became Vazeh's friend and student in the Azeri and Persian languages and literature. Vazeh rarely put his verses into written form, due to the high cost of pens, paper and ink in the region, and his friends transcribed most of his works during their gatherings. Von Bodenstedt was one of the scribes, and translated Vazeh's poetry into German, upon his return to Germany. His first book about Shafi was entitled Thousand and One Days in the Orient. This contained an account of Bodenstedt's sojourn in Asia and included many of Shafi's poems. His publisher asked him to issue separately the poems contained in it and as a result these were published in 1851 as a book named Die Lieder des Mirza Schaffy (The Songs of Mirza Shafi), which contained many additional poems. It was translated into English by Elsa d'Esterre-Keeling in 1880. The book became popular, was republished and translated into other European languages. However, after Vazeh's death in 1852, F. von Bodenstedt denied Vazeh's authorship claiming that they were his own verses and he presented them as belonging to Vazeh in order to add an exotic air to the book in order to enhance its popularity. While the truth of this claim is difficult to determine because no original manuscripts from Sufi have been found in Germany, there is little doubt that Sufi's poems were distorted and added to in translation. Only a few original manuscripts have survived to this day in Azerbaijan. Two were found in 1964.
Vazeh's verses, which were translated and published throughout Europe in the 19th century gained attention in Azerbaijan only at the beginning of 20th century. Azerbaijani philologists, S. Mumtaz and H. Hamidzade, played a key role in collecting and publishing those of Vazeh's original verses which have been preserved to date. In his poetry, Vazeh glorifies the joys of life, and the wisdom and goodness of man. He was also critical of the clergy and was accused of being an apostate.
Research into Shafi's writings is far from complete and continues in Azerbaijan to this day.
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