On Editing Ottoman Turkish tekke Poetry.

Author:Hickman, Bill
Position:Critical essay

    In a recent paper Walter Andrews deplored what he finds to be the situation in an area of Ottoman literature of special interest to him, sixteenth-century divan poetry. (1) He directed his attention specifically to editions of Baki's divan and Latifi's Tezkire, both foundational works, but took aim also at a broader target. Andrews challenged colleagues to find new ways of both conceptualizing Ottoman literary texts and concretizing their results-in short, new ways of handling texts. In his review of prevailing practice in modern Turkey he singled out two specific barriers to the conversion of handwritten Ottoman texts into printed Turkish books.

    The first is transcription: Because of the Turkish adoption of the Latin-based alphabet in 1928, which replaced the nearly millennium-long use (among most Muslim Turks) of a slightly modified Arabic alphabet, and because scholars in the young Turkish Republic (or their publishers) generally opted to produce editions of older Ottoman works in that new alphabet, difficulties were immediately encountered-the new alphabet did not convey all of the consonantal distinctions preserved, or the ambiguities allowed, by the Arabic script. Despite this, it was often preferred to the more fully differentiating scholarly transliteration.

    The second barrier is even more problematic to Andrews since, in his view, "some significant theoretical textual studies issues and their consequences cannot be adequately taken into account in the case of Ottoman texts." He continues: "The most obvious of these issues is how to account for the fundamental differences between a corpus of manuscripts and a book, the primary difference being the essential irreducibility of the former to the latter. Simply put, the conversion process rests on the metaphysical assumption that the manuscript tradition represents a collection of imperfect physical manifestations of an ideal (and perfect) single text that existed (only) in the mind of the author or in a lost (and therefore equally non-existent) perfect 'Ur-text' or 'source text'."

    In keeping with the spirit of Andrews's critique and his hopes for a more persuasive handling of primary literary texts, I offer the following remarks on the recent handling of the divans of two prominent fifteenth-century Ottoman Sufi (tekke) poets. My own hope is that they will (1) correct a number of errors that have crept into circulation; (2) help put future study in these cases on firmer footing; and (3) encourage new, more exacting approaches to Ottoman text editing. I also include a catalogue raisonne of known manuscripts.


    1. Esrefoglu Rumi

      One of the names that appears regularly in accounts of early (Ottoman) Turkish literature is that of Esrefoglu Rumi, to use the form Abdullah b. Esref adopted as pen name (mahlas) in his poetry. A prominent representative of the fifteenth-century genre of tekke edebiyati, his popularity has persisted into the twenty-first century, to judge by editions of his poetry recently published in Turkey. (2) It is no exaggeration to say that after Yunus Emre, whom modern critics have virtually crowned as Turkey's national poet, Esrefoglu is the poet whose verses, remarkably, have been most continuously in demand-in some circles at leastand remained most continuously available, for well over half a millennium. One wonders exactly who all of Esrefoglu's readers were, given that the spread of his order, the Esrefiyye, was very modest. And who, one may also ask, was the "Indian merchant Hasan Efendi" through whose "assistance" (marifetiyle) the moveable type edition was first (and repeatedly) printed? (3) By contrast, outside Turkey Esrefoglu has almost no name recognition at all. (4)

      Esrefoglu's poetry is alternately confessional and exhortative, exuberant and sober. One minute the poet struggles with his disobedient self (nefs); the next he complains about the pain (derd) of separation from God. But over and over again he celebrates love ([??]isk), sometimes extravagantly. Such feelings and expressions are found, of course, in the verses of many other tekke poets, but Esrefoglu's seem to have gained special favor among generations of readers, perhaps because his tone is sincere and his language direct. Writing about his poetry, Turkish literary historians and critics often use the word sade ("simple, unadorned"). In that simplicity, Esrefoglu's verses are diametrically opposite, for the most part, those of the high classical tradition with their complex figures of speech and multiple nuanced meanings. Esrefoglu's poetry is generally accessible to the reader, even today. While he is often said to have been a follower (or imitator) of Yunus Emre, or to have composed his poetry in the "manner of Yunus," his style rarely reaches the limpid, lyrical quality of his fourteenth-century predecessor.

      An example of his style is the poem that begins Yuregume serha serha (Gunes, no. 49), which in the oldest, unordered copies of Esrefoglu's divan is the first the reader encounters. How this came about is not known; its position has no rational explanation. But it is hard not to think that the poet-sheikh's earliest followers-presumably the ones who organized his written legacy after his death-wanted it so. In some sense, this poem epitomizes Esrefoglu's thought, and as much as any one poem can, it can give some idea of his preoccupations:

      Yuregume serha serha yareler urdi bu [??]isk / Garet etdi gonlum ilin yagmaya urdi bu [??]isk. Simdi hakim gonlumun iklimine [??]iskdur bentim / [??]Akla nefse tene cana hukmini surdi bu [??]isk. Her sifat kim nefsun u [??]aklun u ruhun var idi / Tartdi seyfullah yurutdi kamusin kirdi bu [??]isk. Bu gonul hucrelerini tahliye kildi kamu / Ademiyet noktasindan sildi supurdi bu [??]isk. Kendu varhgiyle kulli varhgum mahv eyledi / Dost goziyle bakdi ol dost yuzini gordi bu [??]isk. Cun fena darinda benlik Mansur'in dar eyledi / Dost esikinde ana l-hakk nevbetin urdi bu [??]isk. (5) Gun gun Esrefoglu Rumi derdun artar pes neden / Zahmuna hod dost elinden merhem ergurdi bu cisk.

      This love has left my heart in shreds. This love has sacked my heart's domain, left it to be ravaged.

      It is love now that has conquered the countries of my heart. This love has spread its rule over mind and soul and reason.

      Whatever attributes there are of mind or self or spirit-this love has brandished the sword of God and routed them all.

      It has emptied out every chamber of this heart. This love has swept away all traces of human occupation.

      With all its own essentials it has destroyed my very being. This love has looked with the eye of the Friend and seen His face.

      Since love executed the Mansur of ego on the gallows of this transient world, this love has struck the drum of ana l-hakk at the threshold of that Friend.

      Why does Esrefoglu daily increase his suffering? With that Friend's hand, this love has applied a salve to his wounds.

      Between 1944 and 2006 Esjefoglu's poetry was published by five different editors. (6) The most recent, by the Turkish scholar Mustafa Gunes, offers a more comprehensive overview than previous ones. But, as I will show below, Gunes's handling of the poetry is marred by careless errors that undermine the book's usefulness and perhaps also the reader's confidence in his judgments. (7)

      Variously described as founder of a Sufi order (tarikat) that combined practices of the Bayrami, Kadiri, or Halveti orders, who was Esrefoglu? The traditional account of his life links him first with the Bursa ecstatic Abdal Mehmed, then with the legendary Haci Bayram (d. 1430) of Ankara, and, finally, with the little-known Husayn of Hama, reputed follower, at several generations remove, of [??]Abd al-Qadir al-Gilani (d. 561/1166f.). The late sixteenth-century (?) hagiographical work, which has been the basis for almost every subsequent recounting and from which the above details are gleaned, comes from the tekke community that, taking his name, flourished after Esrefoglu's death (874/1469T.?), mainly in Iznik and Bursa. Its account, however, should be considered suspect when not confirmed by independent sources. The copy of that menakib that has been used routinely for over a century is a slightly doctored recension of the original, adding even more doubt as to its reliability. The copy has been published twice in Turkey but with no acknowledgement of its possibly suspect statements. (8)

      From my own revisionist reading of the sources I have proposed alternative interpretations of episodes from that hagiographical life. (9) I have shown that there is enough independent evidence, however fragmentary, to suggest-but without explaining-sinister events at or near the end of Esrefoglu's life. At the same time, stories from the above-mentioned hagiographic source (or others like it) link Esrefoglu (or his immediate family) to the Ottoman palace and the highest level of the sultan's inner circle and point to considerable influence on the part of the Iznik sheikh. There is every reason to believe that Esrefoglu Rumi's voice was heard beyond the confines of tekke walls during the reign of Mehmed the Conqueror.

      Besides his divan Esrefoglu's written legacy includes two prose works: a Tarikatname and the widely popular Muzekki'n-nufus, a lengthy and rambling didactic work on the stages of the purification of the "self." (10) Other works commonly attributed to Esrefoglu have mostly not been found. (11) A single exception is the verse Nasihatname, an incomplete copy of which has recently been discovered. That mesnevi poem may include a lengthy passage on the martyrdom of the ninth-century Baghdad ecstatic, Mansur al-Hallaj, though the attribution rests on circumstantial grounds and is subject to verification. (12)

      While open to closer scrutiny, neither of the above-mentioned prose works appears to contain material that could have brought Esjefoglu into conflict with Ottoman religious authority. (13) His divan, on the...

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