The Thought of Fishing

As noted in a previous post, the Ottoman majdhūb/meczûb (the first is the Arabic rendering, the second the same term but in Ottoman Turkish)- the divinely drawn saint or holy madman- was often involved in the details of everyday life, such as the smoking of tobacco. In the following story, which comes from a compilation of meczûb lives in a sprawling 17th work of hagiography by Mehmed Nazmî EfendiHediyyetü’l-ihvân, we see one of these holy madmen miraculously discern the wandering thoughts of the imam in the greatest mosque of Ottoman Istanbul.

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A view of the courtyard of the Süleymâniye Mosque, the setting of the following story

‘And there was one, Hızır Aşak, who was from among the great (ulular) of the meczûb. He was a powerful meczûp capable of unveiling inner secrets. It is related that the imam of the Süleymâniye Mosque, Süleymân Efendi—who was later dismissed and sent into retirement—was one day leading the noon prayers, when the thought came to him: “After completing the salât, I’ll go to Hisar [on the Bosporus] and go fishing.’ Just as this thought was occurring to him, Hızır Aşak came to the mosque, and, as was his custom, cried out “Hû!” [i.e. ‘He,’ meaning God, a common sufi form of zikr] and said, “Süleymân Çelebi! You are here, your mind ought not be off fishing in Hisar. There is no prayer without presence of heart. Lead these men in prayer a second time.” Having said this he left the mosque. Süleymân Çelebi related thus: “This unveiling of the mad one brought about divine fear and embarrassment before the people in me. For a little while I passed out! Coming to, I properly completed the prayers.”’

Mehmed Nazmî Efendi, Hediyyetü’l-ihvân

Ottoman Majdhūb/Meczûb: Two Stories

The following accounts treat an important, and well-nigh ubiquitous, type of Ottoman Muslim saint, the majdhūb (meczûb in Ottoman Turkish), the ‘divinely attracted or drawn one.’ For a longer explanation of this ‘mode’ of sainthood, see this post of mine from a while back. One of the chapters of my forthcoming dissertation will consist of a detailed history and analysis of majdhūb sainthood, as well. The two accounts below represent the different ways and environments in which this ‘immersive’ saintly identity could operate, across the diverse lands of the Ottoman Empire. The first, from an Arabic biographical compilation from the mid-17th century, treats the arguably most important and well known majdhūb saint in the Ottoman world, Abū Bakr ibn Abū al-Wafā’ al-Majdhūb (d. 991/1583), of Aleppo. The dervish complex and mazār (place of visitation or shrine) that grew up during his lifetime and especially after his death still stands, having gone from being on the outskirts of the city to well enveloped within it, a monument to the centrality this strange and powerful saint took on both during and after his life on earth (for more on this saint and his legacy, see Watenpaugh, Heghnar Zeitlian. “Deviant Dervishes: Space, Gender, and the Construction of Antinomian Piety in Ottoman Aleppo.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 37, no. 4 (2005): 535–65). In the story I have translated we see the saint’s intervention in one of most dangerous and pressing situations in any pre-modern society, the threat of drought- with the mere suggestion that drought might be imminent enough to send local markets into a price-raising frenzy, as noted in this story. The saint’s strange behavior- open to all manner of interpretation- is also displayed here, out of a long list of stories of strange and far more shocking action than manifested here. Continue reading “Ottoman Majdhūb/Meczûb: Two Stories”

Who Can Say What the Years Will Bring

Boukoleon

We skirted the fencing, no trace of official care
Here. Up above, marble framed portals,
For balconies long crumbled
Where the purple-robed gazed upon the Marmara,
Hang on, to the end of time, Constantine’s return.
Below, across this ruined threshold
The stench is strong. Human debris, traces, wreckage.
The years have not been kind,
The present years least of all. Behind us, tour buses idle. Dogs
Wander and loll. In this sunsick city for the
First time in days, grey clouds
Skiff down. The waves across Kennedy Boulevard
Lick the shore, slicked and black in the lowing light.
If there are any Byzantine ghosts here, they keep close
To the earth, don’t raise a sound. The walls are charred.
We leave as quickly as we came.
‘The future slips imperceptibly away,
Who can say what the years will bring?’ says Tu Fu,
Surveying a similar scene,
Knowing what all who wander ruins know. I bow
My head, trying to remember. Our years,
Spare and thin, meet with the ruins. We cannot
Remember.

Autumn

My body slips further and further along, its
Numbered days receding. This is always known—
We come forth in fear, so already close to death.
These gyres turn and turn, that river of flux flows
Me closer, how I start to feel it. The rot and ruin. Yet,
I gather flowers from the roadside in autumn, and am glad.

Poems, Istanbul, Summer

Spending part of the summer in Istanbul, and briefly in Bosnia. More posts from my time here to follow, but for now, some poetry that’s come out of my stay, nothing very refined, just jottings, for now.

Nocturne, Pera, Istanbul

Lights fall. Ten thousand shards of ten thousand voices
Of the ten thousand things, but now all I hear is a muezzin’s cry. Punctuation.
On the long shelves of the night, the volumes shuffle
And rearrange, waiting the next reader.
Tight taunt bodies move and move without, there where
Under Galata’s tower old Pera sleeps, some bright faced, others wasted, they spin,
No worries for old men in the slumber of the dead. The Mevlevi house
Lies silent, though the cats roam, and the Commentator’s spirit
Hovers, listening. In the heart of all this ten thousanded place,
Volumes are being written, and others turn to dust, I breathe it in,
As I wind back, return, my brief reverie listing. Make
The eroded scrapings my evening bread, somber, clear eyed and tired.
A bass line pulses my
Window, ever so slightly. My mind follows the metro stairs down, down
Into the storied ground, saints and sinner jostle.
A busker packs up, his coins jingle. The muezzin
Winds it down, another light goes out, the alley’s all dark. Signs
And significances, the bar hoppers and the Qur’an on the wind,
Yes, yes, so, dear city eternally departing, sleep well.

Route-taking on Uludag, Which was Once Mt. Olympus

Down from the spent mine tailings, over
The resurge of growth and green, snowmelt waters falling
The clink and chime of the sheep’s bells, and the sheep dogs
Scent me, growl and bark from across the low-slung junipers
Snaking down the slope. The dogs
Are in slow retreat, back towards the herd, moving up towards
The old mine, a late century wreck, scarring, broken stones, dumped, gashes.
Costs outweighed profits. Above the sheep, higher up, snowbanks,
Also in retreat, August only a day off. I swat flies from my legs, insatiable
Creatures, until I reach the ridgecrest, and the sweep of the mountain’s
Winds, a relief. Down below, nomads’ tents. The state, capital,
Our collective inhumanity, flit through my mind. The big gashes.
But a thousand years from now, those gashes will be gone, and the thin,
Eternal traces of shepherds in the mountains, summer snow fields receding,
Will endure. One day the world will change, and glaciers will again creep out
From these cols, swallow the marks of our mechanical sins.
I take comfort in the thought, and move on.

To the unknown Armenian woman pulled from the ruins of the Great Beyoǧlu Fire, 1870

Some of the bodies they found cisterned, waterlogging, still burned.
Yours, under the rubble buried, not even the
Hope of a refuge found. The place, known, but you,
Your name is erased for us. It too has burned up in the embers. Still burning,
Those flames, how many names, how many names consumed? Yes.
This world we stand on
Is built on the names lost and singed, its bones are the forgotten bones
Of the crushed down dead, ashes and dust and souls, the cementing.
The tram clanks down Istiklal, a rock band in tow, summer nights, and all.
No monuments with your name on them. Do
Those old cisterns, charred, no salvation for the wretched, still ring
With those other sounds? I wonder as I fall asleep, paces, perhaps,
Away, comfortable, my fires all grown old, and cold.

For John Berryman, an Imitation

Man color and noise its all washed out look
Pale like the skin under my hand under my breath yesterday’s
Peripheral memory logged and lost lost lost never worth keeping.
Shoot.
Yes. Henry yes I said your footsteps are still there. Yes Mr Bones.
Whats the good of all this noise under the noise?
Whats the good of this other speak slow-and-measured?
Why Henry wrote is the question and why you read
Let it man,
Let.

A View of Constantinople, 1756

The following effusive description of Ottoman Constantinople/Istanbul is from the pen of Timothy Gabashvili, a Georgian cleric who embarked, in the mid 18th century, on a long journey across the Ottoman realms visiting sacred sites, various Orthodox communities, and other sights and places along the way, all of which he would later describe in his Georgian-language record of his pilgrimage. Timothy’s perspective is a somewhat unique one: Georgia in the mid 18th century was still within the Ottoman orbit, but was being aggressively courted by an expansive Russian empire. Timothy himself had previously visited Moscow and the new city of St. Petersburg. Yet in much of his narrative his treatment of the Ottomans is remarkably positive- all of his interactions with Ottoman officials were amiable and productive, and the relationships he managed to forge enabled the success of his pilgrimage. In a relatively few short years- unbeknownst to Timothy or anyone else- the Ottoman world would change a great deal, and a pilgrimage of this sort, and the relationships that made it possible, would be forever lost. In 1756, however, a pious Georgian pilgrim could still feast and drink with Muslim Ottoman notables, and wax poetic in praise of the the Ottoman incarnation of the City of cities.

Panorama of Istanbul, Ottoman, late 18th – early 19th century, 58 x 27.1 cm, SHM 12449 – İ.1285 / From the Sadberk Hanım Museum, Istanbul

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Now, I’ll say something about the city of Constantinople. The lure of the city’s radiance has spread its beauty to distant parts of the world and even the capitals, because in no other place can one find Asia and Europe together. Among them, running down from the Black Sea, there flows a narrow sea like a river. It runs, with spouts of foam. Constantinople is founded on it and on the mountains by the hand of Sabaoth. The mountains are lavishly covered with spruce trees and Lebanese cypresses. The city has been built on both sides of the sea that flows in a narrow stream. The structure of the walls, the towers and the battlements are splendidly coloured. The windows of the palaces sparkling in different ways, resembled Eden.

Some of the palaces, vaults and bazaars of the city were covered with lead, the gilded roofs of the palaces and springs shone like the sun shining on the city, and the colour of other buildings in the city was scorched clay, or purple, a hue also like the sunset. The ships in the city stood erect like the trunks of poplar trees. Among the groves of selvinu, ghaji, and cypress trees, there was a glimpse of the royal palaces, and the buildings were veiled in the forest of pine and spruce groves. This capital seemed to me like the brightest among the stars, like a rose among the flowers of Eden, like a jacinth among the precious emeralds, like the rainbow in the clouds, and Augustus Caeser among the kings. I found it very difficult and sad to be leaving Constantinople, as I, who had come here after a great many sufferings and hardships, would never see it again. My eyes and my mind competed in emotion when viewing this marvelous city

Timothy Gabashvili, Pilgrimage to Mount Athos, Constantinople, and Jerusalem, 1755-1759, trans. by Mzia Ebanoidze and John Wilkinson