The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Dec 18, 2008

The Magnificents

At the zenith of Ottoman power, a young man named Suleiman, whom the Europeans called Magnificent, wielded mighty sword and delicate pen. While Belgrade and Hungary fell to his rampaging forces, he himself was writing poetry of love and adoration. To his beloved wife, he said:

All of a sudden, my glance fell upon her

Like a cypress, she was standing slender;
Right then and there,
tears rushed out of my eyes like a river.
Ah, her gold-embroidered robe,
and the unruly horse she was riding!
The arrows out of my quiver got nowhere:
they fell into far-off Iraq trailing her.
My beloved, if those slashing locks of your hair
strike me down and wound me, is it any wonder?
I sucked your lips which are so used to kisses:
All that gave my soul health and vigor.
If, Lover, your tears stream down,
there is nothing to ponder:
After all, suddenly my glance fell upon her -
like a cypress, she was standing slender.
My heart, be satisfied
with one morsel to eat and a simple cloak to wear;
Don't you see how possessions
drag the people of the world into warfare.
[Translated by Talât Sait Halman 1]

A half-century before Suleiman, another young man named the Magnificent forced his way into history. Scion of the famous house of the Medici, Lorenzo, as ugly of face as beautiful of mind, wrote some of the loveliest songs of the Renaissance.

I saw my Lady by a purling brook
With laughing maidens, where green branches twined;
O never since that primal, passionate look
Have I beheld her face so soft and kind.
Hence for a space my yearning was content
And my sad soul some consolation knew;
Alas, my heart remained although I went,
And constantly my pain and sorrow grew.
Early the sun sank down in western skies
And left the earth to woeful hours obscure,
Afar my sun hath also veiled her ray;
Upon the mind first bliss most heavily lies,
How short a while all mortal joys endure,
But not so soon doth memory pass away.
[Translated by Lorna De'Lucchi 2]

1. An Anthology of Turkish Literature, Edited by Kemal Silay, The University, 1996.
2. Lorenzo De' Medici: Selected Poems and Prose, Edited by Jon Thiem, Penn State Press, 1991.


Szerelem said...

Awww - Suleyman and Roxelana - the sweetest love story ever. He even married her! Imagine that!

Fëanor said...

But not Lorenzo, eh? He had his favourites, but married entirely out of political compulsions. (Still, he didn't father a brood of illegitimates, so that's something. I think.)

Maddy said...

am i right in remembering that suleiman was one of the lone ottoman sultans who was also a poet?

Fëanor said...

Maddy: poetry by royal Ottomans has a long tradition. Suleiman was perhaps one of the better known poets, but see here for others who were equally gifted.

Anonymous said...

about Suleiman - I can't read the original but is this verse truly about "her"? cause I've heard actually it implies "him". Please give any explanation. And as far as I know there is plenty of "sublimely homoerotic" poetry ascribed to Muhhibi

Fëanor said...

You may be right, of course. I've read Suleiman was deeply in love with his wife, but I don't know for sure if this poem predates Hurrem, or even if he was busy writing lovesongs to others.

Anonymous said...

Yeh, surely this poem describes his beloved Ibrahim going to Egypt through Iraq (in the russian translation it reads - you stand slender, the horse you're riding.. etc, maybe I'll find the turkish original). Ibrahim loved luxury clothes (gold-embroidered robe), and the unruly (unbridled) horse points to the male rider. Reminds me of John Benson's edition of the Shakespeare's sonnets where he changed masculine pronouns to feminine XD
I think that Ibrahim (even after his death) was the central figure of Suleiman's love life, not Hurrem the bitch

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