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T.S. Eliot who once said "No verse is libre

for the man who wants to do a good job".



The Sultan Poets

The Royal Poets of Turkey

Translations by Mevlut Ceylan




They came tunneling through the Iron Mountain; they came mounted on their steeds, riding with the speed of wind across the steppes of central Asia towards Mesopotamia and Asia minor, later into the heart of Europe. North Africa too had her share of Ottoman rule.

 When they converted to Islam in the eighth century, the wild men of the steppes became tamed, cultured, and refined. In a very short span of time, they became a force to be reckoned with and  a super power of the Middle Ages, until the Ottomans' demise at the end of the nineteenth century. Thus, the Ottoman Sultans eventually became the protectors of the Islamic faith and leaders of the global Muslim community, loved and respected by their Muslim subjects as well as by non-Muslims.

When Ezra Pound wrote in his letter to A.R. Orage in April 1919, "My job was to bring a dead man to life, to present a living figure", I think he was referring to the dilemma of rendering a text from one language into another; in particular if the text is poetry. Voices of concern and doubt have been raised, suggesting that it was harder than cutting the Gordian knot.

Translation may be regarded as cultural pollination and without translation cultural crossings of national borders are impossible. So, translation forms an essential part of our relationship. One could claim that because of the loss of nuances in the process of translation we live in an almost unbearable world.

Translating the Ottoman Sultan Poets has been a challenging venture. Their offspring can hardly comprehend the language and implications that existed less than a century ago. Therefore the translator has to build a bridge between past and present, and in doing so he has to bear in mind that successful translation can be achieved by "creative transposition".

There is no perfect translation and translators are the forgotten saints of the cultural wilderness. Every society is indebted to translators who overtly or covertly have influenced the development of cultural and technical achievements. Though this may be true, the authenticity of translating has always been open to question. Is it possible to transmute even the minute details of one language to another? The response to this weighty question has been neither "Yes" nor "No". How can it be formulated even within one language? A written text, regardless of its form, simply cannot be viewed as a wholly self-explanatory act; perception of a text requires the aid of other elements, such as visual equipment and body language.

These poems rhymed in the original; however, I have opted for translating them freely. I agree with T.S. Eliot who once said "No verse is libre for the man who wants to do a good job". After all, the set metrical formats of these poems do not work for the ears of modern Man. They sound dry and dull.

I hope that readers will find these poems as interesting as the lives of the Sultans, who in time became legendary heroes. 

*   *   *   *   *


*   *   *   *   *

GHAZI OSMAN BEY  (1258-1326)

Founder of the Ottoman Empire. He spent his life building the Ottoman State. Scholars regularly attended his court. Before he captured the Christian lords, he captured their hearts. He is also known as Fakhruddin.  


Osman, son of Ertughrul

One of the Gagauz Turks

A humble slave of the Lord

Conquer Constantinople, and make it

A rose-garden.

 *   *   *   *   *


The third Ottoman Sultan, son of Orkhan Ghazi and grandson of Osman Bey who founded the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Murad protected scholars and poets. During his reign the Ottomans expanded their territories. He defeated European forces at Kosovo where the legacy of the battle of Kosovo (1389) still actively dominates the lives of people particularly in the Balkans. Sultan Murad is the first and only Ottoman Sultan who was martyred on the battlefield.  


O cupbearer drinking friend of last night

Let me live life to the full

O cupbearer bring me my harp and Rebek

Talk to me, talk to my heart

And the day will come; I’ll take my place in the burial ground

And no friend will visit my unmarked grave.

*   *   *   *   *


Son of Chelebi Sultan Mehmed and grandson of Bayazıd the Thunderbolt. At the age of eighteen he ascended the throne. He was the sixth Sultan. He spent his reign warring with Crusaders and rebels. When he restored peace in the land, he gave up his throne to his son Prince Mehmed the Second . He retired to Manisa, but his retirement was short lived because of the Crusaders' attacks and he was called back to the throne by the viziers. 

After the war he wanted to return to Manisa but he was asked to stay on. He died a couple of months later. He wrote fine poems, it has been said that even when he talked his words rhymed.  

Saqi, bring me the wine left over from yesterday.

Come, let my lyre speak.

I need this joy and happiness while I am alive

A day will come when no one shall see my dust. 


Firstly, it's the tradition of lovers to sacrifice themselves.

This is the right thing to do.

But he who doesn't give his life at the beloved’s threshold

Cannot be a lover.

Beware of him

Who has not fallen in love.

He's worse than four-legged animals.

He who is in love gives his life willingly.

This act has no significance for him.

Listen well to Murad's words,

His words are a very important and valuable book.

*   *   *   *   *


*   *   *   *   *


He was the seventh Ottoman Sultan, son of Sultan Murad the Second. He conquered Istanbul. He was not only a man of war but also a man of knowledge. He founded many universities and mosques. He was a patron of art, music, and letters. As a poet he influenced the poets who came after him.


Oh beauty, you're my Shah.

All I want is to be your slave.

I'd sooner be your slave

Than become Padishah of the World.

You're penniless, you're a pauper.

Give me one good reason

Why Avni should  love you?

My beloved tied me with her locks of hair

O dear God, have mercy on your abject slave.

Pity, O heart, you did not listen and loved such beauty!

O heart, you’ve become a laughing-stock.

O heart, she enjoys  tormenting  you!

What can I say, you cannot endure pain, O heart!

My dear heart, O heart, O heart!

 *   *   *   *   *


Eldest son of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. When he was governor in Amasya, the Janisarries asked him to be Sultan. But his brother Jem Sultan opposed his appointment. He built many universities mosques, and public kitchens. He was a patron of art. He was also a master calligrapher. In his poems he used the pen name Adli.  


Since this fortune fell upon us

Why aren’t you content with your destiny: what's wrong?

You claim to be a pilgrim of two sanctuaries.

If that's so, why worldly greed and desires?

*   *   *   *   *

PRINCE JEM    (1454-1495)

Younger son of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. He was well educated. He revolted against his brother Bayazid the Second. He received the help of pashas and the people of some cities. Bayazid's army defeated Jem. He took refuge with the Egyptian Mamluks, even the Knights of St. John at Rhodes, when he went to Rhodes he was received with full honours by the Grand Master and his Knights. Later they sent him off to France. He was poisoned by order of the Pope Alexander VI. He was a distinguished poet; he wrote poems in Persian and Turkish.

Ey Jem follow Khayyam's footsteps.

Religious devotion and piety do not suit you.

What will happen if Jem spends his life on your path

                        as a repayment?

You're his capital, he has nothing in this world but you.


The fire of love inflames the heart,

The eyes shed tears,

My tears wash the land of the heart.

A building cannot stand against floods.

My stupid antagonist donkey may wear silk dresses

But that won't change her nature.

My eyes don't cry when they see you

Because the sun  dries the place she looks at.

This exile wore me out,

Left me in pain.

This is the judgement of the wretched world

That left Jem paralysed in a foreign land.

*   *   *   *   *


Son of Sultan Bayazıd the Second, he was a warrior Sultan and a poet of distinction. He wrote poems in Turkish and Persian. He was a patron of the arts, he protected scholars, and judges as well as poets.  


The moon is beautiful I said to myself

And I salute such beauty

Suddenly I wanted to look at her

The sun rose and shone upon my thoughts


Everyone knows that you're the master at hunting hearts

Ey! Don't let your cruelty spread all over the world.

Why you behave like a stranger I don't know.

What is this? A new affectation, torment, or flirting ?

O dear Lord, you're the Padishah,

You're worthy of it!

Every padishah takes refuge in you.

You humiliate the one you don't like

and exalt the one you love.

Shahdom suits you.

You know each of your slave's secrets.

If I'm a rebel, please don't withhold your mercy, give us plenty.

No one can claim their innocence.

You're  the just and I live in your just land.

I'm the only passenger on a sorrowful road that leads to you.

Sometimes tears turn my face red

Because of the shame of my sins.

I'm like dawn full of stars,

The smoke of my burning heart veils my eyes.

This black face of mine is like the black ink of my letters.

My hope lies with no one but you

Forgive me, forgive your Selim!

*   *   *   *   *


*   *   *   *   *

HARIMI     PRINCE KORKUT  (1470-1513)

Son of Sultan Bayazıd  the Second, he was Sultan for only seventeen days. He fought against his father for a long time. He was strangled. He was a scholar and a patron of art. He was also a calligrapher. He did research in Arabic and wrote books in Arabic and Turkish.

Fresh wounds on my breast...

As if I'm ruined, crows have landed on me.

While you're a youthful beauty

Have mercy on one who gave his heart to you!

Otherwise my tears murmur like water.

Whenever I remember your black hair and fall into despair

O my beauty, clouds weep for me.

When the bird of  the heart wishes to fly  from your rose garden

The sweet smell of your hair ties its claw.

O Harimi! they plot to kill me,

So be it! All these fresh wounds are my longing for the beloved.

*   *   *   *   *


Reigned 1520-1566. He was known as the Magnificent and also the Lawgiver. He was a patron of the arts, beside being an established poet. He was the tenth Ottoman Sultan. During his reign the Empire reached its zenith. He was a goldsmith, and wrote poems under the pseudonym Muhibbi.


Muhibbi, do not say ‘No’


even if you were tortured and killed by the beloved.

Is it fair if a destitute starts conversing with the Sultan?

Though sugar is known as sweet in the World

But O my darling, your lips are sweeter.

Dear Lord! Shower me with your grace

Whether there is any remedy other than You I do not know.

Help me, forgive my sins,

Please, help me, forgive my sins.


Ill-heart, since it’s gone mad with your love,

Met with a thousand disputes.

Today I, the Majnun

Wherever I look Leila is there.

If I die in the way of love,

Nymphs shall rub their eyes. with my dust.

My lungs’ blood will flow non-stop

Since the beloved with arched-eyebrows

Hit me with her arrow eyelashes.

I drank the wine of love at the day of predestination

That’s why Muhibbi became a laughing-stock

I begin in the name of Allah, the Beneficent, and the Merciful

Secret or open, nothing hidden from You


Dear Lord! Heal my anguish-stricken heart

You’re the Wise One who knows a cure for all patience


Merciful Lord! Thanks to you

You made this slave of yours Moslem


Keep my faith till the last breath

Do not let damned Satan come near me


Dear Lord! For the sake of Mustafa, your Messenger

Grant us your bountiful paradise


Dear Lord! At the day of Judgement

Keep Muhibbi, the slave on your side.


O Suleiman; here’s your crown:

To be generous and kind hearted

Is the pageantry of the throne


If you want to see your subjects happy

Do not be arrogant, think that they may be

better than yourself.

We are all brothers; we must love each other

O Suleiman a true Moslem regards this solemn behest.


Act wisely, but do not remain unknown,

Shelter the good, and be severe to wrongdoers.


To be a tyrant like a Tartar Khan

Doesn’t befit a Sultan.


Staying silent against aggression

Is as good as taking part.


Do not hibernate; be awake on your throne

Our strong hands hold the fate of the World.


We have to fight to earn

The regard and affection of men.

*   *   *   *   *

SHAHİ        PRINCE BAYAZID  (1527-1562)

Second son of Süleyman the Magnificent. He rebelled against his father to become Sultan. He was exiled to Iran, but Tahmaseb the Iranian Shah murdered his men and handed over Prince Bayazid to Selim's men. He was killed with his four sons and buried in Sivas. He was a scholar and a good poet.

I'm before your High Presence,

Forgiveness and mercy from you, repentance from me.

Dear God, I couldn't keep my promises.

I don't have the strength to make myself straight.

At the hand of my worldly desires

I found no rest in that house of grief

My Queen sends her greetings to her slave.

Dear Majesty, give long life.

Her prayer and salaams were the good news

I gave my life for.

A remedy has reached  my sick soul.

Because of  parting I'm burned down like a candle.

Burning all the time is the lover's job.

I cry like a nightingale at nights

O my rose, in your beauty's garden.

It's you, O my darling who keep my heart at ease.

A happy life is prohibited for Shahi in this world.

O beloved, with your partings of yearning

I sigh, I sigh, I sigh without you.

With your hair to see the daylight

I'm hesitant, I'm hesitant, I'm hesitant

To kiss your lips

I'm waiting, I'm waiting, I'm waiting.

Longing for you for years,

I shed tears, I shed tears, I shed tears.

Because of the sun from your face

I'm bright, I'm bright, I'm bright.

With the last glass

I'm drunk, I'm drunk, I'm drunk.

Ey Shahi if I die from love of the beloved

I'm happy, I'm happy, I'm happy.

Beloved, to the lover who loves you from his heart

Be loyal to him, be loyal, be loyal.

Do not torment, be kind, my darling.

Do not hurt too much, not too much, but a little.

Be kind, O Beloved.

Be aware, be aware, be aware.

Let me see you too fall in love as Shahi did,

You fell in love, you fell in love, you fell in love!

*   *   *   *   *


Son of Sultan Mehmed the Third, he was fourteen when he became Sultan. He reigned for fourteen years. He was also the fourteenth Sultan. He restored law and order in the country. He won all the wars he fought. He built the famous Blue Mosque. He started writing poetry at the age of eight. He used as pen name Bahti, and sometimes used his real name in his poems.  


Thank God, good news here,

My heart was filled with joy.

The infidels retreated from two fortresses

leaving all their belongings.

The messenger brought  news in the morning.

I hope very soon the infidels will be destroyed.

I hope the news will reach  the Shah of the Kisilbash

And also, Inshaallah,  Shias will feel great pain.

With the grace of God, the news came of the calamities.

Bahti is praying for the Army of Islam.

O winds! Hurry, take the news to them.

*   *   *   *   *


*   *   *   *   *


Son of Sultan Ahmed the first. He was aged fourteen when he was crowned. He was busy fighting wars and trying to reform the armed forces in particular the Janissaries. However, the Janissaries rebelled and strangled him in the infamous Yedikule Prison.  



My intention was to serve my people and my state.

My foes cannot bear me, they try to disgrace and dethrone me.


If you become the Shah

Do you think you're not close to the earth?

If you're a rich Bey,

It's nice to have a good time in this world’s house.

 Farisi, are you not to be judged

for your deeds on the Day.

*   *   *   *   *

VEFAİ          MEHMED  THE FOURTH   (1642-1693)

Son of Sultan Ibrahim. When his father was removed from the throne, he was crowned as Sultan at a young age. An inexperienced sultan, he failed to introduce any remedy for corruption which was a social menace. He loved hunting.  


Your rose-like face, tulip-like cheeks- what a beauty!

When your lovers are on the dusty road where you passed

You pretend not to see us and humiliate us,- what a beauty!

You cheat your lovers who are at your door saying their prayers-

What a beauty!

And you promise for tomorrow- What a beauty!

Ey Vefai, when you see your beloved happy

Your sighs are so beautiful! 

 *   *   *   *   *

AHMED          AHMED THE SECOND  (1643-1695)

Son of Sultan Ibrahim. He spent his youth under "Palace arrest", and was crowned in 1691. He loved hunting and music; he also composed songs.  


If I thank Allah all the time, what'll happen?

When I was lying down on the bed of grief

And sighing from time to time,

Suddenly my body became healthy,

Muslims' prayers are welcome

Thanks to Allah, good health has arrived.

I trust in Allah

He is the only One, the downtrodden and kings take refuge with Him

Ahmed, trust him all the time.

He will help you at all times everywhere.

O, you who put the  infidels to the sword in such splendour,

I've entrusted you to Allah, Who remits  sins,

I've sent you my salaams and prayers

That you be safe and sound, let your enemy be helpless.

Don't forget the name of Allah on the day of war.

Ask  help of the Beneficent,

High and Mighty One, I hope the wicked king

Will surrender all his forts willingly.

Bless Ahmed and his veterans

If you want, Allah shall succour them.

*   *   *   *   *


*   *   *   *   *

NEJIB      AHMED THE THIRD   (1673-1736)

Son of Sultan Mehmed the fourth, he became Sultan after his brother Sultan Mustafa the Second.

He wanted to introduce western style reforms into the country. During his reign many rebellions took place against the Palace authority. He was removed from the throne by the Patrona Khalil rebellion.

He indulged in entertainment, and nightlife. On the one hand he was attempting to restore law and order in the country, on the other, he was a regular face in "low life" circles. Died at the age of 63.


O Messenger of God, your cheeks reflect His Light.

O messenger of God, your face gives pleasure.

Your birth is His bounty to us

That erased the darkness of ignorance.

O Messenger of God, all believers know this.

In the rosary of prophethood, you're a rose bush.

O my most honoured Padishah.

Your abundant morale is the panacea for Nejip's illness,

O Messenger of God.

*   *   *   *   *


Eldest son of Sultan Ahmed the Third. He was crowned in 1757. He was a man of good intentions but failed to stop decline. Due to his failure he fell ill and died in 1774. He knew Turkish literature well. In his poems he used Jehangir as his pen-name.  


This world is in ruins, don’t think it can be put right.

Wretched fortune gave the state to good-for-nothing people.

Now the civil servants are all corrupt and villains

Our only hope remains in God's compassion and mercy

*   *   *   *   *


Son of Mustafa the Third. He was keen to westernise the Empire. He attempted to abolish the Janissary system. He set up a new army; soon the Janissaries dethroned Selim III, and Mustafa the Fourth was crowned as Sultan. He did not last either. Mahmud II was restored to the throne. Selim III tried to end corruption and punished the civil servants who were oppressing the people. He was a musician as well as a poet.  


Write İlhami, write down the sufferings of the heart,

            Don't hold your tongue.

It's an art to be a friend to love and poetry.

O merciful Master

You're the Sultan.

O generous One; we ask you for help

You're the healer.


You've created all the worlds.

The sky has no pillars

And you make the birds fly.

You're the Protector of the world.


You make many poor people Beys

And many Beys poor.

Whatever you do, you do right.

You're our Creator.

You're the Padishah of Padishahs,

Shah of Shahs.

You're the God of all creatures

You're merciful and feed us.

I'm the slave, God is the greatest,

I belong to the nation of Muhammad.

I ask for your help all the time,

You gave me this body and breath.


Ilhami always keeps you in his mind,

O Dear God, I'm your helpless slave.

Don't put me in your hell,

You're my salvation.

 *   *   *   *   *


The Thirtieth Ottoman Sultan. Son of Sultan Abdulhamid the First, he reigned for 31 years. The most important reform he introduced was to abolish the Janisaary system. He was a calligrapher of distinction, and a musician.  


O my beloved, my heart desires

To go to Chamlica tomorrow.

Don’t refuse me, dear one,

Tomorrow we go to Chamlica.


Where all the friends assemble

            there’s no rest

My heart wants to be alone with you.

One day we should go to Fenerbahche but

Tomorrow, my darling, let’s go to Chamlica.

*   *   *   *   *

Poems by Mevlut Ceylan

Thresholds /  An Awkward End & Other Poems  /  The Birth  /  Living Is An Art  /  Pilgrim  /   Survival  /  Time &  Freedom

Open Your Arms  /   The Hanging   / The Appointed Time  / Bare &The Letter /  Psalms

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.”  His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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posted 22 June 2005




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