Yahya Dukagjini
| Saturday, 07.07.2007, 12:30 PM |  


Ottoman poet Figani and his cup-bearer, ca. 1532
Yahya bey Dukagjini (ca. 1498-ca. 1582) was a sixteenth-century poet of Albanian origin who wrote in Turkish. He is known in Turkish as Dukagin-zâde Yahyâ bey or Taslicali Yahyâ bey, i.e. Yahya Bey of Dukagjini or Yahya Bey of Tashlidja (Pljevlja) A scion of the Dukagjini tribe inhabiting the barren Albanian alps north of the river Drin, he was taken as a child by the Ottomans, trained and sent to serve among the Janissaries. He is known as a young man to have taken part in the Battle of Chaldiran under Sultan Selim in 1514 and in the Egyptian campaign of 1516-1517. Indeed, he seems to have spent much of his early years on various Ottoman campaigns from Vienna to Tabriz. Yahya bey was not oblivious to his Albanian origin. He notes this in his verse, claiming that he stemmed from a land of cliffs and crags. He also tells us that he studied with the famed legal scholar, poet and historian Kemâlpâshâzâde, and presented his verse to Ibrahim Pasha and to the sultan. In the wake of the death of Prince Mustafa, who was executed in Konya in 1533 by his own father Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566), Yahya bey Dukagjini was exiled to the Balkans where he took up an estate (fief) near Zvornik in Bosnia. In 1565, at a ripe age, he served with the Yahyâli corps at the siege of Szigetvar. It was there that he composed a qasîde and presented it to his patron, Sultan Suleiman. He thereafter withdrew from worldly affairs and turned to mysticism, dying in his eighties around the year 1582.

Yahya bey Dukagjini is the author of a large divan of poems written in Ottoman Turkish and of a group of five mesnevî, long narrative verse-romances. The most popular of the latter is Shâh u gedâ (The King and the Beggar), which he tells us he finished in just one week. This much-appreciated metrical romance idealizes the pure love for an Istanbul youth of unequalled beauty (stylized as the king because he reigns over the heart) by a pious lover (stylized as the beggar because of his suppliant longing).


The Albanians are my stock

The Albanians are my stock,
And all my kin live by the sword.
With ease, like falcons, these brave folk
Forge their homes within the cliffs.
This is the gift of those of Albanian stock,
They are gems cached among the crags.

[Arnavud asli olub-dur aslim. Translated from the Ottoman Turkish by Robert Elsie]

Come, let us quaff

Come, let us tour the town and quaff wine from the bowl,
Oh pious ascetic, do the wise ever flee the tavern?

I am distraught when I see those weary eyes,
The heavy clouds of my sighs pour tears of hail.

If that fair youth of my heart had not ris'n one night, a full moon,
What would it matter that I, a sombre day, had ne'er been born?

Learn from the moth how to burn, oh soul, heed the moth,
When you glimpse that fiery face, hurl yourself with ardour into its flames.

Oh ailing soul, let me perish from ever-waiting,
Yearning for that flirting lad, my calamity, to emerge from his house.

Whenever I am at the side of that straight, slender stature,
My breast becomes a shell of nacre to clasp that unique jewel.

The heart proclaimed it: "Yahya stole a kiss from his lover."
Let the good news be known, sweet news from my foolish soul!

[Gel ayak seyrini kil nûs it meyi peymâneden, from the volume Yahyâ bey: Dîvan (Istanbul 1977), p. 471. Translated from the Ottoman Turkish by Robert Elsie]

Poetry holds the veil

Poetry, like Joseph, draws a written veil across its face,
Poetry speaks from behind the shawl of its own intrigue.

My beloved would know my plight if he read my verse,
He would sense my pain if he heard my cries.

Poetry, like the brow of my beloved, it is a sea of beauty,
Fitting for those of vision to reflect upon.

Poetry, like Mount Sinai of Moses, has witnessed the divine,
Struck by his figure, it shattered into shards.

Poetry uncovers the cravings of an aggrieved people,
For the foolish lover, my book of verse is a vow of maddened love.

Poetry is revealed in the realm of truth,
Each line invokes a voice of an unseen world.

Ardent like the roses, Yahya, I am too immersed
When I recite verses about his well-formed physique.

[Yüzine tutmus nikâb-i hatti Yûsuf-vâr si'r, from the volume Yahyâ bey: Dîvan (Istanbul 1977), p. 349-350. Translated from the Ottoman Turkish by Robert Elsie]

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