THE POETIC QUALITY OF THE RISALE-I NUR
One of the most eminent figures of the 20th century in the fields of belief, reflective thought, and action was Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, whose approach to art and poetry had a number of realistic qualities. In this paper, I shall attempt to discuss the poetic qualities of the Risale-i Nur and Said Nursi's comments on poetry.
1. Poetic style
For the most part, Said Nursi's works were works of inspiration, like Mawlana's Mathnawi. He explained it like this: "The truths and perfections in the Words are not mine; they are the Qur'an's and they have issued from the Qur'an."1 It is completely natural that the close relation between poetry and inspiration should be reflected in the Risale-i Nur Collection. Its treatises were dictated on the battlefield, in mountains, and in prisons to his students by an author who himself had poor handwriting and no books with him other than the Qur'an. The fascinating eloquence of his words, from the writing out of the Risale-i Nur to its being read, has left a deep mark on the broad masses of society. Serif Mardin says that Bediuzzaman's literary idiom is allusive and figurative, and that the convolutedness and obscurity of his style is not without a hypnotic power.2 Cemil Meriç likened the Risale-i Nur to a stormy wind.3 While Sezai Karakoç emphasized the effectiveness of its voice and style, and said "The Risale-i Nur is on its own a compendium of Islamic culture."4 And two short passages from the Risale-i Nur:
"On receiving the single command of that Single One, in rapturous joy at its duty, a single soldier like the earth rises to revolve in two motions like an ecstatic Mevlevi dervish, and is the means of those splendid results being achieved."5
"And belief showed with utter certainty that the only fruit at the top of the tree of life was not a corpse as had appeared to my neglectful eye, but that my spirit, which would manifest eternal life and was designated for eternal happiness, would leave its worn-out home to travel around the stars."6
"The modern historian Vico was one of the first thinkers to point out that the dynamic of human behaviour has greater affinities with poetry than with mathematics. Said Nursi's appeals have a charm which derives from an intuitive understanding of this quality."7
"...I had an innate desire for immortality, directed not to my own immortality, but to the existence, perfection, and immortality of that Absolutely Perfect One. But due to heedlessness, my innate love had lost its way, become attached to the shadow and enamoured of the mirror of immortality."8
Mardin sees Said Nursi's idiom as a synthesis between the old and the new:
"A methodological point which is of key interest for an understanding of the way in which Said Nursi's idiom worked is that morality as command depends on discursive resources whereas morality as means of finding an integration with the cosmos is dependent just as much on semiotic resources, i.e., on the resonance created in the individuals by these symbols. Said Nursi's discourse contained resources of both types. This is where he had a superiority over the more orthodox Islamic reformists."9
Said Nursi employed prose more than poetry, adopting a Qur'anic style as his model. Certainly, the style of an author who pondered over the book of the universe, becoming one with all beings from atoms to the galaxies, would reflect rhythmic qualities based on the repetition of sounds. Although what he wrote is not poetry in the classic sense, his sentences, possessing an inner harmony, are loaded with literary arts, and put the listeners into an aesthetic trance:
"By the contriving of a sustainer most generous and bountiful, most munificent and solicitous, a ruler who regulates and disposes, it mounts the wind and taking with it treasuries of rain each as heavy as a mountain, hastens to the aid of the needy. It is as if it were weeping over them in pity, with its tears causing the flowers to smile, tempering the heat of the sun, spraying gardens with water, and washing and cleansing the face of the earth."10
"The Qur'an imparts such a joy and loftiness to the spirit of its students that instead of the ninety-nine beads of the prayer-beads, it places in their hands the minute particles of ninety-nine worlds displaying the manifestations of the ninety-nine Divine Names, and tells them: 'Recite your invocations with these!'"11
"For sure, to make one thing everything, and everything one thing is a sign, a mark, peculiar to the Creator of all things, the One Powerful over all things."12
In the words of the thinker Cemil Meriç:
"It came from behind the stout walls of the ordinances of religion, this voice; it was coming from inside history: it awoke hundreds of thousands of people who had retreated into their shells. As he spoke, those imaginary people were realized."13
The intensity of Bediuzzaman's poetic expression varies among the styles he employs (the m?cerred-simple; ?li-high; m?zeyyen-embellished) in accordance with the subjects he is discussing.
II. His poetry
Despite stating in numerous places that he was not a poet and that the door of poetry was closed to him,14 Said Nursi sometimes expressed the inspirations that came to him in the form of Turkish and Persian poetry. At the beginning of a poem about the stars, he apologizes to the reader: "However it occurred to me, that is how I wrote it. You, my heir, may transform it into poetry and set it to verse."15 While in the Second Station of the Seventeenth Word, he says the following, showing he makes no claims to writing poetry:
"The pieces in this Second Station resemble poetry, but they are not poetry. They were not put into verse intentionally. They rather took on that form to a degree due to the perfect order of the truths they express."16
At the beginning of his work Leme?t, which he wrote one Ramadan in order to expound his aphorisms entitled Hakikat Çekirdekleri (Seeds of Reality) in a prose style which resembles verse, he says: "A short Mesnevi for the Risale-i Nur students, and a divan on the subject of belief."17 He says too: "Anyone who wishes may read it easily as prose without thinking of the versification,"18 showing that Leme?t is didactic and was written in a philosophical manner. The lines resemble rhyming prose sentences:**
"It is completely unashamed at these three sorts of its fiction, like the theatre with its reincarnations and the ghosts of the vast grave known as the past.
"It has put a mendacious tongue in mankind's mouth, attached a lustful eye to its face, dressed the world in a scarlet petticoat, and does not recognize sheer beauty."19
Bediuzzaman's poems other than Leme?t are to be found in the Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Thirty-Second Words; the Fourth and Sixth Letters, and the Third Ray. Their shared characteristic is their all being written in free metre. Also, in some of the poems, the effect of aruz is to be seen. For example, in the poem that begins "Cry not out at misfortune, O wretch, come, trust in God!" and the one entitled "A Fruit of the Black Mulberry" in the Second Station of the Seventeenth Word, the metre (mef?îl?n / mef?îl?n / mef?îl?n / mef?îl?n) is used.
Also in the Seventeenth Word, apart from a few exceptions, the lines entitled "The First Table" and "The Second Table" are in the metre (mef?îl?n / mef?îl?n / mef?îl?n / mef?îl?n). In the first two couplets of the poem at the end of the Eighteenth Word, we see the metre (mef?îl?n / mef?îl?n / feûl?n). While the first five couplets of the poem in the Addendum of the First Stopping-Place of the Thirty-Second Word, which begins: "Look upon the coloured page of the book of the universe," are in the metre (f?il?t?n / f?il?t?n / f?il?t?n / f?il?n). While in the poem Edd?i (The Supplicant) in Leme?t, is (mef?îl?n).
The below couplets furnish an example of "pure poetry," distilled from a Qur'anic source and crystallized within the possibilities of Turkish:
"The tears of a heart weeping in the pre-dawn in captive exile, stained by separation
The breeze of manifestation wafts in the dawn;
Awake, o my eyes, in the early dawn!
Seek grace from the Divine Court;
It is dawn; the time for sinners to repent.
Awake, o my heart, in the pre-dawn!
Repent, seek forgiveness, today, from the Divine Court!"20
III. Quoted poems
One may see from the poems Said Nursi quoted that he concerned himself with poetry. In the Risale-i Nur there are quotes from important poets of Turkish, Persian, and Arab literature. This shows that as a renewer, Said Nursi had not broken off from tradition: (Turkish) S?leyman Çelebi, Yavuz Sultan Selim, Fuzûli, Niyazi Misri, Erzurumlu Ibrahim Hakki, N?mik Kemal, Hoca Tahsin, Tevfik Fikret; (Persian) Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi, Sa'di Shirazi, Hafiz Shirazi; (Arabic) 'Ali b. Abi Talib, 'Abd al-Qadir Gilani, Imam Busiri, Nabigha, 'Antara, Quss b. Sa'ida, Tubba, and so on.
Said Nursi mentioned certain poems by Hazrat 'Ali (May God be pleased with him) and 'Abd al-Qadir Gilani (May God be pleased with him) in so far as they possess aspects which look to the Risale-i Nur, related to their letters and the science of jafr. It is striking that for the most part he considered sufi poets to be closest to him, as is to be seen from his quoting from the four great poets of Persian literature. Niyazi Misri has a special place among these. In the Twenty-Sixth Flash, he quotes four couplets of the poem the last word of each couplet is "bihaber" (unaware), in an atmosphere which plucks the heartstrings of the readers:
Each day a stone from the building of my life falls to the ground;
Heedless one! You slumber -the building is in ruins- unaware!
While my heart desired its immortality, Reality required the passing of my body;
I am afflicted with an ill, of which even Luqman was unaware!
I had concluded no trade; the capital of life was lost;
I arrived at the road, but the caravan had moved on, unaware.
Lamenting, I continued down the road, all alone, a stranger;
My eyes weeping, my heart in anguish, my mind bewildered, unaware.21
Bediuzzaman recalls the succinct lines of Ibrahim Hakki, who wrote in response to the Mu'tazilites' claim that man creates his own actions, thus transgressing the bounds of man's will:
Let's see what the Master does;
Whatever He does, it is best!22
On the one hand, Bediuzzaman encourages people to discover their inner worlds, and on the other he tries to establish social justice. In doing this, he gives a place in the Risale-i Nur to two couplets of Namik Kemal, and one of Tevfik Fikret:
One who assists oppressors is the world's most despicable being;
He is a dog, who receives pleasure from serving the unjust.23
It is not possible through tyranny and injustice to destroy freedom;
Try to remove consciousness, if you can, from human kind.24
If tyranny has cannon, shot, and forts,
Right has an untwistable arm, a constant face.25
He also wrote poems in the style of 'Abd al-Qadir Gilani,26 Namik Kemal,27 and Tevfik Fikret.28
IV. Bediuzzaman's views on poetry
In the Risale-i Nur, Bediuzzaman gives importance to the principles of eloquence (or rhetoric), rather than to poetry. Of the three 'Mak?le's' which make up the work Muh?kemat, one is called "Unsuru'l-Bel?gat" (The Elements of Eloquence). Questions related to eloquence are presented in this chapter in twelve sections.
His approach here is is based on the Islamic attitude towards poetry, for in the Qur'an, it says: "We have not instructed [the Prophet] in poetry, nor is it meet for him ... that Book is pure admonishment and a perspicuous Qur'an."29 While in a Hadith, the criterion "There is wisdom in poetry" has been laid down.30 Bediuzzaman utilized poetry as the Prophet (PBUH) had done, but did not give it priority. In conveying the message of Islam, he gave importance to content over form, and it is striking that he did not use the established poetic rhymes and metres, preferring the order which arises from the meanings. He emphasized this with the words: "The natural channel of ideas and emotions is the order of the meanings."31
Because in poetry imagination and reality are interwoven, Divine Determining did not open that door to Bediuzzaman, but planted him firmly in the valley of prose:
"For sure poetry is a valuable and pleasant means of expression, but because imagination predominates in it, it confuses reality, and changes the form of the truths. Sometimes imagination and reality change places. Since I was destined for future service of the All-Wise Qur'an, which is pure truth and reality, as an instance of Divine grace, Divine Determining did not open the door of poetry to me. An inner meaning of the verse We have not instructed [the Prophet] in poetry, nor is it meet for him looks to this."32
1. Poetry should not take the place of the Qur'an
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi says that the Divine Word cannot be compared with poetry and that the language of the Qur'an is superior to everything relative. Since its verses speak of the Divine acts and attributes, and poetry discusses other things, the Qur'an is exempt from the imaginary worlds of poetry.33 Said Nursi recalls the verse We have not instructed [the Prophet] in poetry, nor is it meet for him; this is no less than a message and a Qur'an making things clear34 in Sura Ya. Sin., and says:
"... the mark of poetry is to adorn insignificant and dull facts with big and shining images and fancies, and make them attractive. Whereas the truths of the Qur'an are so great, elevated, shining and brilliant that compared to them even the greatest and most brilliant imaginings appear to be dull and insignificant."35
Another reason the Qur'an is not in verse is that its verses could not be contained within the poetic forms:
"Another reason the Qur'an of Miraculous Exposition is not in verse, despite the perfection of its word-order and orderedness and its expounding with its well-ordered styles the order and art of the book of the universe, is that by not entering under the restrictions of metre, each star of its verses can be a sort of centre to the most of the other verses, and be a brother to them, and each can form a connecting line with the verses within the sphere encompassing it in order to be a bond in the relationships which exist between them. It is as if each independent verse has an eye which looks to most of the other verses, and a face turned towards them."36
The Qur'an's eloquence is superior to all human eloquence, and it defeated the 7th century masters of Arab literature:
"From that age till now the Qur'an has demonstrated such eloquence that it caused Labid's daughter to remove from the walls of the Ka'ba the famous verses written in gold of the most celebrated poets called 'the Seven Hanging Poems,' and to declare while doing so: 'Beside the verses of the Qur'an these no longer have any value!'
"Also, when a bedouin poet heard the verse, Therefore expound openly what you are commanded 37 being recited, he bowed down in prostration. When asked if he had become a Muslim, he replied: 'No, I was prostrating before the eloquence of this verse.'
"Also, thousands of brilliant scholars and learned literary figures like the geniuses of the science of rhetoric, 'Abd al-Qahir Jurjani, Sakkaki, and Zamakhshari all reached the conclusion that, 'The Qur'an's eloquence is beyond man's power, he could not achieve it.'"38
2. The nature of poetry is to be a mirror to the external world, and to resemble nature and imitate it
Said Nursi said that the function of poetry is to "represent the laws and measures of the outside world."39 To do this is also the source of life of eloquence and the philosophy of rhetoric. He considers that the poet should read the book of the universe like a student and reflect the laws of creation:40
"Through comparison and allegory, and by way of circulation, and the disposal of fancy, it is to establish in spiritual matters and conduct, which are poetical, the laws of the outer realities. That is to say, like a mirror, it represents the rays of reality which are reflected from outside. It is as though with its imaginary art and verbal embellishments, it imitates and relates creation and nature."41
Aristotle was of the opinion that in general the art of poetry was tied to two fundamental aspects of human nature: "the compulsion to imitate," and "the pleasure" received from all the products of imitation.42
3. Poetry should reflect "sheer beauty"
Sheer beauty (h?sn-i m?cerred) are beauties like existence, life, and belief, which are not lost when their conditions disappear, but of themselves are beautiful and whose beauty is not dependent on other things. Beauty which becomes apparent through the measured combination of materials is not sheer beauty. Sheer beauty has no physical existence. Bediuzzaman says:
"Sheer beauty, the source of all beauty, is contained in perfect order. It is the garden of the flowers of eloquence known as subtle virtues and qualities."43
Sheer beauty gives shape and form to the allusions overlying the true meanings of poetry, and emerges from the equilibrium of the meanings intended by the Shari'a: "The true meaning should have a stamp. What defines the stamp is the sheer beauty born of the balance between the aims of the Shari'a."44
Said Nursi's view of sheer beauty opens up the horizons of pure poetry.
4. Imagination in poetry should be bound to reality
Said Nursi's views on this subject are within the perspective of the last four verses of Sura al-Shu'ara: And the poets -it is those straying in evil, who follow; -See you not that they wander distractedly in every valley? - And that they say what they practise not?- Except those who believe, work righteousness, engage much in the remembrance of God. And defend themselves only after they are unjustly attacked. And soon will the unjust assailants know what vicissitudes their affairs will take.45
Since it is not generally possible to restrain the power of imagination, it leads to false interpretations of things and events, and to deviation from the truth:
"For sure poetry is a valuable and pleasant means of expression, but because imagination predominates in it, it confuses reality, and changes the form of the truths. Sometimes imagination and reality change places. Since I was destined for future service of the All-Wise Qur'an, which is pure truth and reality, as an instance of Divine grace, Divine Determining did not open the door of poetry to me. An inner meaning of the verse We have not instructed [the Prophet] in poetry, nor is it meet for him looks to this."46
Possessing this dangerous quality, poetry can be held in balance only by not severing the relations between imagination and reality. Bediuzzaman illustrates this with the allegory of a seed and a tree: "It is essential that a grain of truth is found in every imagining."47
5. What is basic to poetry is not rhyme and metre, but inner harmony
Said Nursi considered the inner face of things and events rather than their externals, and directed attention from the periphery to the centre. At the beginning of his work Leme?t, he makes some very interesting observations. He describes those who forget the contents and pursue rhyme and metre as "sacrificing lucidness to rhyme" and "chipping away and filing the body to suit the clothes."
"In accordance the rule 'A man is hostile to what he does not know,' I have attached no importance to the rules of versification and rhyme, since I do not know them. I at no time wanted to change the form of reality in accordance with the wishes of versification as though sacrificing lucidness to rhyme. I have clothed the most exalted truths in a rumpled dress in this unversified, unrhymed piece. Firstly, I did not know any better and was only thinking of the meaning. Secondly, I wanted to demonstrate my criticism of those poets who chip away and file the body to suit the clothes. ... A hat may be without a tassel, and metre may be without rhyme, and verse without rules. I think that if the words and versification attract the attention through their art, they busy it with themselves. It is better to be at odds and ends in order not to distract attention from the meaning."48
These lines show that free verse is his aim, and advise that form should not be more attractive than content. Attention should rather be drawn to inner harmony: "It is the order of the meanings which afford a spiritual harmony to the songs of the nightingales."49
B. The poet
The poet is a nightingale captivated by the flowers in the gardens of creation. His songs are the garden of the flowers of eloquence, that is, "sheer beauty."
"As for sheer beauty, it is the garden of the flowers of eloquence known as subtle points and qualities. The flowers' garden are the songs of the nightingales called poets, which are manifested in the gardens of creation and worship the blooms."50
The poetic style of the Risale-i Nur should be benefited from in the teaching of Art, Aesthetics, and Turkish Language and Literature.
Bediuzzaman was a master of prose in an electric style. In conformity with the Qur'anic method, he wrote in prose. That is, he chose prose rather than poetry. To put it another way, he combined prose and poetry. Poetry itself may be seen in this light. Differently to the tradition of metre in Turkish poetry, a line of development which begins with 'm?stezad' and stretches to free verse, and makes its existence ever more strongly felt, is parallel to the Qur'anic style and the points which the Risale-i Nur makes. Said Nursi's approach should be borne in mind in the face of the view that poetry is fantasy or a superficial means of gratification, for it recommends avoiding extremes in either direction, and places importance on the sequence of the meanings.
Although Bediuzzaman was not a poet, he gave it a place in life and considered the part together with the whole. In his anthropocentric view of this world and the hereafter, the axis of belief and sincerity formed the spiritual dynamic of society. He always looked at the world of poetry from this angle.
* Assistant-Doçent MUHSIN KALKISIM
Dr. Muhsin Kalkisim was born in Trabzon in 1962, and attended the local primary and secondary schools. In 1984 he graduated from the Department of Turkish Language and Literature in the Karadeniz Technical University, where he subsequently continued his studies. He received his M.A. from Atat?rk University, Erzurum, with a thesis on the 'Tuhfet?'l-Harameyn of Nabi,' and in 1992 received his Ph.D. from Istanbul University with the thesis 'Seyh G?lib Divani.' Between 1993-5 he worked as an Assis.-Doçent in Kahramanmaras S?tç? Imam University, and at present teaches in the Dept. of Turkish Language and Literature in Harran University, Urfa.
1. Nursî, Bedi?zzaman Said, Mektûbat, Istanbul, Sinan Matbaasi 1958, 404 / Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Letters 1928-1932 [English trans.], Istanbul, S?zler Publications 1994, 434.
2. Mardin, Serif, Bedi?zzaman Said Nursî Olayi: T?rkiye'de Din ve Toplumsal Degisme [Trans: Metin Ç?lhaoglu], Istanbul, Iletisim Yayinlari 1992, 62, 63, 280.
3. Meriç, Cemil, Bu ?lke, Istanbul, Öt?ken Yayinlari 1979, 192.
4. Karakoç, Sezai, Isl?min Dirilisi, Istanbul, Dirilis Yayinevi 1975, 32.
5. Nursî, Bedi?zzaman Said, Lem'alar, Ankara, Dogus Matbaasi 1957, 303 / The Flashes Collection [English trans.], Istanbul, S?zler Publications 1995, 419.
6. Lem'alar, 215 / The Flashes Collection, 294.
7. Mardin, Serif, Bedi?zzaman Said Nursî Olayi, 279.
8. Lem'alar, 237 / The Flashes Collection, 322.
9. Mardin, Serif, Bedi?zzaman Said Nursî Olayi, 287.
10. Nursî, Bedi?zzaman Said, As?-yi Mûsa, Istanbul, Sinan Matbaasi 1958, 97-8.
11. Lem'alar, 109 / The Flashes Collection, 164.
12. Nursî, Bedi?zzaman Said, S?zler, Istanbul, Yeni Asya Nesriyat 1993, 42 / The Words [English trans.], Istanbul, S?zler Publications 1993, 49.
13. Meriç, Bu ?lke, 192.
14. S?zler, 208, 634 / The Words, 233; Mektûbat, 19 / Letters, 38; Barla Lahikasi, Istanbul, S?zler Yayinevi 1990, 178.
15. Mektûbat, 19 / Letters, 38.
16. S?zler, 188 / The Words, 222.
17. S?zler, 633.
18. S?zler, 635.
** The translation is not in rhyme. [Tr.]
19. S?zler, 677.
20. S?zler, 213.
21. Lem'alar, 209-10 / The Flashes Collection, 288-9.
22. Mektûbat, 246 / Letters, 267.
23. Mektûbat, 395 / Letters, 425.
24. Lem'alar, 160 / The Flashes Collection, 226.
25. Mektûbat, 76 / Letters, 96.
26. S?zler, 210 / The Words, 233.
27. Lem'alar, 160 / The Flashes Collection, 226.
28. Mektûbat, 76 / Letters, 96.
29. Qur'an, 36:69.
30. Canan, Ibrahim, K?t?b-? Sitte Muhtasari, Terc?me ve Sehri, Ankara, Akçag Yayinlari 1989, viii, 182.
31. Nursî, Bedi?zzaman Said, Muh?kemat, Istanbul, S?zler Yayinevi 1991, 77.
32. Barla Lahikasi, 178.
33. Nursî, Bedi?zzaman Said, Mesnevi-i Nûriye, Istanbul, Envar Nesriyat 1984, 190-1.
34. Qur'an, 36:69.
35. S?zler, 127 / The Words, 151.
36. S?zler, 127 / The Words, 151.
37. Qur'an, 15:94.
38. S?zler, 411 / The Words, 460.
39. Muh?kemat, 91.
40. Muh?kemat, 96.
41. Muh?kemat, 91.
42. Aristoteles, Poetika [Trans: Ismail Tunali], Istanbul, Remzi Yayinevi 1987, 16.
43. Muh?kemat, 77-8.
44. Muh?kemat, 23.
45. Qur'an, 26:224-7.
46. Barla Lahikasi, 178.
47. Muh?kemat, 81.
48. S?zler, 634-5.
49. Muh?kemat, 77-8.
50. Muh?kemat, 77-8.