Written by Kristof D'hulster
In the garden of virtue, there once was a rosebush,
who held versification’s art in the highest esteem (…)
a bud in the rose garden of grace,
charm’s sweet-scented hyacinth.
My heart was wounded by his glance;
a wound it had, but no way to cure it.
A cypress he was, its crown high, on love’s green meadow,
a rosebush — not yet fully grown — in love’s rose garden,
a young seedling tree, sprouting in the garden of virtue,
the cypress on the meadow, the ante-room of coquetry.
Given his nature, flowing as easily as pearls well-arranged,
the love I felt for him, cherished within, was a painful torture.
No sooner had that fairy come to covet poetry
than he drove me crazy, both in heart and soul.
As he longed to acquire perfection,
and to turn his words into licit magic,
one day, that freshly matured youth said to me:
“Would you care to explain to me poetry’s art,
in order for my verses, like strung pearls,
to go from tongue to tongue world-wide?”
As to expect, the late 18th-century Ottoman poet Ḥasan-i Yāver succumbed to this moving plea of the “rosebush in the garden of virtue”, and set to work, the result of his labours being Poetry’s Artistry. In this mathnawī — succinct yet succulent — Ḥasan purportedly offers some hands-on advice for “the cypress in his meadow” and for all those others who may have been inspired by Fużūlī’s CV of Licit Magic Working Paper 1 and have not been disheartened by the demanding conditions of true poetry as listed by Jāmī in Working Paper 3.
As a DIY on how to compose poetry, Poetry’s Artistry clearly falls short. Preaching to the choir, Ḥasan deals merely with a selection of figures and genres, presenting these in their barest outlines only. Taking his addressee by the hand on “the thoroughfare that leads to poetry”, Ḥasan deals with tashbīh, jinās, kināya, taḍādd, taḍmīn, ilmām, iltifāt, tardīd, ishtibāh, tawriya, īhām, takhmīs, tarkīb-band, and much more in quick succession, instructing the novice on the way on how to compare and suggest, pun and puzzle, doubt and reject, paraphrase and translate. However, it should be noted that Ḥasan has included some less ubiquitous items as well, such as the rhetorical figures of makhlaṣ-parvarī and taʿlīq al-muḥāl. In particular Ḥasan’s discussion of how to successfully combine two hemistiches into a distich — in such a way that “these constitute a single pith, as a pistachio or almond” — appears to be of rare occurrence. Nonetheless, rather than a DIY, a more fruitful way to engage with Poetry’s Artistry is to think of it as a metapoem, that is, a poem that combines some of the technicalities of what poetics are with a more reflexive turn on what poetry and poets ought to be.
Do you, just as Ḥasan’s “rosebush”, want to familiarize yourself with the stock motifs of the ghazal? Or do you need to be reminded that the lover’s eyebrows ought to be curved, not straight, that nightingales ought to weep and moths ought to burn, and that the gentle zephyr is ghazal code for news? If so, you’ll find what you seek in Poetry’s Artistry! Perhaps no better way to conclude this invitation to read and enjoy Poetry’s Artistry than for me to paraphrase and translate — as it happens, two rhetorical figures dealt with by Ḥasan — the work’s concluding lines:
Having thus translated versification’s art,
the fruits of my labour I now offer as a gift.
As every wise man can share in all that it points out,
if vigilant, you too will find therein what you seek.
I’ve given you this fresh work as a present from my heart,
now it’s your turn to give my words a place in your heart.
It is a gem of love, so make it your ear’s earring,
a labour of love, so don’t you toss it in the desert!
This translation, O most majestic sovereign, has yielded
this working paper as a trace left by the piteous Kristof.
Download the full file here.