Politics & Poetics: Words & Symbols in Poetry

Coming to Ankara as a Fulbright lecturer, I see examples of cross-fertilization moving Eastward. The drift is not only in agriculture, politics, and industry, where the borrowing is im- mense. I raise my eyes to the advertisements along Ataturk Bulvan and see Trenqkot (the c with cedilla is pronounced ch). The beauty parlor advertises a kuafor. I take my departure for Istanbul from the Tren Istasyon or Gar. I ride in the Wagon Lit. Arriving in Haydarpasa on the Asiatic bank of the Bosphorus, I cross to Avrupa on the vapur. I take a taksi or autobus to my otel or pansyon . The twentieth century, like the middle ages in England, is a time for amalgamation of races. Poetry and politics are two faces for the world movement from nationalism toward inter- nationalism. If man does not lose his sanity and blow himself to smithereens, it is only a matter of time before every lan- guage will be Esperanto, and every government will be an ex- tension of the United Nations. Such a grandiose, sentimental, romantic notion may of course have to yield to the realities of a confrontation between Israeli and Arabs, Czechoslovakians and Muscovites, American patriots and Soviet patriots. We will be lucky, of course, to survive. Poets are always searching for words and symbols that sink deep into the living texture of a culture, and at the same time have the widest extension of meaning-- and breadth. A foreign language offers new resources. An American coming to Turkey brings with him his familiar American language with its roots in Western culture, and after his ears and eyes get used to ·new phonetics and new spellings, he begins to fall under the spell of an unfamiliar Turkish language, with roots in Eastern culture. A poem is a strategic ground where East and West can interpenetrate, enriching, explaining, magnifying each other. For example, under the impact of my first visit to Istanbul seven years ago, I wrote a rather light and whimsical poem which used symbols derived from the messianic religious tra- ditions of the Orient. In the poem, key symbols are the fish, the fisher (or salesman, or messiah), and the congregation (or purchaser, or crowd, or disciple). Not being particularly pious, I felt no outraged sensibilities from translating these symbols into the description of an Uskudar street pedlar on the east bank of the Bosphorus:


The Middle East is today, as ever in the past, one of the great crossroads of the world. Anyone interested in language, for example anyone interested in poetry, finds Turkey a rich resource for looking at the way one language borrows from another. The kind of internationalizing that occurs on the level of commerce and politics occurs also on the level of poetic language and symbols. In Turkey, for thousands of years the cross-fertilization has been working both ways -- from East to West, from West to East. In "The Waste Land," T.S.Eliot illustrated how the re- ligious words and symbols of Western Civilization came from the Orient. A westerner living in Turkey is struck immediately with the borrowing of basic myth-making words. "Adam," the generic name for mankind, is still the Turkish word for "man." "Ev-e" (Eve) means "to the house," informing womankind where she ought to go, if she knows her rightful place. Word and symbol borrowing from the East saturates English and American literature. Marlowe made Tamurlane a symbol for the driving spirit of Renaissance Man; as an heir of\ the prejudices underlying the anti-Moslem crusades, he looked on Sultan Beyazit as a ridiculous anti-hero. In Vathek, William Beckford translated the eighteenth century sentimental gothic novel into Eastern symbols. Coleridge, from his reading in Eastern literature, was inspired with the symbols for Kubla Khan. Thoreau looked to the East for his politics of civil dis- obedience, a politics which the East borrowed back.

All the cats on the street obey the cry: Taze bal1k uouz! Their bodies arch, tails elevate erect as masts, they rub against whatever handy post, then sail into the street to meet the cry: Tanesi bir lira! The vendor sells and guts a fish in the street, the pussies snarl and purr. Every fishman trails his congregation, sleek, scrawny, lank, obese, they follow on the prowl or wait with slitted eyes, tomcats with butchered jaws, tabbies coy as odalisks; out of alleys and parlors the ardent apostles troop c!ld form a host behind their fragrant messiah. Taze ba11k ucuz! - fresh fish cheap

Lyle Glazier has been teaching in the English department of SUNYAB since 1947. His poetry has been published in The New Yorker, Partisan Review, Beloit Review and Golden Horn. He has published four books of poetry: Orchard Park and Istanbul (1965); You Two (1969); The Dervishes (1971) and VD (Voices of the Dead,1971 )). He is currently teaching coorses in Melville and James, and Black Literature. This is the first time that Politics & Poetics has appeared in its entirety-


Tanesi bir lira - one lira apiece

• ) '

(cont'd. on page 25)



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