Spotlight: Literature! (2)
Last time we talked about a literary figure in Azerbaijan we discussed Nizami Gəncəvi, a tower of literary might in Azerbaijani history. I also mentioned near the end of the post that my host brother, Miri, doesn’t consider Nizami a true Azerbaijani poet, but instead prefers Füzuli, who wrote his works in Azerbaijani Turkic, in addition to Persian and Arabic. Nizami can’t claim any Azeri-language works. Füzuli is that guy to the left, there atop that pedestal in Baku.
Miri’s contention holds it’s own contradictions, however. Füzuli was born in the late 1400s in what is known as Iraq today, near Karbala. While Azerbaijani was his mother tongue, he learned Arabic and Persian early in his education from his father. His Arabic pen name has a double meaning, first as something “impertinent, improper, unnecessary.” The second meaning comes from füzul, meaning “learning.”
Turning to his writings, Füzuli is known as a poet of love, only secondarily in the sense of Western romantic love, but more emphatically as the the idea of love as a projection of the essence of God. From his poems one gets the sense that he was a more pan-theistic thinker than we might approve of today. He writes, “All that is in the world is love, And knowledge is nothing but gossip…” echoing Sufi ideas of love that God is everything, and that everything exists as various manifestations of God.
Füzuli also wrote his own version of Leyla and Mejnun, the Arabic classic that also features a version by Nizami. His story particularly focuses on the pain of Mejnun. He writes to convey that Mejnun’s pain, coming from his separation from Leyla, is a true expression of the essence of love. In Füzuli’s works, you can see that he views this suffering of love as something that brings one closer to an Islamic depiction of God as the Real. This suffering gives the afflicted a metaphysically real experience, making them more in touch with God.
Today, you can find a statue of Füzuli hanging out in Baku. And you can also find on the map a region and town named after Füzuli. He is particularly revered because of his ability to write deftly in multiple languages. He also had a sharp tongue in his works, including one titled Hashish and Wine, referring to the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II as hashish and the Safavid Shah Ismail I to the much-preferred wine. Interestingly, 30 years after writing that bit, the Ottomans conquered the Baghdad region where Füzuli lived. He then became a court poet under the Ottoman system.
I’m going to bring this back to Miri’s contention, however, that Füzuli is the true Azerbaijani poet. Füzuli wrote in Azerbaijani and Nizami wrote in Persian. Yet, Füzuli lived his entire life Karbala, an-Najaf, and Baghdad, all in today’s Iraq, and under Ottoman and Persian rule. Nizami, however, lived almost entirely under Persian rule, but also lived his entire life in a city that is now part of Azerbaijan. The concept of Azerbaijan as it is today didn’t even exist at the times they lived. I’m going to argue that it’s a toss-up as to whoever is the true Azerbaijani poet.