On His Roots: Asaf Halet Çelebi

Written by Hüseyin Su

What was it about him that made him different, unique and new within Turkish literature during the Republican era and continues to make him a personality still to be explored 57 years after his death?

Many great Turkish poets, who had raised the dust during their eras and earned distinction, fame and popularity as a poet, no longer exist with their poems or writings on poetry; and those who continue to exist are individuals like the poet, Asaf Halet Çelebi. The poems of Çelebi never endured an embolism, and it seems that it never will be exposed to any such problem. Today- 57 years after the death of Asaf Halet –
those who speak, argue and write on his poetry, poems, and thoughts on history, culture, religion, thoughts, civilisation, the problem of the East and West, are able to comprehend just how the vessels of his poetry and thought are open and how unerring and humanitarian they were. This is surely influenced by the fact that the power of terrorism in its attempts of changing history, society and civilisation
are no longer easy as it used to be a century ago. The recovered memory now reminds one of the many things belonging to his own world; now, he remembers his own home, motherland and wants to return and live within his own world. The poems, writings and life of Asaf Halet take the stage today as a reminder. His genetic roots, the family atmosphere during his childhood years that would
forever shape and guide his whole life, the education he attained from such a young age, the religious lodges his path crossed, the hands of the sheiks that caressed the poet’s head, the eyes that met his own eyes as well as all of the tendenc within his personality and the conditions over time had influenced the formation of his conscious, inclinations and choices… Surely, the 12 books that stand before us today are some of the reasons that illustrate the character of the Poet and Author, Asaf Halet Çelebi. What is crucial, contrary to everything
else, is the ability to establish a life while carrying the responsibility that has come along from all of the humanitarian, social, cultural and genetic contributions, and to be able to live life with our roots; is it not this that carries forth man and his actions to the future?
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It is possible to understand that no one was able to position him within a peculiar social or political world with the searching, drifting and fears that he had undergone since his initial youthful days up until his death. In affirmation of Tanpınar’s words of “geography is fate”, he was a figure, who had been in search of the footsteps of a fate – from Istanbul to India and China – a fate in search of continents, the past,
present and future of these continents, while reading the stories of these places and, in the process, resurrecting his faith. At the same time, Asaf Halet Çelebi also shares the same fate as of the intellectuals and artists of his era: He has always had a connection with the world around him that he always was interested in and longed for, just like the struggles of a broken branch struggling to live loyal to its own roots and flourish thereon. Thinking and living like a broken branch was not only the fate of Asaf Halet but also the fate of the East, from Istanbul to China and India, where he wondered about with his poems and writings: just like in Dariush Shayegan’s words… The fate of The Wounded Conscious… Is it not true that we always feel the need to never rid ourselves of the genes we are burdened with despite the fact that we want to and that the future also desires to see us shoulder that burden, whether it be semi-consciously or with a wounded
conscious? No one has ever been able to rip this feeling from within themselves; there have been many who perhaps wanted to but no one has been successful in doing so. This state has resulted in a form of a heart spasm or constipation of sensitivity with
certain intellects, artists and politicians, leading to the suicide of thought and sense of attachment. Due to the genetic accountability that never let go of Asaf Halet, it will not be incorrect to state that it was through such cultural splittings that he was able to rid himself from the seige of his era and make it up till today; in fact, this statement is the answer to many questions as well. There are two great continents of the atlas of thought and sensitivity within Asaf Halet’s poems and writings: Sufism and Istanbul… His interest in India, China, Buddhism and Christianity, which had begun verbally during his childhood, and his complete comprehension of sufi thoughts and sensitivity through reading and writing, is within the area of scope of his great description.
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This is not just peculiar to Asaf Halet, but can also be observed within the history of Islamic sufi thought: It encompasses its past and future as a mature system of faith and thought. His passion for Istanbul, on the other hand, is an incentive to defend the capital city: “I live like a fish out of water once I am out of Istanbul. I have observed China and Machin, Persia and Europe from the angle of Istanbul. I have travelled and still travel those places while I am still in Istanbul.” Whether it be during his own era or even today, he has always been nicknamed The Last Ottoman, The Last Vizier Asaf,
The Istanbulian Gentleman. He is almost like the fallen vizier of the fallen capital… Today he is resurrected with the spirit and sensitivity that he had always been in search of and had drawn attention to. With the foundational influences like history, geography, culture and religion, that has affected his poems and world of thought, we ought not to turn a blind eye to the foresight of his comprehension of the nation that has been kneaded with these factors. In this regard, I believe it is sufficient to understand a few of his sentences: “I address the society that gives more importance to meaning than shape, to the unconscious than the conscious, that chooses pure literature than common literature. The treasures are hidden within our unconscious.”

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Hüseyin Su

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