Turkey’s prime minister has a poetry obsession. Barely a speech of his goes by without him quoting some.
Back in his conservative democratic days, his favorite political slogan was a line of medieval Sufi verse: “Yaradılanı severim, Yaradan’dan ötürü” (“I love the created out of love for the Creator”). It was Islamic mystical love dressed up in modern secular clothes. Today he prefers the more belligerent stance of Necip Fazıl Kısakürek, a mid-twentieth century poet and ideologist of a Turkish Islamic revival who dreamed of a generation of youngsters who would fight for “their religion . . . their hatred and their revenge.”
But we’re not just talking about snippets of poetry here: the prime minister quotes much longer passages, too. At his party conference last autumn, he regaled tens of thousands of onlookers with several stanzas of a very long poem by a contemporary poet. And on his return from a tour of North Africa this summer, met at the airport by supporters as police in cities across the country tear-gassed youngsters protesting his government, he recited a lengthy excerpt from a poem by the author of Turkey’s national anthem.
Why does he do it? One simple answer would be that it is just a sign of the high esteem in which poetry is held in Turkey. Ordinary Turks probably know more poetry than most Western arts graduates do. Turkey’s last prime minister, Bülent Ecevit, didn’t just quote poetry; he wrote it, too, as well as translating T.S. Eliot and Rabindranath Tagore into Turkish...Hey, I can quote old T.S., too:
O Lord, deliver me from the man of excellent intention and impure heart: for the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.