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Robert Elsie

Albanian Literature | Early Authors


Tiling of the Rustem Pasha Mosque in Istanbul, ca. 1560.

Tiling of the Rustem Pasha Mosque in Istanbul, ca. 1560.

Tiling of the Rustem Pasha Mosque in Istanbul, ca. 1560.



MESIHI of Prishtina


Mesihi of Prishtina (ca. 1470-1512), known in Turkish as Pristineli Mesihi, was one of the most original among the early Ottoman poets. He stemmed from Prishtina and, although we do not know for certain whether he was an Albanian or a Turk, we assume he must have lived in Turkey proper from an early age. Mesihi, or Messiah in English, was not only an exceptionally gifted poet but also a talented calligrapher and held a position as secretary to Khadim Ali Pasha during the reign of Sultan Bayazid II (r. 1481-1512). A pleasure-loving sehr oglani (city boy), as the biographer Ashik Çelebi called him, Mesihi could more readily be found in the taverns and pleasure gardens with his friends and lovers than at work. Though his hedonistic lifestyle may have impeded a career advancement, it produced what is generally regarded as some of the best Ottoman verse of the period. Much quoted is his Murabba'-i bahâr (Ode to Spring) which, after publication with a Latin translation in 1774 by Orientalist Sir William Jones (1746-1794), was to become the best known Turkish poem in Europe for a long time.

Less known than the 'Ode to Spring' was Messiah's Sehr-engîz (roughly: The Terror of the Town), which was soon became a prototype for a new literary genre in Ottoman verse. In 186 witty couplets he pays tribute to the charms and beauty of forty-six young men of Edirne (Adrianople). With its puns and ironic humour, it is considered a masterpiece of early sixteenth-century Turkish verse. Messiah confesses light-heartedly that the poem itself is a sin but he is confident that God will pardon him: "My wandering heart has broken into so many pieces, each of which is attached to one of those handsome lads."