Across the River: On the Poetry of Mak Dizdar

Across the River: On the Poetry of Mak Dizdar

Rusmir Mahmutćehajić
Translated by Saba Risaluddin
with poetry translations by Francis R. Jones
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Across the River: On the Poetry of Mak Dizdar
    Book Description:

    The work of Mehmedalija MakDizdar (1917-71) is the cornerstone of modern Bosnian literature. During the Second World War he was a member of the anti-fascist Partisans. After the war, he became prominent in Bosnian cultural life and eventually President of the Writers' Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina. His work blends influences from Bosnian Christian culture, Islamic mysticism, and the cultural remains of medieval Bosnia, especially its stone tombstones.This book falls into two parts. The first is an essay on Dizdar's major poetry book Stone Sleeper. It argues that in his poetry Dizdar turns to spiritual regions and resources that had been suppressed during the time of communism. From the very outset, Stone Sleeper was recognized as a liberatrion from the ideological disciplines of communism, nationalism, and scientism. Few, however, were able fully to understand the traditional content of its post-traditional form. In this part, Rusmir Mahmutcehajic introduces readers to the traditional substance of Stone Sleeper, in the context of what he calls perennial philosophy.From that perspective, prophecy, being the source of perennial wisdom, is set above poetry. In some poetry, however, prophetic wisdom and poetic pronouncement exist inseparably. Stone Sleeper is an example of that mutual co-existence.In the second part, the author traces, in a discussion of Dizdar's mystically influenced poem Blue River,the perennial questions of how we are to discover or realize the human self in relation to God as Creator.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4741-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Part I. The Text beyond the Text:: Stone Sleeper (Kameni spavač) in the Light of the Perennial Philosophy
    • Prologue
      (pp. 3-6)

      Man is will, love, and knowledge, but always in a unique, albeit constantly changing self. Though will, love, and knowledge in the self are defined by the things of the outside world, it is in the self that they have their initial source and ultimate end. That they are so split between our inner and our outer worlds begs the question: What is the source of will, love, and knowledge?

      Though the question has infinite answers, none ends our quest for answers. The end of the quest would mean the end of man. Moreover, all these answers lie between two...

    • 1. The Poet
      (pp. 7-14)

      Mehmed Alija “Mak” Dizdar, the most famous Bosnian poet of his age, was born in 1917 in Stolac, a town in the heart of Hum, the southern province of Bosnia.

      Few of Dizdar’s readers know him as Mehmed, the first name given him by his father, Muharem, and his mother, Nezira, née Babović. Rather, they know him by his pseudonym of Mak, or Poppy, the code name he used as a member of the antifascist movement during World War II. (Mak’s mother and his sister, Refika, were killed in 1945 in the Jasenovac concentration camp—the Nazis’ way of taking...

    • 2. Roads
      (pp. 15-20)

      The eternal Unity of Truth has been revealed at different times through different prophets. The heavens, the earth, and all that lies between them are Its stage. The incalculable multitude of Its facets and possibilities has been revealed throughout existence, as either descent from or the confirmation of Unity. Just as Unity is the beginning and end of all worlds, so it is the beginning and end of all human individuality. Human individuality comprehends all knowledge of the heavens, the earth, and all that lies between them. It may be forgotten or lost, but never destroyed. All the worlds are...

    • 3. The Word
      (pp. 21-28)

      If our center is uncreated and inviolable and has its own “road map,” what then is the nature of the sacred science contained in the beliefs of thekrstjaniand in Dizdar’s work?

      To answer that question, one must focus on the termsacred. What is the sacred?

      The sacred is the incommensurable, the transcendent, hidden within a fragile form belonging to this world; it has its own precise rules, its terrible aspects, and its merciful qualities; moreover, any violation of the sacred, even in art, has incalculable repercussions. Intrinsically the sacred is inviolable, and so much so that any...

    • 4. Man
      (pp. 29-34)

      Viewed formally, Mak Dizdar’s poetry is post-traditional, but as an artistic revelation it is imbued with perennial wisdom as spoken within the enduring Bosnian tradition. This is why the newly awakened sleepers’ voices cannot be understood outside of traditional wisdom.

      Kameni spavačcontains poems that relate in various ways to the waking, dreams, and death of the people associated with thestećci—their owners, the stonemasons who shaped them, and their scribes. However different the voices on either side of these texts, it is through them that the Poet as speaker and writer spans the centuries, establishing cold, passive stoniness...

    • 5. Heaven
      (pp. 35-42)

      Man is like a barrier between two seas, the supraindividual world of the archetypes and the world of phenomena, or a bridge between them, and so himself has two sides. The first is not contingent on individuality or on language, while the second takes on particular individuality and a particular language. The fact that the former is not contingent on the latter does not mean that the reverse holds true. Whatsoever has form and shape is fully contingent on the Invisible. This barrier or bridge is everywhere to be seen in the multiplicity of names and forms, but never so...

    • 6. Earth
      (pp. 43-49)

      The yearning to return, the longing for realization in the primal potential of the human self that can be heard in the Sleeper’s speech, is denoted by the gate to the City of Knowledge. Our presence on the earthly level is manifested by the City, which enables us to distinguish the marketplace from the vineyard—earth from heaven; and between them is a strait gate:

      Here just guests we stand out still

      Although we should have crossed into a ring of light

      And passed at last through a strait gate in order to return

      Out of this naked body into...

    • 7. The City
      (pp. 50-56)

      To discover the mystery of the Bosnian Sleeper and reveal it in a discourse that transcends forgetfulness and confusion, the Sleeper reminds us of the House of Peace. Every house in this world is merely a sign of the House of Peace, toward which lead all human roads of return. Thedjedor grandfather, who is the spiritual elder—good, blessed, and holy—points to the House, recalling why and where it is on our road back to our primal self:

      Our Grandfathers’ House was built to last

      In our hearts its strength

      Was meant to stand


      “House in...

    • 8. The Praised
      (pp. 57-64)

      The phenomena on the outer horizons and in the self are only signs of the One, refracted through Intellect, or the Pillar of the Sun. Bearing witness to this enables the witnesser to turn to the strait gate of which the Anointed says:

      Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat. Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.¹

      The same was said by the Almighty...

    • 9. The House
      (pp. 65-71)

      In his Word on earth, the Sleeper speaks of Milé, that Bosnian place whose name may meanmilost(mercy) ormir(peace). Whenever we find ourselves facing beauty, it appears to us first as peace and mercy. In this encounter, we first relax and then tense in an impulse toward what has appeared in beauty and mercy. Both beauty and mercy continually reveal themselves to us, just as they continually vanish. We wish to return to them and to have them as our strength, but are they that nature of ours of which the things of this world are there...

    • 10. Judgment
      (pp. 72-78)

      Every human self spans the uttermost depths and the sublimest heights, and as long as the self is aware of itself, this split persists. No self can end up in the uttermost depths, for the uttermost depths are simply nothing.

      However close the self comes to nullity, it has within it an indestructible essence; but in drawing close to nullity, the self sinks into darkness.

      There remains the ascent into Illumination as the opposite of the descent into darkness. Whatever stage the self attains, there is darkness beneath it and Light above. Each of its states is darker than the...

    • 11. I and You
      (pp. 79-85)

      The Stone Sleeper’s poetic discourse begins by delineating the relationship between “I” and “you” in which the former corresponds to interiority and defence, and the latter to exteriority and attack. The “I” resists this exterior, threatening “you,” as darkness and evil and as forgetting, rejection, and repulsion. This resistance of the I-self to the you-self is neither sermonizing nor a campaign by one against the other; the discourse of the I-self to the you-self is self-defence on the journey to self-discovery. The I-self does not name its faith on that journey, for it knows how pitifully limited is all its...

    • 12. Incompleteness
      (pp. 86-93)

      Kameni spavačwas already in print when the poet wrote another, separate poem entitled “Modra rijeka” (Blue River), and it met with much the same reception. Indeed, many people felt that it belonged withKameni spavačand suggested that it be included in it. However, the book with its five sections already formed a whole and there was no room for additions. Its fifth and final section is the poem “Message,” in which the Sleeper defines himself by denying that his happiness depends on any outward condition or that he depends on any external will or power, so liberating himself...

    • 13. Message
      (pp. 94-100)

      Allstećciknown and unknown, individually and collectively throughout the land of Bosnia, those with images and epitaphs and those without—are all signs of the Stone Sleeper. In Dizdar’s poetic revelation, their cold passivity over the graves of our remoteBošnjanforbears is transformed into the Sleeper’s discourse on the uncreated and uncreatable Self. This discourse is a message.

      The Sleeper’s utterances lead the listener or reader to “Message”—the seemingly unfinished, long final poem ofKameni spavač. Although it contains the voices of many different speakers, the speaker’s “I” and the listener’s “you” are fully distinct. Addressing that...

    • Epilogue
      (pp. 101-104)

      The invisible and higher appears through the earth, the heavens, and all that is in them as the visible and lower. So it is with man, whose entire inner self is split into an invisible and a visible side. Existence as a whole is our external image, while we in turn reflect the external world. Both are revelations structured so as to embrace the sequence from highest to lowest. This array is, in fact, the duality of visible-invisible, earth-heaven, and body-Spirit. Every duality manifests Unity as its principle.

      We gain knowledge from external sources, from our parents and those who...

  5. Part II. Across Water:: A Message on Realization
    • Prologue
      (pp. 107-111)

      It is important for people in this day and age to know how they differ from their ancestors. To most of us, the principal difference is that we now have access to machines and computers, to travel and communications, and to skills and building techniques that were not available in the past.

      This change has banished neither death nor the question of the meaning of the world and of human existence within it and may well be less significant than the majority thinks it. The meaning of life and of human life in particular cannot be considered without taking the...

    • 1. Introduction
      (pp. 112-116)

      In 1969 Mak Dizdar¹ was named Golden Laureate of the Struga Poetry Evenings, the internationally acclaimed poetry festival held annually in Struga, in Macedonia, for his “Modra rijeka” (Blue River).² This poem lent its title to a volume of poetry published in 1971 and is a continuation of the poetic discourse Dizdar began so momentously withKameni spavač(Stone Sleeper) and which forms the basis of his reputation as a poet. To be a poet is to be caught between two extremes, and, as a result, talk of poets and poetry is invariably about these extremes, or inclinations toward one...

    • 2. Nobody Knows
      (pp. 117-121)

      Absolute obscurity is such that it cannot even be known to itself—for if it were, it would not be absolute. But if it is absolute, can it be what it is without disclosing itself to itself? The absolute invariably demands both obscurity and disclosure, dissimilarity and similarity; it cannot be limited by its obscurity nor disallowed by its disclosure.

      When the poet says, “Where it might flow nobody knows,” he is saying that obscurity is absolute and that “there is naught” like the Being that substantiates this.¹ And with the words, “not much is known but this we know,”...

    • 3. Beyond the Hills
      (pp. 122-127)

      All that exists, both as a whole and in all its individual diversity, comes into being in a great movement out of nonexistence—a movement brought about by God’s will. And since God is Truth, all that exists is with Truth. Everything in the inner and outer realms of the self manifests Truth. Without that movement, things manifest would have remained in Peace, in nonexistence. Peace is absolute mercy, and hence love calls for movement or existence to make itself known, as the Messenger said when he uttered the words of God: “I am a Treasure, and I love to...

    • 4. From Noon to Night
      (pp. 128-133)

      Our ascent begins at the lowest level, the level to which the fall reduced humankind when we lost the sublime height on which we were created. As a result, we experienced separation and severance as suffering and death, pain and bitterness. We were reduced to this final state by the fall caused by the desire to have Unity without multiplicity. This is why Adam was expelled, banished through all of multiplicity to the lowest place of prostration, where he was alone, beyond all things. The desire to have Unity without multiplicity was disclosed to him as equating the self with...

    • 5. Across the Haws
      (pp. 134-139)

      How is the human self shaped in which so little is known? Jesus, the Anointed, Son of Mary, said: “Thou knowest it, knowing what is within my self, and I know not what is within Thy Self.”¹ In so saying, he was acknowledging that he knew God only in part, that God was “little known” to him.

      Jesus is thus with God and is God’s Word and His Spirit,² even though he was a man. So it was, too, with Muhammad, the Praised. After Muhammad was transported from the Inviolable to the Further Place of Annihilation, only some of His...

    • 6. Beyond All Mind
      (pp. 140-145)

      We cannot be in a state of certainty on our return journey to our primal perfection, the path of discovery of our undivided selves, now hidden from us by the fall. Our every state is contingent. The covenant with God is the relationship between the faithful and the Faithful.

      But we are finite beings: our self is never the same as the Self, and however close we may be to God, this difference can never be surmounted. We are thus, in every state of the self, between darkness and Light, evil and Good, errancy and Peace. This in-between existence also...

    • 7. Down There Below
      (pp. 146-151)

      The signs in the outer realms speak of God; they are the gates of heaven. When we reject them, heaven closes against us: “Those that cry lies to Our signs and wax proud against them the gates of heaven shall not be opened to them.”¹

      The unattainability of the heights of heaven, manifested in the azure, spins us around toward the depths. The heavenly entirety is denoted by light; the plenitude of light, being only itself, illumines that which it is not. Whatever receives the light becomes illumined and gives off what it has received.

      After the fall, we are...

    • 8. From Depth to Depth
      (pp. 152-157)

      Our view of things is a view from the earth. No matter how high we climb to breach the vault of the heavens, all that remains to us is the mountain heights. It is only along their steep slopes that we can leave the valley behind and ascend to the summit. But our bodies resist the ascent, resist reaching the summit; they want to descend into the vale from which the higher levels of the self would flee. Our struggle against the standard that defines us at each level generates tension, which inhibits us from relaxing and collecting ourselves. The...

    • 9. To Where The Cock-Crow Is Not Heard
      (pp. 158-163)

      No matter how deeply we penetrate into them or ascend the ladder of their meanings through the levels of existence, neither form nor sign can satisfy us. We may see an angel in every cock crow, for as the Messenger said: “When you hear the crowing of cocks, ask for God’s Blessings for it has seen an angel. And when you hear the braying of donkeys, seek Refuge with God from Satan for their braying indicates that they have seen a devil.”¹

      We may look with the eye of a cockerel at that being of light; but this is not...

    • 10. From Good to Bad
      (pp. 164-170)

      There is a tradition that the Messenger said: “God first created Intellect.”¹ Another is that he said: “The first thing God created was the Pen. Then He said, ‘Write what will be until the Day of Resurrection.’”²

      These two traditions or sayings appear to differ, but it is only in our badness and madness that we see them in this way. Whenever we assume that the god we know is God, our inner self adopts it as supreme, above all else that is; and thus we conceal the Self from ourselves. However, in this we are fettered and more: in...

    • 11. Wide and Deep
      (pp. 171-176)

      Speech, too, is foam on the River of Essence; to talk of It is to confirm of Its ineffability. Essence confirms and discloses God as the One and Only. “God warns you that you beware of Him.”¹ Elaborating on this warning, the Shaikh al-Akbar said:

      In respect of Itself the Essence has no name, since It is not the locus of effects, nor is It known by anyone. There is no name to denote It without relationship, nor with any assurance. For names act to make known and to distinguish, but this door [to knowledge of the Essence] is forbidden...

    • 12. A Hundred Winters
      (pp. 177-182)

      We are situated in time. The blade of existence that never evades the hour is revealed in that “being” in time. Our reality is in that eternal moment at which existence, ever in flux, flows in as incessant manifestation and simultaneously flows out again. The blade of time is crueler than the cutting edge of a sword. Everything remains in it, everything flees to it and from it.

      Our “now” differentiates our self into its various directions—up and down, right and left, forward and back. In every one of our states, which is “now” in a specific place, we...

    • 13. About Its Length
      (pp. 183-188)

      If we want to travel up the river, we must pray: “Guide us in the upward path, the path of those whom Thou has blessed, not of those against whom Thou art wrathful, nor of those who are astray.”¹

      This return along the River entails overcoming everything we experienced in the fall. The return is the upward path, the opposite of the path leading downwards. We are both Spirit and flesh. When they are understood and realized in Unity, they clearly reveal that they are the image of the heavens and the earth. This is why one can say that...

    • 14. A Dark Blue River
      (pp. 189-193)

      God is; and He is in every present instant, in the direction of all who pray, and in every opinion of Him. But we change from one instant to the next. This is whyqalb, the Arabic word for the heart, the deepest or highest center of humanity, derives from the verbal root meaning to turn around, to invert, to change, to transmute.

      All that reaches the center is turned around, obverse to reverse and reverse to obverse. Nothing in that place is worthy of persistence. Thus a place is also a nonplace where time is nontime and duration is...

    • 15. We Need to Cross
      (pp. 194-199)

      The six directions from the human heart—up and down, right and left, front and back, proper to all of us in the departure toward infinity and the return to Unity or absolute nearness—correspond to this incomplete poetic narrative of twelve couplets. This is our human potential. Wherever we are, we are far from God, but God is infinitely close to us. To recognize His Unity is to admit that we are fallen, which means we have the potential to return. And to admit our postlapsarian condition is to know of the Divine message: “O men, you are the...

    • Epilogue: The Perfect Man
      (pp. 200-204)

      Absolute Essence is Unity, which is plurality in Its manifestation. It cannot be compared with anything and is like all created things. Its complete manifestation is the Perfect Man in whom is the sum of all the Divine Names. Just as God is perfect in His Essence and through His Names, so the good display human perfection through their essential reality, as a form of the name God, and through their fortuitous manifestations, as the outward revelation of all God’s individual Names in given circumstances.

      Each human life begins as an insignificant seed, from which the body is formed; and...

  6. Annexes
  7. Notes
    (pp. 217-240)
  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 241-246)
  9. Index
    (pp. 247-254)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 255-256)