The Fisherman of Halikarnas
on Neyzen Tevfik
He was a dark and desiccated lad, rendered
swarthy in the torrid air of Bodrum that scarcely heard of
shade. His name was Tevfik. He would run barefoot along the
soft beaches caressed by the Arsipel making the water ring out
as he drew his toy boat attached by a cord to the end of an
oar up and down the crescent-shaped arc of the harbor. The
beach was lined with the leaf-thatched bowers of coffee-houses
to which customers would repair and sit on straw mats while
they sipped their coffee and gazed out stolidly, lost in the
vacant horizon between Karaada and Istanköy.
The customers greeted a stranger passing before
the cafes and they offered him a cup. From his pocket, the
stranger drew out a long reed-flute. He made it sing. When he
heard the warbling flute, young Tevfik halted. The twittering
sounds of the other boys who had been running along with him
dragging their own boats disappeared into the distance. Tevfik
dropped onto the sand. His eyes shut, he listened with the ear
of his soul. The darkness behind his closed eyes seemed to
pale and he could vaguely make out his toy boat. Its masts
stretched slowly into the sky and sheet upon sheet of sail
unfurled. The voice of the flute was creating brand- new
worlds. The boy breathed deeply, burning with a longing to set
sail. His soul begged to set out and fill his breast to
overflowing with freedom. Just then a shadow appeared before
him. To the shadow the boy said "Who are you?" "I am your
fate" the stranger replied. "And the helmsman of that caique."
"Where would you go?" the boy asked. "To the
unknown" said the enigma.
"And what fare will you demand of those who
board your ship?" young Tevfik asked in his innocence. The man
replied: "I shall demand that they be utterly themselves."
"And who are your passengers?"
"Those who will sacrifice everything for the
sake of a nothing."
"Where will you be taking them?"
"To that part of every man that is alone. Nay,
to an unknown deeper even than that."
"Is the way there easy?"
"There's nothing more difficult. But there is
nothing that those who travel that road love more excepting
only their journey through this world."
Young Tevfik continued to ply his questions.
"How do you know when you've gotten there?"
"When I see the distance in their eyes, I know."
"Well if you don't charge a fare or anything,
how do you make money? I haven't got any myself."
"Our journey is not to make money."
As he said this, there was an irresistible
summons in the helmsman's voice. Joyfully the boy boarded the
caique. The flute in the bower-sheltered cafe was shrieking
The waters beneath the vessel seemed to
dissolve. The whispering of the sea faded away into the
distance below and was gone leaving nothing but silence to be
heard-a silence that seemed to reverberate. Suspended, the
caique sailed through a void. Suddenly the flute's voice
reverted to bass and just as abruptly dark shapes began
quivering and shaking as if they were alive. The peals of
their thunder resembled a cascade of huge mountains being
overthrown. Like an avalanche the darknesses collapsed. A
luminescence resembling moonlight awoke in the void and spread
like ripples in every direction. In that sweet light, the boy
could see himself again at last. There was no caique beneath
him nor gunnel beside him; nor was there any mast, nor helm,
nor helmsman. There was nothing: nothing but himself.
The boy looked at the trees. Way in the distance
below he could make out a huge, gushing waterfall. Moonbeams
striking the vapor smoking high above the fall had created a
rainbow. It seemed to the boy as if he were standing upon it,
but somehow he was not quite sure whether the man-child known
as "Tevfik" was himself, or whether he was the rainbow arcing
there, or the waking luminescence, or the splashing waterfall,
or whether he was all of them all at once. One thing he did
know however: his toy boat had set out on a voyage from which
there was no return and that henceforth, he and the reed-flute
would never be parted.
The flute's voice paled and faded into a melody
that called from somewhere deep in his soul. The boy felt a
coolness on his brow. Laurel leaves springing from his own
soil, from his own water, from his own sun had formed a wreath
and like a pair of lips encircled and kissed his brow,
crowning him with the seal of an artist as pure and as
innocent as light. The boy brought his hand to his forehead.
In the touch of the fresh leaves was the coolness of the
moonlight, of the rainbow, of the splashing waterfall.
In the bowered cafe the sound of the flute had
now ceased. Standing exhausted on the sand, the boy's hands
hung down, his head collapsed forward against his chest. And
yet he seemed to be glowing. The toy boat floated on its side
in the water. The boy raced off towards the Tepecik side of
the bay. Among the reed-beds there he made himself a flute. He
struggled with it. He blew it from the right. He blew it from
the left. Finally he got a sound out of it and then with the
voice of the reed-flute he began the narration of the journey
of his soul.
That night when the boy's father was instructing
him in Mevlana's Mesnevi he said "Tell me now. What have you
The boy recited:
And the sound of that reed is fire, not wind.
Whosoever lacks that fire, 'tis better he not
And as he repeated it, tears welled up in his
eyes and a sob burst from his knotted throat.
"What's wrong?" his father asked.
"Those words" the boy replied. "I just realized
today they were talking about me."
(Translation copyright ©1999 by Robert Bragner)