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
"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 deliriously.
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 memorized?"
The boy recited:
And the sound of that reed is fire, not wind.
Whosoever lacks that fire, 'tis better he not live.
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)