The Lost Couplets of Pir Iqbal the Impaled

front cover coupletsThe Lost Couplets of Pir Iqbal the Impaled. Trans. Adrian Xavier. ISBN-13: 978-0692596081. ISBN-10: 0692596089. gnOme, 2015. 38pp. $7.00.

The one whose gaze sets moths aflame
Will not look at me.
So blackened is my hanging corpse,
So deformed the tree.

There is little record of the life of the Albanian poet known as Pir Iqbal the Impaled. The survival of his verses is due to Hilmi Abdyl Maliqi (1856-1928) of Rahovec, who considered them worthy of transcription into the small notebook discovered in 1999 by Prof. Nikoll Krasniqi of the University of Priština. There Maliqi writes of him: “Iqbal was a solitary dervish, originally from Sharra in Tirana, who in his later years dwelled among the caves near the ruined Christian hermitage and monastery at Koriša. As a young man he joined a tekke in Gjakova, but was expelled for unknown reasons. In middle age he led a largely itinerant life, travelling as far Istanbul, Cairo, and Rome, during which period he had contact with Naim Frashëri, who mentions him with regard in the preface to Gjithësia [Omneity], published in Bucharest in 1895 by the Shoqëri e të shtypuri shkronja shqip (Society for the Publication of Albanian Writing). In 1896, he suffered a mental collapse in Skopje and was later identified by Haxhi Ymer Lutfi Paçarizi as ‘mast-Allah’ [God-intoxicated]. His couplets, though heterodox, were known by mouth in the region, mostly among the Melami Sufis of Kosova and Macedonia. After the revolt in 1910, Iqbal publicly renounced Islam at Priština during the visit of Sultan Mehmed V in 1911. The following year, he converted to Christianity and was impaled for apostasy in Prizren. The people of the district, however, regarded his apostasy as false, a perverse expression of his spiritual intoxication (sakr). Thus, after his death, in honor of his mystical inspirations (waridat), he became known as Pir Iqbal the Impaled. The dervish’s soul is lost. By the grace of Allah, his lines are not.” Given the directness and crude gracefulness of Iqbal’s style, his verses present few problems for the translator. To convey something of his rhythm in English, I have split his couplets into stanzas of four-lines. We hope the reader will find them utile et dulce. (from the translator’s Preface)

I fly the seas of dreams for you,
I swim all the skies.
And nowhere do you appear, not
Even in your eyes.

“It is either by senseless fate or by profound happenstance that these poems have survived their author. Iqbal, the enigmatic, ascetic dervish has left behind lines that are instructions for bewilderment. These couplets reduce mystical writing to its brutalist minimum. Only practice remains.” ~ Rasu-Yong Tugen, Baroness de Tristeombre, author of Songs From The Black Moon

“An essential document in the sorrow of being.” ~ Nicola Masciandaro, author of Ocean Seeping Eyes

“As the tablet gives lift to its own effacement, so too do these ingots of darkness mysticism render in concise, passionate flashes the continual fluxing destruction and reconstitution at the heart of a yearning spirit’s divine ordeal.” – Levi Rumata, author of Scrims

“‘I am love-wounded past repair, / Yet still babble on. / Tis no longer I who speak, but / My severed head’s tongue.’ The Lost Couplets is a deep simultaneous plunge into the possibility of poetry beyond the page and the impossibility of knowledge without sorrow. Be prepared to abandon your desires by listening to the couplets of Pir Iqbal from the mouth of Adrian Xavier; and watch the verses perform a Sufi whirling before your weeping eyes.” ~ Eleni Ikoniadou, author of The Rhythmic Event

“Not since Annabella of Ely has a poet so succinctly and masterfully penned the spiraling path to annihilative bliss. Read Pir Iqbal and be destroyed. Being destroyed, may you live forever.” ~ Liesl Ketum, Humbert Divinity School

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