Divan of the Lover
May 2, 2008 3:40 PM   Subscribe

I need help with interpretation and understanding of The Divan of the Lover. A friend of mine claims to have figured out the meaning, and I'm drawing a blank aside from the most obvious.

Googling for interpreations and discussion of the poem isn't helping, as my searches just turn up the poem itself over and over, without context. Pointing me to dead tree books on the subject would be helpful, as well as any sites you might know about or hints you can give me. Basically, what I'm looking for is different interpretations of meaning, discussions of metaphor, cultural background, stuff like that. I know its a poem, not a riddle to be 'solved', but still her challenge is driving me a bit nuts. I'm certain she wants me to come to the same or a similar conclusion as she has, and without more information I don't think I can. I need help!

All the universe, one mighty sign, is shown;
God hath myriads of creative acts unknown:
None hath seen them, of the races jinn and men,
None hath news brought from that realm far off from ken.
Never shall thy mind or reason reach that strand,
Nor can tongue the King's name utter of that land.
Since 'tis his each nothingness with life to vest,
Trouble is there ne'er at all to his behest.
Eighteen thousand worlds, from end to end,
Do not with him one atom's worth transcend.
posted by sandraregina to Writing & Language (9 answers total)
The sign of god is so freaking great, simple, and abundant that it can't be fully seen, understood, or even talked about because we are all measly.

Can anyone back me on this, or am I just an a-hole making stuff up.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:40 PM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Well, I don't see what your friend is getting at, but to try, I put each line of the poem in words that, while clunky and mundane, make their literal meaning more immediately understandable to me. Like you, it didn't help me get to an interpretation aside from the obvious one, but maybe it will help others?

The whole universe is a sign that
God creates lots more than we know.
Neither genies nor men have seen
or told about those places far beyond our knowledge.
Your won't be able to conceive of that place,
and you can't say His name.
Since it's up to him to give life,
Whatever he commands is no trouble.
Even 18,000 worlds
are like less than an atom next to him.

Now I'm curious, so do post back with the meaning she sees, if she tells you.
posted by daisyace at 5:54 PM on May 2, 2008

It seems to be a pretty straightforward poem about how God is beyond our comprehension. Has your friend rejected this reading?
posted by prefpara at 6:37 PM on May 2, 2008

Response by poster: I marked daisyace as best because of the line-by-line.

I'm not sure...I have this feeling there's more to 'god beyond comprehension'. Its "The Lover" though. Lover of god?

Argh. Perhaps I am overthinking this. I do that. Thanks.
posted by sandraregina at 7:21 PM on May 2, 2008

"The lover" appears to be how the poet who wrote this poem was known.
posted by prefpara at 8:10 PM on May 2, 2008

Best answer: I'll take a shot at this...

If you google "Eighteen thousand worlds" you'll see that this phrase is used a great deal in contexts that suggest that the Creator made 18,000 worlds, and ours is one of them. Yet, in this poem, the Lover is saying that those 18,000 worlds are less than an atom's worth compared to all his works or creation - and that the eyes of men and jinn have never seen or even conceived of that vastness. But it's very specific that these two races have never seen them. Are there, then, other races that have seen some of this creation entirely unknown to us? (Because in our world, there are only jinn and men.)

Is the poem suggesting other, extra-terrestrial life? It certainly suggests vast numbers of universes, since the 18,000 worlds seem to constitute our universe. At any rate, I can definitely see an argument for a theory that this poem (apparently, the oldest known Turkish poem, as I'm sure you've read) is not just about the wonder of God, but also about space as we understand it now (but definitely not then), and perhaps other intelligent life forms.
posted by taz at 11:47 PM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: taz - that's a different interpretation and one I had not considered at all. Thank you. It will definately add fuel to our discussion!
posted by sandraregina at 1:49 PM on May 8, 2008

I'm sorry to quibble, but

Eighteen thousand worlds, from end to end,
Do not with him one atom's worth transcend.

Does not mean that 18,000 worlds are worth less than one atom to the creator. It means that they are not worth more. That means they could be worth less, but they could also be of equal worth.


Never shall thy mind or reason reach that strand,
Nor can tongue the King's name utter of that land.

Makes me question the extraterrestrial reading of this poem. I think it is not very likely that the poet is suggesting that somewhere out there, tongueless aliens are blinking the name of God. I think it is far more likely that the poet is merely expressing the sentiment that God's works are beyond language. That would also be consistent with the other ideas expressed in the poem: that God's works are beyond our experience and reason.

Did your friend ever share her insight with you?
posted by prefpara at 1:55 PM on May 8, 2008

Well, I'm not arguing that the poem is about extraterrestrial life, just that if one is looking for a meaning "aside from the most obvious" as the poster asks - this is a possibility.

About the "one atom's worth", it would be interesting to know whether the original suggests "one atom's-worth" or "one atom's worth." And "nor can tongue the King's name utter of that land" I assume just means that one cannot utter the name of God (the King of that land)... not imagining tongueless, blinking aliens. :)

I'm also curious, sandraregina! Let us know if your friend spills the beans.
posted by taz at 2:15 AM on May 9, 2008

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