The words “rose” and “nightingale”, widely used in oral and written Persian-Arabic literature since the early ages, began to be used also by Seljuk/Turkish authors at the end of the eleventh century and the beginning of the twelfth century, the early period of written Turkish literature. These metaphors were used by Sufi poets to describe religious mysticism, and authors outside of Sufi understanding used them to visualize the realities of social life and romance.

The word “bülbül” (‘nightingale’ in Turkish), originally from Persian, later entered Arabic and Turkish as well. The nightingale had an important place in Eastern literature. It sings more vividly in the days when roses bloom and it is accepted that there is an imaginary love relationship between it and the rose (the nightingale is the image of the passionate lover, and the rose is the beloved one). The relationship between them was accepted as figurative love, and because it was ignited with the strong love for the rose, the nightingale was given the adjectives ” şeydâ” (crazy) and “zâr” (crying and groaning). The biggest obstacle preventing the nightingale from approaching the rose is the rose’s thorns. Poets have seen this impossible love as an inexhaustible source for their poems. These symbols are frequently encountered in the divans of Iranian, Ottoman, and Albanian Bektashi poets. Although the classical divan poets talk about the nightingale according to certain rules, the folklore poets express it with a freer imagination and many times more vividly. If a poet of Divan literature who wrote religious (mystical) poetry, used the word “nightingale” in his poetry, it would mean a person who is burning with love for God and trying his best to reach it, while “rose” meant God, the absolute creator, and the mystic inspiration. For poets outside of religious life, the word “nightingale” was used to describe a lover who fell in love and was ready to give their best to be with their beloved one – “the Rose”. According to Sufi poets, the rose reflects another aspect of God, who is the absolute creator in every state. In Sufism, the rosebud is the image of the inaccessibility of the sacred being (God) and for by poets other than the understanding of mysticism– the rosebud is the freshness of a lover’s youth, beautiful enough to die for.

The nightingale has a huge role in Turkish proverbs and idioms and many songs in Turkish folklore literature were inspired by it. The nightingale is seen as the epitome of a lyrical feeling in the poems of Yunus Emre. In the following centuries, almost all folklore poets used the nightingale motif in various ways. In Divan literature, the nightingale symbolizes the lover and the rose as a beloved one, as it is in classical Eastern literature. The nightingale gave its blood to make the rose redder and more beautiful. Nightingale is a lover who cries until the morning with the longing for the rose. The nightingale sings at night, unlike other birds. Some poets accept the nightingale’s cry as a divine blessing. Poets and Prophets are also described as nightingales (a symbol of perfection). The rose is compared to the mosque, the cypress to the minaret, and the nightingale to the person who reads the Qur’an.

Divan literature is a literature of symbols. Each set of words used has both a symbolic and literal meaning. The tradition of expression with symbols and images, which has formed the basis of Persian and Arabic literature since the early ages, has been continued by Seljuk and Ottoman poets and writers. They have spread this legacy they took over to wide geography and enriched the content of divan literature with the new images they added to the narrative. The first Ottoman poet who contributed to this tradition and collected his writings in his divan was Aşık Pasha. In his divan, Aşık Pasha gives his readers plenty of mystical suggestions and advises them to reach God without sin. Ahmedi, who is the successor of Aşık Pasha, wrote poems and mesnevis with the understanding of mysticism. In a couplet of one of the Ahmadi ghazals, he expressed the theme of rose and nightingale in the most beautiful way by saying, “O heartsick nightingale! Do not grieve in the cage, one day that rose garden will be yours” (“Ey bülbül-ü dil hasta melul olma kafeste/Kim menzilin ol bağ ü gülistan ola birgün.”). Sheikh, one of the fifteenth century poets, says, “Let the secret of the destiny remain closed like a rosebud/ Let’s open our hearts to the joy of the rose garden” (Zamana sırrını ko, ganca gibi ser-beste/çemen sefasına dil guşa olalım). Rifai is the first Ottoman poet to use the phrase “Gül-ü Bülbül” as a name for his divan. The second mesnevi known to have been written during the Ottoman period is Fazlı’s „Gül-ü Bülbül“. Known to have been written in the 1550s this mesnevi has about twenty manuscript copies in Turkish libraries. In it, the poet wrote his Sufi understanding and attracted the attention of many European researchers with its rich content and excellent descriptions.

In his article “The Metaphor of “Rose and Nightingale” the Turkish researcher Tuncel Murat presents a translation of the poem “Gül-ü Bülbül” by Safiye Can:

Rose and Nightingale
With emptiness in my belly
wherever I look
desire completely surrounds
away from the country
of roses and nightingales
whatever I touch
turns to stone.
Like a balloon flies away
from a child’s hand
I’m looking back to the past
the excitement of examination rooms
the exhilaration of the last brushstroke
the calligrapher in Istanbul-Çağaloğlu
Frankfurt Lectures on Poetics
and these days, you’re out of mind
because of happiness.
Away from the country
of roses and nightingales
I pick up lost dreams
and put them in a crystal vase
it’s easier
to save a hundred other lives
than one’s own.
Someone outside there
has lost love right now
on the pavement it lays
in front of someone’s feet
a third one picks it up.
Love and pain, hand in hand
one finds, one loses
one throws away, one burns
in the daylight, in the night
one screams, one falls silent.
Away from the country
of roses and nightingales
at every street corner
a gramophone wails
about my misfortunate
star constellation.
Knights are not always triumphant
dragons are not always enemies.
Nobody entirely changes
we should reveal to each other
our inner-self
which supports from within.
Away from the country
of roses and nightingales
I pick up faded dreams
and plant them in flowerpots
it’s easier
to save a hundred other lives
than one’s own.
Some nights you can’t sleep
because of overtiredness
a crow claws at your thoughts.
Falling in love
is not a question of choice
an attosecond is enough
to make impossible the use of mind
at this time of night.
Love and pain, hand in hand
one finds, one loses
one throws away, one burns
in the daylight, in the night
one is cursed, one is gifted.
Some days
you might lie down
in your own shadow
craving a strangers
hand furrow.
Some find it difficult
to deceive themselves
others to remain true.
It’s neither easy to live
with people
nor to die
In the country
of roses and nightingales
someone became the person
I should have been.
Now everything happens
at places, where I am not.
You can roll up in a Kilim
drown in a cup of iced coffee
hug a dandelion
and start to weep.
On my way I pick up lost dreams
and knit them to a scarf of verses
to warm up anyone out there
warm the one who freezes.
He, who never has been frozen
doesn’t know about those
who have experienced cold.
From a distance I observe
the morphology
the depth psychology
study what’s more clumsy
the observer
or everything observed.
Away from the country
of roses and nightingales
shall what more a sculptor be
if he is already a sculptor?
Since he is everything when carving
the arrow and the sword
the visor, the magazine
the surrender, the victory.
In the country
of roses and nightingales
someone became the person
I should have been.
Now everything happens
where I don’t find myself.
Wherever I point my finger
there beats my heart.
You can hide behind a curtain
hush reality
in a glass of Bordeaux
and start crying
while watching a comedy.
On the way I pick up discarded dreams
and wrap them up cozy at home.
In my pocket a watches key
a rope, a rosary
sometimes I pull out one
sometimes the other.
Away from the country
of roses and nightingales
I change the arrangement
of the piano keys
and build new sequences.
On the way I pick up sodden dreams
and hang them on the clothesline
in my heart the heart of a nightingale
I don’t know
where to place the ladder of life
where to put my hands and feet
which mailbox to address my disappointment.
Now, somewhere out there
a sacred place becomes a crime scene
a light bulb shatters
in a Motel room far away
every evening the sun burns down
in a footnote the key of illumination
remains lying.
What else shall a poet be
if she is already a poet?
Since she is everything when writing
the compass, the pelorus
the handle, the blade
the billowing, the target.
On the way I pick up crumpled dreams
and smooth them with an iron
I long for something
which never was mine.
In my heart the heart of a nightingale
on every street corner a saxophone
sings about the tough naivety
of my soul.
Away from the country
of roses and nightingales
everything I touch
turns to stone
a stone is not a rose.

“Rose und Nachtigall” (Rose and Nightingale) by Safiye Can
Translation by Hakan Ak

Mehr Afshan Farooqi in her article on the subject says “The story of the rose and the bulbul is to be cherished as a metaphor for undying passion.”, “The bulbul and the rose are both important motifs in Persian literature, particularly in ghazal poetry. In mystical poetry the bulbul’s longing for the rose served as a metaphor for the soul’s yearning for union with God. The theme of the rose in Persian mystical poetry has been the subject of detailed investigation since the beginnings of Orientalist studies in Europe in the late 18th century, and poets such as Wolfgang Goethe and Rainer Maria Rilke have been inspired by their Persian counterparts. The gul-o bulbul theme fascinated Victorian society. Variations on the idea of the flower or rose as a symbol of mortality caught the imagination of poets and painters. Oscar Wilde’s poignant fairy tale The Nightingale and the Rose is the best example of reworking the gul-o bulbul theme.”

The nightingales are the wayfarers on the mystic path, becoming intoxicated on mystical inspiration, unable to take any interest in the affairs of the material world. The Nightingale is the Poet, the Lover, and the Rose is the Inspiration and the Beloved One. The garden of roses represents the hearts of human beings. The nightingale is the Deity and the rose is the spirituality that bedecks these “gardens of the heart”.

There is no greater, purer, and impossible love than the love of the Nightingale for the Rose. The nightingale dies “crucified” on the thorns of the rose, trying to reach it, and its “blood” gives redness and life to the rose. Isn’t that the perfect metaphor for the poets and their ultimate inspiration – Love?

This article was originally published in Balkans in-site on December 28, 2021.


  1. *Turkish academic encyclopedia for Islamic studies *
  2. Tuncel Murat, The Metaphor of “Rose and Nightingale” in Turkish Literature,
  3. Mehr Afshan Farooqı, The bulbul in Urdu’s Garden,
  4. Baba Rexhep, Islamic Mysticism and the Bektashi Path, Tirana 2017