Fine Days

We read this poem for my Literature of the Turks class a few weeks ago, along with many more by Orhan Veli, who is recognized as a central figure in Turkish modern poetry. It's a complete break from the earlier poetry we read along with it, which, although also modern, looks back to classical Ottoman divan poetry and is infused with a sense of nostalgia and loss. Unlike the other poets we read for that day, Orhan Veli is irreverent, sarcastic, and more laid-back.
Fine Days
By Orhan Veli (Kanık), translated by Bernard Lewis*

These fine days have been my ruin.
On this kind of day I resigned
My job in "Pious Foundations"
On this kind of day I started to smoke
On this kind of day I fell in love
On this kind of day I forgot
To bring home bread and salt
On this kind of day I had a relapse
Into my versifying disease.
These fine days have been my ruin.
The day we discussed Orhan Veli's poetry was a beautiful, early spring day. One of my fellow students walked into class and brought this poem up immediately. "I know exactly what kind of day he's talking about," he said. "Like today. 'On this kind of day I forgot...' to write my response paper." And we laughed. Then it turned out that he had remembered in time to write it, but then forgot to print it out.

Anyway, today was even more beautiful. Between classes, I had a pleasant lunch on the lawn with a friend from high school, then headed to Turkish. Not many people seem to care about the literature of the Turks, as I mentioned before—there are only eight students in the class. Today, four had emailed saying they couldn't make it, so our kind professor treated the three of us who were there (another just failed to show up) to coffee (hot chocolate for me) at Espresso Royale. It definitely beat the basement of the MLB. Today we were discussing the novella To Crush the Serpent by Yaşar Kemal, which is about the pressure placed on a boy by the rural society in which he lives to kill his mother—her lover killed his father, and his father's family demands vengeance on the woman, not just the murderer. So the boy grows up in this horrible environment, with his grandmother telling him he must kill his mother or else his father's ghost will never rest. It's really compelling, and seems to be a good translation from the English side of things. I don't speak Turkish.

But this post is about poetry, and I think Orhan Veli is fun, so I'm going to post a few more poems, all from the same book and also translated by Bernard Lewis.
For the Fatherland
What have we not done for this our fatherland!
Some of us have died;
Some of us have made speeches.


We can't come together, our ways are different
You're a butcher's cat, I'm an alley cat
Your food comes in a tin bowl
Mine is in the lion's mouth
You dream of love, I of a bone.
But your way isn't easy either, brother
It's no easy job
To lick the man's hand every damn day.


—from the butcher's cat to the alley cat—

You speak of hunger
That means you are a communist
That means you burned down all those buildings
The ones in Istanbul
The ones in Ankara.

What a swine you are!
Cats can't burn things! They're cats! What! Hilarious. Although John pointed out to me that a cow supposedly burned down Chicago. You know the song. "The cow kicked it over/she picked it up and said/there'll be a hot time in this old town tonight. Fire fire fire!" On that note, I'm going to go sit in what's left of the sun. Oh, and the various parts for the song listed here are pretty funny.

Nope, wait, not ending there. Some girl just walked by, and we heard her say, "No, don't jump! You have so much to live for!" The cats are on the roof again. It was probably directed at Table Cat.

*I'm pretty sure this translation is found in Kemal Silay's An Anthology of Turkish Literature (Indiana University Press, 1994), which is out of print, but available used on Amazon, although the publication info is different.

1 comment:

John said...

That girl is my FAVOURITE!!! I forget what I was going to comment, it's sad.