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Poems by Ülkü Tamer

Jul 3, 2021 | Poetry | 0 comments

Translated from the Turkish by Neil P. Doherty

Translator's Note

Ülkü Tamer was one of the prominent members of the hugely important İkinci Yeni or Second New movement in Turkish poetry which, after the Garip or Strange movement in the 1940’s sought to revitalize poetry by focusing on the image and discarding narrative elements. This resulted in an intense and often surrealistic poetry that left many questions unanswered and resisted slogans. It might be argued that subsequent Turkish poetry has been an extended colloquy with the tenets of the Second New. Ülkü Tamer brought an almost childlike voice to the movement, one continually astonished at the beauty and ugliness of the world. His early poetry is imagistic and dense but in later years he wrote in a manner closer to Turkish folksong.   

For Through the Market Places I Passed

They will not understand why I died, for the sun rises over
the market places,
They came and destroyed their camels, set up their silver tents and now
they are even selling ginger,
They are lighting fires at night, sometimes they perform their ritual prayers, and make love in their spare time;
They will not understand why I died, even if forests should sprout
from my grave,
But they are reading from the Qu’ran, they will distribute sweet sherbet
and will sweat from time to time,
For they did not know me anyhow and they will sell ginger, and unceasingly but unceasingly they will multiply.

We would pass by the wells, leaving the swarthy villages and
the horses behind;
We would gather up silken cloth I forget now from where: smells, oils and
a little tiredness;
When night came we’d sleep, some had wives; I would touch
a pitcher with my hand,
That’s how I’d find the morning, the suns would rise over
the market places;
I would not get up and leave those awnings, wherever I went they
would follow me,
Wherever I went there was silence, there was regret, and I’d pine after
the pitcher perhaps;
Or perhaps I’d look for my bed, my soles would crack from the sand, and the heat would shiver my bones.
If I’d never known the pitchers, the beds, the camels I’d up and leave and never come back again,
My oldest loneliness has left though and will not return now,
why I do not understand.
The stars do not touch that land of mine, the water does not flow and the rain does not bathe my trees.
The crowds will never leave me, for through the market places I passed!

They will not understand why I died, they did not understand it while giving
birth to me.
They just showed me minarets, holding always onto my hand.
and what’s more they grew sad with me, they cried quite a lot,
But who knows from where I fell, what parts of me bled, this they never understood.
If I looked now they’d make love and fix up a swing.

Remembering is the greatest enemy of loneliness, for on the tip of it there
is living.
I tried all the roads in the evenings, touching, touching the pitchers.
Hiding in the shadows I saw them reading the Qu’ran, saw them
at their prayers.
“There will come a day when you will believe” said the oldest of them,
“just let me see you when you’re old”.
Before my beard could grow white I died and as I did he grew pleased, and sold ginger in the market place.
I have forgotten everything; I never remembered, the day dawned and all was wiped clean
They did not understand why I died, for the suns rose
over the market places,
From afar a sea grew into their dreams, their hands touching
their wives,
The children burst into tears, for the grains of sand grew and
slipped into their eyes;
One by one they awoke as the streets glowed by the light of a belated flame.
Out came their ginger and on a worn down market place they began


Rivers were Flowing

Rivers were flowing through the roses
Turning darkness into light
Your breath releasing birds into the air
Rivers were flowing through your hair
Curling right down to your neck
The gazelles bathing in your breasts
This was love
Was love
That night
A river flowed straight out of the rose


Its name was Death

When I first saw it its name was death
And afterwards it did not change a bit;
From the fortress of a city they displayed it
I saw it and the forest far away,
No matter what I did its name would not change.

They gave me a sword for some wars
And behind it they built me a house;
They gave me a spade for some wars
And behind it I built them a house;
In the evenings I toiled over the flowers a bit,
Some of my neighbours grew old and became flowers,
In the evenings with the others I would have dinner,
As we gathered together death grew, its name was death
As the city grew it became restless and headed out into the markets.

Its name was death because when we created it
The bird on its lips bled every evening
Its name was death when I moved to it every night
From the gallows tree I had grown used to
Laughing at the dark emptiness of the throat
It was death, that would wander the streets of the city
That brought the clock tower right into my sleep.

Death was so much death and so diligent too
That no one could save me save death itself.


I Thank You

I thank you for it was you who kissed me
Right on my forehead as I slept you kissed me
You cooled the woods & my sparrows came alive
You are a blue fox riding a blue horse
Perhaps last night I died, perhaps last week
You were beautiful to me, and so were your feet


Ülkü Tamer (born 20 February 1937, Gaziantep – d. 1 April 2018, Bodrum, Muğla) was a Turkish poet, journalist, actor and translator.
He is one of the leading representatives of the Second New poetry movement that emerged in the 1950s. He has translated more than seventy books and prepared poetry anthologies.

Neil P. Doherty is a translator born in Dublin, Ireland in 1972 who has resided in Istanbul since 1995. He currently teaches in Bilgi University. He is a freelance translator of both Turkish and Irish poetry. In 2017 he edited Turkish Poetry Today, which was published in the U.K by Red Hand Books. His translations have appeared in Poetry Wales, The Dreaming Machine, The Honest Ulsterman, Turkish Poetry Today, Arter (İstanbul), Advaitam Speaks, The Seattle Star, The Enchanting Verses and The Berlin Quarterly.


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