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Six Poems of Oktay Rifat— Neil P. Doherty

Dec 21, 2023 | Poetry | 0 comments

Translated from the Turkish by Neil P. Doherty


Oktay Rifat poems AntonymInscription

If you must write again what has been written
translate it into another language and write
because words are like mercury
and do not settle easily in any place

We will never again find
the thousand stones the thousand holes
and the flying carpet of the thousand and one nights
now flies only over Baghdad

Here even the birds are reticent
and seem to yearn after fruit
they perch on the white wings of the boats
like angels perching on statues

I brought you this rose
I bought this silver comb for you
with this mason’s chisel
carve an inscription on marble
then roll it into the sea



I cannot say that the sea is blue
that the skies are bluer still
that the trees are all red
that there is a ship away in the distance
a ship on the roof
a ship on the wall

I cannot say
that like insects the boats smell
of roses and jasmine

I cannot say, I cannot say
that I carried a soul
that the sun was warm
and that my days in the garden
fell like leaves in spring

I listen to the birds of a distant season
and glimmer in the mind
I enter a city
only seen in dreams
with you there on the back of my horse

that I know tomorrow will come
I cannot say


Child and Dog

Going through the fallow grazing field:
if only there were a child, walking right in front of me
he said; with a dog behind, we’d find a path through the reeds
down to the sea. But seeing as there’s no child and no dog,
what use is going down to the sea?


On the Shore

Carnations at the foot of the whitewashed wall, the sky blue,
Weeds and thistles on the slope down to the sea,
And an uncaulked rowing boat, that’s been lying there for years.
Shall we look under the wooden jetty to where the sun spatters on the water
Shall we skim pebbles, three skips, four skips,
Whoever skims the most, can steal right back to childhood?
The overturned old days beneath us,
A hermit crab shell, its traveller has gone, leaving his old clothes behind,
Empty and whorled, it pricks the palm of my hand


Milking Hour

— Put the peaches out on the shelf, let the kitchen smell of peaches!
the man said, as he stepped down from the porch and went to milk the cow.
The woman saw the cow staring at the plain as she was being milked:
a galvanized bucket underneath, her teats in the man’s hands, sideways,
as the man, panting, coaxes out milk gathered up from clover and thyme,
black and white flecks in the brightness of the evening.
She went into the kitchen and put the peaches out on the shelf,
and now the flowerpot in the mirror, the embroidery on the cushion,
the light between the rafters, the purple of the rug,
now even the spiders smell of peaches,
the sky is peach-coloured, the clouds smell of peaches


Wild Rose

The holy well as simple as a wild rose
in the tiny garden where a goat grazes.
A tree on the roof and St. George inside,
on Mary’s knee, Jesus her only lamb.
Oh white doves flying in the shadowless sky,
reeds and grasses swaying softly in the wind,
and the unreachable loneliness of high Gods!
Your immortal days awash with sun and salt,
stir time into the smell of oregano.
The sea, the universe? It sings the song
of the pebble that comes and goes in the foam

Also, read “POEMS FROM ‘GARIP/STRANGE’— NEIL P. DOHERTY” published in The Antonym:

Poems from ‘Garip/Strange’— Neil P. Doherty

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Oktay Rifat

Oktay Rifat

Oktay Rifat (10 June 1914 – 18 April 1988) was a poet, novelist and playwright. Initially he was one of the three poets, alongside Orhan Veli and Melih Cevdet Anday, who instigated the “Garip/Strange” movement that ushered in radical modernism to Turkish poetry and left a mark on it that persists to this day. After death of Orhan Veli in 1950 Oktay Rifat began to write in a more complex style that brought together Turkish folk poetry and French influences and wove them into something original, distinctive and often uncanny. Some critics have seen him as one of the key poets in twentieth-century Turkish poetry, one who managed to change the nature of his verse several times over the course of a long writing life. 

Neil P. Doherty

Neil P. Doherty

Neil P. Doherty is a translator born in Dublin, Ireland in 1972 who has resided in Istanbul since 1995. He currently teaches at 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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