Tag Archives: Turkish

Thirty-seven ways of looking at a dervish

 A secret turning in us450px-Mevlevi-Derwisch
makes the universe turn.
Head unaware of feet,
and feet head. Neither cares.
They keep turning.

– Rumi

As everybody knows, the Mevlevi are an  order of dervishes founded  in Konya in the 12th Century  by the followers of the great mystical poet Rumi and who are best known for their practice of whirling as a form of “dhikr” (remembrance of God).

If you go to Turkey, people at home, before you  leave, might say that you ought to see dervishes and that if  you were to see dervishes you ought to take a picture. Perhaps you don’t give this much thought in the beginning, you don’t really keep an eye out for dervishes. But then one day you realise that time is running out and that you must see dervishes and you ask someone where you can see them. Read more…

İlhan Berk – Jet-Black

I wanted to post this at The Poemarium, which is dedicated to poems I find and like, in no special order. But since I always include the original for the poems there and so far have not been able to find the text of this poem as it was written in Turkish, I’ll put up the translation (by Önder Otçu ) here:

Jet- Black

One should describe you starting from your mouth
Youngster, your mouth is silk from China, conflagrations, a jet-black amber

Your mouth, a spring of ice-cold water, a general strike
A foolish sea throwing itself from one place to another

Your mouth is that kid who sells dark blue-winged birds in the Grand Bazaar
It’s a periodical titled Cornfield

These small, unpretentious rivers of ours are what your mouth is
Coming downhill along a narrow street every day into a little square

Your mouth is “Time in Bursa City,” shyly roofed flea markets
Night as written in the old Arabic

Kids, birds, summer times are all that your mouth is
Your mouth is a silken touch in my mind

(İlhan Berk, Manisa, 18 November 1918 – 28 August 2008)

(From EDA:An Anthology of Contemporary Turkish PoetryMurat Nemet-Nejat -edited by  Talisman House Publishers)

(See also: Selected Poems by Ilhan Berk

Put a Sheep in Your Pocket – Proverbs in Istanbul

Once in Istanbul I was eating at a cheap restaurant near Sultan Ahmet- the Blue Mosque. It was one of those times when a bomb had gone off or somebody had invaded someone somewhere, and despite this being a tourist area there was nobody but me in the place. And then a lady walked in. For some reason I decided she must be Korean. She had a little girl, just about to experiment with walking, but mostly an experienced and very fast crawler. And as soon as the lady tucked into her meal, the little girl was off, under the next table, round the corner, past me and straight for the door on the street. On the threshold one of the waiters whisked her up and carried her back to her mother, who paid her no attention whatsoever. Five minutes later the girl was off again, and again a waiter carried her back. On the girl’s fourth outing it was the cook who came out from the kitchen and grabbed her. He held her in his arms, put his chef’s hat on her head and stood in the window with her and  they both waved at passers-by until the mother had finished eating.

The city was full of little poetic gestures like that.  Every now and then someone would give you their time or something they owned in a completely unexpected way. I got really used to it, so that one day when I was trying get back to the city from half-way down the Bosporus, I got on a dolmuş bus and as I stood stooped in the small vehicle just behind the driver, I was not really surprised to find that people were handing me money. It took me a few seconds  to realize that these were all fares I had to hand over to the driver and that I would then have to sort out all the change.

The only people who ever bothered me were the carpet sellers who would follow you for what seemed forever, turning everything you said into another question.  No thank you, would be answered by Why not? and Because I don’t want a carpet by Why don’t you want one? and so on and so on. And if you said nothing it was even worse because they would then go through every nationality in the world in many different languages. Français ? Italiano ? English ? Deutsch ? I realised that there were not many potential customers but I didn’t see why I had to subsidise the whole trade on my own. At one point, I thought of buying a small carpet and carrying around with me all the time, so that I could show them I already had one, but obviously that wouldn’t have worked. They would have told me I needed a bigger one.

Then, one day, I chanced upon the Sahaflar Çarşısı the outdoor
book market near the Grand Bazaar and there I found a big red book entitled A Dictionary of Turkish Proverbs.
I learnt an easy one at the front of the book – At var, meydan yok – We have a horse but no parade ground. And the next time I was propositioned by a carpeteer, just to change the script a little, instead of saying No, thank you,I said At var, meydan yok. And then something  strange happened – words failed him and he fell behind me – for about five seconds- then he caught up- but I had bewildered him for a bit. So I learnt some more proverbs, I thought that if I could master eight or nine I might be able to put enough distance between us to escape. And sometimes it worked. Lack of logic was not something they were prepared for.

Fish are in frying pan, hares in the plain,

If you cannot find a great man to consult, find a great rock,

When a snake  has a headache it comes out into the middle of  the road.

If you don’t have a mirror, look  at your neighbour

If you want yoghurt in winter, carry a sheep in your pocket.

I had no idea what they meant. I actually tried carrying a sheep in my pocket one winter, but nothing happened – well, no yoghurt at least. But I did manage to get away more often and in a much better mood, go down to the Spice market and the fish market and the lane where they sold wonderful old knives and kitchenware and as in the famous poem, listen to Istanbul, or move on to the waterfront and do what I most enjoy there- ride the boats – and this poem is about the feeling I have when I am on one of them.