To Osmanzade Hamdi Bey –
Whinny the dark horses; cracks the leather whip in air,
The wagon pauses in its tracks for a moment.
Then its springboard dashes forth with a bolt.
Caravanserais one after another now pass in front my eyes…
With a heavy and homesick heart, I am on my way,
Along the Ulukişla road heading into Central Anatolia.
Like a first love, a first hurt, a first separation!
The air is warmed by the fire burning in my heart,
Yellow sky, yellow land, yellow bare trees...
Behind me, the high range of the Taurus Mountains,
Ahead, foothills faded after a long winter,
On spun the wheels, moaning with each turn….
My hands on the reins, the wind in my hair
Our wagon advances along the mountain slope.
Everywhere is steep, everywhere is quiet,
Only the wagon has a whistle on its lips!
The winding roads lay curled up
like sleeping snakes, hissing as they
Raise their heads to listen to the emptiness.
The skies cloud over, the wind cools down.
A fine rain begins to drizzle.
At last the slope opens up onto the flat plain
And a shining meadow appears before us.
The road connects us in one long chain to the horizon.
This strange land draws me into it.
The road, nothing but the road, ever the road…flatness with no end in sight.
Nary a village nor a house anywhere to be seen,
The road stretches ahead forsaken of all travelers,
Now and then we pass a rider on horseback, or a couple of foot-travelers.
Wheels rattle over broken flat stones on the path,
Trying to say something to the road,
The long roads slumber despite this noise…
I surrender unto the noise of the wheels
And lie still on the thin blanket of the springboard.
A sudden jolt…I wake up from a deep sleep;
The wagon is floating over the road.
Ahead of us like a castle looms the town of Niğde,
Sounds of small bells on the right:
Ahead, a camel caravan plods slowly forth,
At the edge of the city emerges a ruined han.
A dappled darkness envelops all
Our horses are unfettered and we enter the han.
Searching a salve for our clamoring wounds
Sojourners now assemble in the han.
Wayfarers from each corner of the land, gathered here in one place,
Souls filled with homesickness cluster near the campfire.
All eyes are riveted to the light,
Chests heave to breathe.
The kerosene lamp blackened with soot
Draws gloomy streaks on all their faces.
The marks on their cheeks and the grief in their eyes
Gradually deepen into verses...
There is a dark wall beside my bed,
Covered with all kinds of marks;
Whoever slept here has left the trace of his passage on the wall,
Languid lines and lewd drawings...
I go to bed early at the end of this sorrowful day,
Suddenly a few lines in red on the wall catch my eye
It is not a stanza of four lines, but seems like four drops of blood.
As I stare all by myself at these lines on the wall
I feel I have met up with an old poet friend;
“I have been gone from Kinadağ for fourteen years now
Away from my sweet home, away from my love
Never collecting a flower from the garden of my love
Underneath a date: eight March, thirty seven...
I could not take my eyes away from that signature.
Destiny is in front of you, do not wait any longer my friend!
Finished now are borders, army service, wars;
Do not feel sad that your youth was spent on the road.
Your tomorrows will be crowned with the glory you bring from across the borders!...
We move on before sunrise on the following day,
A cold March morning... each breath freezes in air.
Daybreak already reflects on the horizon before the sun rises
We leave the houses at the edge of the city behind us.
The sun rises and sets behind the clouds;
In the distance mounds appear as hulky as mountains …
Caravans slowly stride beside us,
Old hans seemingly built by a feudal lord pass in view.
Our journey keeps moving ahead on these endless roads,
There, through the pass hidden between two mountains.
There, where the frigid northwest wind scares me to death
I am elated after crossing the mountain pass:
The places I leave behind can only be understood in the spring,
The land ahead of us is still covered with snow.
The mountain pass separates winter from summer,
Here, the last storm snaps off the final branch…
The carriage continues on at the same speed,
Snow begins to hurl around us.
It buries all in an immense darkness;
It is not snow falling from the sky; but death...
Inside of me, a deep longing to reach a village
The carriage driver yells out: “Over there... Araplibeli!"
May God help those who remain on these roads
At the end of a day’s journey, we lead our horses into a han.
Three or four travelers have arrived ahead of us
They sit cross-legged before the open fire,
The crackling wood enhances the joy of life,
One tells a story of a bandit, the other the fable of a wolf…
As I begin to doze off to sleep,
The black soot leaves flower-like images on the wall.
In the black soot from the fire emerge these lines,
“If the image of my love enflames my desire;
My strength is not enough to fight it
I journey forth like a dried leaf
The wind decides my destiny."
In the morning, the sky is bright and the horizon clear,
Our carriage heads out on the road on a sunny day.
On these endless roads from one foreign land to another
It has been but three days since I left, but it feels as long as three seasons.
After a long journey, we arrive in Incesu,
Exhausted, we find sweet repose in a han.
At sunrise I awake from a dead sleep,
I feel much sorrow when I read these lines above my bed!
“I am a stranger, people call me Kerem
They took my beloved Asli away from me and forbid me to see her again
I am ill; they say it is tuberculosis
My name is Satilmiş, I am the son of a sheik from Maraş.”
One reads his epitaph writ in those lines,
I fear you never made it home from this foreign land.
O You! Son of a sheik from Maraş, take the saint's vow!
Cursed was your luck that you could not cross beyond this mountaın!
Let it be, for are not the only one who did not make it,
High officials post many among foreign bandits and wolves!...
Our carriage heads out on the road towards Mount Erciyes:
“Han Keeper”, I ask, “have you ever met the son of a sheik from Maraş?”
His startled eyes peer at me for quite a while,
“A while back he entered this han a healthy man and he left it dead!"
Everything changes now in front of my tear-filled eyes,
Şeyhoğlu, our sojourner far from home, never made it beyond this han...
The sad news of the fellow wayfarer from Maraş tears at my heart.
Many years have passed since that day until now
Yet still I shudder each time I pass a han along the road.
For I know the secret sorrows held within your walls
O! these ancient roads which connect villages to frontiers,
These ancient roads grieving for those who will never return home!
O! these han walls writ with such mournful lines
O! these han walls which wring my heart!...
-translated from the Turkish by Katharine Branning