, , , , , , , ,

approaching KayseriThis deyiş appears in Ergun’s 1929 collection of Pir Sultan’s lyrics and again in Gölpınarlı and Boratav’s 1943 edition where the source is given as Ergun, although with a couple of slight changes. In the first line of the 4th verse Ergun has  Mağripte (Mağrib = Magreb, the West) while Gölpınarlı/Boratav give Meydana; and in the 3rd verse Ergun has küçük gazili while Gölpınarlı/Boratav have köçek gazili. The version used for my translation is from Memet Fuat (1999 reprint edition) who follows Ergun in regards to Mağripte (well almost, since he has the ablative Mağriğtan rather than the locative) and Gölpınarlı/Boratav in regards to köçek (both versions give the sense of a novice entering the tarikat). This deyiş is a good example of a theme found in the lyrics of Pir Sultan – the hope and expectation of the coming of the Shah, in this case the temporal ruler. It is for such allegiances that the kızılbaş were pursued by the Ottoman authorities. The word Urum refers to the land of ‘Rum’, Anatolia, the Ottoman lands.  Three generations of the Safavids are referred to in the lyric (as Fuat notes): Shah Tahmasp is the ‘beautiful leader’ who is expected; and he is the ‘Shah’s son’, that is the son of Shah Ismail, the first Safavid ruler, while ‘Old Haydar’ refers to Ismail’s father and Tahmasp’s grandfather. The mahlas verse reveals that this expectation may be but a wish of Pir Sultan’s.


An astute reader makes some good critical comments on this translation. Firstly in relation to my rendering, or non-rendering of the Persian izafet (nominal compound) construction Şah-ı cihan which is more correctly Shah of the World. I am inclined to agree with the reader that this would be a better translation to adopt. My original rendering and interpretation as “mortal Shah” was rather to emphasise the reference to the worldly rule of  Şeyh Haydar (Sheik Haydar) to who it refers. Nevertheless ‘Shah of the World’ conveys that meaning and does have are rather more poetic tone, perhaps, than a compromise rendering of ‘worldly Shah’ which I also considered. So I have changed this.

The reader suggests that perhaps imam should not be translated at all since the religious context is lost. This is perhaps true. In the construction of the On İki İmam in the final verse I do not translate imam because of its specific reference, whereas in the refrain line Ali nesli güzel imam geliyor I originally tranlated it as leader. This was deliberate in order to assert the temporal leadership that I think is certainly a strong aspect of the way these lyrics are looked upon today. I think the perspective of the age considering these lyrics is relevant for a work that emerges from folklore and certainly this is a consideration in my interest in these lyrics – the life and meaning they have now. However, I have decided to change this, for now, to ‘guide’ which perhaps retains a element of the religious or spiritual context. I am also inclined to persist with this line as a fully translated line – for the English reader for whom the translation is intended – since it is the refrain line.

The reader very reasonably questions the logic of rendering mağrib as West. Mağrib can mean Morocco or the Magreb, the place where the sun sets, that is the West. But this line did trouble me in my translation, for the geographic illogic. Still, these lyrics are of a nature that narrative logic is not always present, so I was prepared to render it as best I could and accept the meaning may remain obscure. However in looking at this again, I am coming to the view that the intended word here may not be mağrib but rather magib which means being absent or in concealment. It would be helpful to find variants of this lyric that pointed to such a reading, but I have not. Nevertheless I am prepared to go out on a limb and adopt this meaning, since the meaning of the ‘West’ may also incorporate a sense of  ‘absence’ or ‘concealment’. So I have changed the reading of this line to “Emerging from concealment he appears again” – which also obviously hints at the emergence of the twelfth imam.

The reader also suggest a reading of dolu with its meaning of ‘hail’ and in her view referring to the Shah’s martial spirit. I don’t concur with this reading. In Alevi and Turkish folk culture dolu specifically refers to a cup full of spirit or liquor. Özbek ( in Türkülerin Dili) gives the meaning as “içki, içkiyle dolu kadeh“; and Korkmaz (in Alevilik ve Bektaşilik Terimleri Sözlüğü) gives “içki doldurulmuş kadeh, içki“. In the Alevi cem ceremony the Saki scatters the holy liquor over the congregation. I have amended my translation to try this reading: “he dispersed the full cup of spirit at each step”. Not sure this is better, but these are works in progress.

In considering the readers comments I am reminded of Talat Halman’s – Halman is probably the best translator of this material – assertion that a single translator can hardly do a definitive version and that “a whole consort of virtuoso renditions … might be far more effective”.  As Halman further noted “many of the best poems were actually created as musical composition in their own right and require a miracle for successful transposition” (see Halman’s article Translating Turkish Literature and “Cultranslation” in Translation Review No. 68, 2004).

Pir Sultan Abdal: Yürüyüş eyledi Urum üstüne

Translation: Paul Koerbin

He made a march on Anatolia

The beautiful guide of Ali’s descent is coming

I came down and kissed his hand

The beautiful leader of Ali’s descent is coming

He dispersed the full cup of spirit at each step

Arab horses tied in his stable

If you ask of his origin he is the Shah’s son

The beautiful guide of Ali’s descent is coming

His fields are marked out step by step

From the hand of his rival his heart grieves

Dressed in green the young novice warrior

The beautiful guide of Ali’s descent is coming

Emerging from concealment he appears again

No-one knows the secret of the sainted one

Descendant of Old Haydar  Shah of the World

The beautiful guide of Ali’s descent is coming

I am Pir Sultan Abdal if I see those things

If I pay humble respect entreating

From the first the prince of the twelve imams

The beautiful guide of Ali’s descent is coming


Original text from Memet Fuat Pir Sultan Abdal (1999 ed.)

Yürüyüş eyledi Urum üstüne

Ali nesli güzel imam geliyor

İnip temennâ eyledim destine

Ali nesli güzel imam geliyor

Doluları adım adım dağıdır

Tavlasında küheylânlar bağlıdır

Aslını sorarsan Şah’ın oğludur

Ali nesli güzel imam geliyor

Tarlaları adım adım çizili

Rakîbin elinden ciğer sızılı

Al yeşil giyinmiş köçek gazili

Ali nesli güzel imam geliyor

Meydana çıkar görünü görünü

Kimse bilmez Evliyanın sırrını

Koca Haydar Şah-ı cihan torunu

Ali nesli güzel imam geliyor

Pir Sultan Abdal’ım görsem şunları

Yüzün sürsem boyun eğip yalvarı

Evvel baştan On İki İmam severi

Ali nesli güzel imam geliyor