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On the Scent of Reform and Revolution

Browsing through the 2002 edition of the anthology of deyiş and türkü compiled by Aşık İhsani (originally published in the politically volatile 1970s, that is in 1974) with the title Ozan Dolu Anadolu my eye caught this lyric, with its invocation of Pir Sultan as the symbol of oppression and revolution,  from Aşık Saracıkız (b. 1948, real name İlkin Manya). I have already mentioned Aşık Sarıcakız in regard to the possible inspiration she provided to Nimri Dede in the composition of one of his finest deyiş Özde ben mevlana oldum da geldim. The lyric is quite simple and unambiguous in its content but not without the odd challenge for translation.  Most obviously the refrain line has some interest. The repeat of devrim, which most overtly means ‘revolution’, especially in the context of the political nature of the lyric suggests the repetition of ‘revolution’ in the translation. However the repetition also provides the translator with the opportunity to suggest the wider meaning of the original word, so instead of repeating ‘revolution’ I have tried a translation of ‘reform and revolution’. The word kokar (kokmak) means “to smell” or to “to have a smell”, but it can also mean that “something is at hand” or “a sign of something about to happen” which is, I think a relevant meaning here. However, as the context of the third verse makes clear we should not abandon the basic meaning: roses clearly have scent. I think the English phrase “have a scent” or “give a scent” carry enough of the meaning of “something is at hand” to work well in this context.

The line “Nâzımların yön verdiği” is an nice play on names and meaning that is not straightforward in translation. The word ‘nazım‘ (without circumflex over the ‘a’) means ‘verse(s)’. With the circumflex over the ‘a’ ‘nâzım‘ means one who sets things in order or composes (verse) – a versifier, a poet. But this, in the political context of the song, is clearly also an reference to great modern Turkish Communist poet Nâzım Hikmet. The plural form in the lyric here suggests the class of poets like Nâzım Hikmet. I felt the allusion strong enough to put this in the translation. Other subtleties are however lost, such as the use of the word ‘teller‘ in the last line which I have translated as ‘strings’ – which is clearly correct – following the reference to Sarıcakız’s lute (saz). Sadly the hint of an allusion to the bird’s feathers connecting it to the first line of the last verse is lost.

The most troubling line for me was the first line of the third verse “İnsanların her çağında”. The meaning is clear enough – something like ‘people (or human beings) in every age’ – but to get it to an acceptable English equivalent that will work with the verse is a challenge. I tried lines like “in all ages of humanity”, but clearly that was not going to last. My current translation “in people throughout time” does not follow the grammar correctly but I think does give an acceptable sense of the meaning of the line.

Aşık Sarıcakız:Düzen, yokluk açlık, zulüm

Translation: Paul Koerbin

The system, poverty and hunger, oppression

Conditions have the scent of reform and revolution

If talk of truths is silenced

Tongues get the scent of reform and revolution

As Pir Sultan gave his life

As Nâzım’s verses gave direction

As the books demonstrated

The ways have the scent of reform and revolution

In people throughout time

In the exalted and in the lowly

In the garden of democracy

Roses have the scent of reform and revolution

In the cry of the nightingale

In the entreaty of truths

On the saz of Sarıcakız

Strings have the scent of reform and revolution


Original version from Aşık İhsani Ozan Dolu Anadolu Antoloji,2002

Düzen, yokluk açlık, zulüm

Haller devrim devrim kokar

Gerçeklere sus denirse

Diller devrim devrim kokar

Pirsultan’ın can verdiği

Nâzımların yön verdiği

Kitapların gösterdiği

Yollar devrim devrim kokar

İnsanların her çağında

Yükseğinde alçağında

Demokrasinin bağında

Güller devrim devrim kokar

Bülbüllerin avazında

Gerçeklerin niyazında

Sarıcakız’ın sazında

Teller devrim devrim kokar