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KANIK'sadığım biri


Yazan: M. Şeref Özsoy


111 Poems by ORHAN VELİ

Translated by

Talat Sait Halman



übersetzt von

Yüksel Pazarkaya


çevirdiği şiirler


mail to: Talat Sait Halman     


Just For The Hell Of It

There Must Be A Catch

Toward Freedom


I Am Listening To Istanbul


Epitaph I

Epitaph II
Epitaph III

The Galata Bridge

Bird And Cloud


The Flag


To Leave A City

Cabbie's Wife
Hoy Lulu

The Beard

My Masterpiece

I Can't Explain
Birds Are Liars

People Will Talk

Somethink Like Booze
Letters To Oktay
Poem With Bells
All Of A Sudden
A Little Heart

Exodus I

Exodus II

Wool - Gatherer

For You

Outside The City

As Death Draws Near

Lovely Weather


Erol Güney's Cat

My Bed

All My Talk

Sea Nostalgia

Bad Kid

Poem With A Flutter


Walking In The Street


Edith Almera

Like Us

Being Sad

Orhan Veli




Poem With Tweezers

Poems On Travel

Mechanic Sabri

For Istanbul

The Sea

I Buy Old Things

Just See What Happends Then

Did I Fall In Love?



That's Not It

Sicilian Fisherman

Cornel Tree

Hurtling Train


In The Sticks



My Trouble Is Different
My Ex-Wife

Thank God

My Left Hand

Until Daybreak

Bound For War
Poem With A Tail / Reply
My Shadow
Are You Alive?
The Mermaid
Poem Of Loneliness
The Hero Of A Novel
How Lovely
Poems On Asphalt
Robinson Crusoe
There Are Days
My Tree
Sunday Evenings
Such Is Life
For Our Homeland

One The Way Out

This World

Abouth The Translator

























































































ORHAN VELİ KANIK collapsed on November 14, 1950 in the city of Istanbul. He was rushed to the hospital, fell into a coma and died before midnight. He was 36, but already a legend in his lifetime. He was the enfant terrible of Turkish poetry, the man who had written the notorious line, " I just wish I were a fish in a bottle of booze." Attending physicians must have felt that his wish had been granted for they first assumed that death was the result of "poisoning due to intoxication." Later, world got around that the poet had fallen into a ditch in Ankara a few days before and had been complaining about an unbearable headache ever since. As a result, a number of people concluded he had suffered a brain concussion. A few intimates also recalled that the poet had never fully recovered from a serious automobile accident in 1939. Then he had been in a coma for 20 days.

Officially it was a cerebral hemorrhage which ended the life of Turkey's most talked-about, most colorful poet. But alcohol could lay claim to being the unofficial cause, for the fall into the ditch in Ankara had followed a bout of heavy drinking.

Orhan Veli Kanık's death shocked the Turkish literary world. His vitality had seemed indestructible, his perconality a catalytic force on the Turkish scene. Kanık's poems reaffirmed faith in the sheer joy of being alive. Some of his lines were so well-known that they had become household phrases. The lucid colloquialism, the humor and verve, the effective but gentle satire of his verse were such celebrations of life that Kanık and death seemed irreconcilable. After a moving funeral ceremony, Orhan Veli Kanık was buried on a hill overlooking the Bosphorus as though in death, as in life, he would be "listening to Istanbul" and rejoicing in its beauty.

Kanık, more often referred to as Orhan Veli, was the leading modernist in Turkish poetry in the 1940's. Few literary upheavals have had an impact comparable to that produced by the stylistic and substantive innovations he made in Turkish poetry, a tradition which dates back to the 8th century A.D. (Even earlier references in Chinese sources allude to translations from Turkish poetry in the 2nd century B.C.) Within the decade or so that spanned his career, Orhan Veli revolutionized not only the form and content but also the function of Turkish poetry.

He presided over the demise of strict stanzaic forms and stood squarely against artifice, hackneyed metaphors and a variety of clichés and literary embellishments which had rendered much of Turkish poetry sterile. Orhan Veli's poems dealt with everyday life expressed in direct terms. While the use of free verse had been established earlier, (the leftist poet Nazım Hikmet had introduced it in the 1920's), it was Orhan Veli who made vers libre and the French modernists relevant to contemporary Turkish poetry.

Orhan Veli wrote about the man in the street using the natural rhythms and idioms of colloquial Turkish. Together with his fellow-poets Oktay Rifat (1914-1988) and Melih Cevdet Anday (1915- ), he led an aesthetic movement which can be described as "Poetic Realism" in which the embattled common man emerges as the contemporary hero. Orhan Veli's iconoclasm paved the way for a poetry steeped in the vernacular and stripped of adornments. By liberating his contemporaries from the stultifying weight of the past, he made them conscious of the life and values of "everyman." Any and all topics could be treated poetically and poets were free to use all the expressive resources of the Turkish language.

The man responsible for this transformation of Turkish poetry was born in Istanbul in 1914 just as Europe plunged into World War I. By the time of his death he had witnessed a second calamitous war, seen empires collapse, ideologies clash, and watched technology rise, first as boon and then as threat. Millions had fallen prey to genocide; many more millions were liberated from colonialism, and mankind grew conscious of the prospect of self-annihilation.

At home Orhan Veli saw the Ottoman Empire crumble and the Republic of Turkey emerge from the ruins following a massive war of national independence. The transition from empire to republic enabled Turkey to launch intensive reforms. Traditional patterns of life and culture were abandoned, values and institutions changed, religion and state were separated, and the Latin alphabet replaced the Arabic script. The powerful Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder and first President of the Turkish Republic, was himself a major force in turning Turkey from East to West so that a commitment to a European life-style became a dominant feature in Turkish literature and segments of society. A further westernization followed World War II when the country switched from autocratic one-party rule to a democratic multi-party system.

Upheavals in Turkey and elsewhere were the major historical events in Orhan Veli's life. His education began at Istanbul's Galatasaray Lycée where he acquired a good command of French. His talent was apparent from early childhood, and he was fortunate in getting advice and encouragement from a number of first-rate teachers. Some of them were leading poets, including Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, who was also a prominent literary critic and historian. Orhan Veli printed his earliest poems in a school paper he published, Sesimiz (Our Voice). He graduated from the Gazi Lycée in Ankara in 1932 and attended the Faculty of Literature at the University of Istanbul. He worked for a while as a teacher's assistant at the Galatasaray Lycée, but he decided not to pursue graduate studies and returned to Ankara. There he worked for the Turkish Postal Administration from 1936 to 1942. He served in Turkish Armed Forces as a reserve officer from 1942 to 1945. Later he joined the staff of the Translation Bureau at the Ministry of Public Education. He quit after two years during which he translated many books from French into Turkish. From January 1949 until his death the following year, he edited a one-page literary periodical, Yaprak (Leaf). This appeared 28 times and ceased publication with a special memorial issue after his death.

Orhan Veli never married even though, or perhaps because, as he admitted, "I have been in love many times." His brother Adnan Veli Kanık comments: "Orhan's first love affair (if it can be called that) started when he was twelve," and adds that there was a succession of attachments to young women, some of whom he remembers by name: "When he was a lycée student, he fell in love with a girl called Cazibe. His first serious affair was when he was attending the University... But his greatest love started much later and continued until his death."

Orhan Veli's first entry into literary world came through formal lyrics which were published under the pseudonym Mehmet Ali Sel in the influential literary magazine Varlık. Most of these early poems show an impressive mastery of classical forms and meters. The lyrics in strict stanzaic forms and syllabic meters followed conventional patterns. Some of them are interesting for their preoccupation with Greek or Western literary themes as evidenced by such titles as "Oaristys", "Eldorado", "Ave Maria", "Lied", "For Héléne", etc. Like most of the leading poets of the previous generation Orhan Veli's early work combines French influences with Turkish modes and forms. He even wrote lyrics in conventional meters for songs composed in the traditional alla turca vein. Some of the early verses were praised by the prominent neo-classical poet Yahya Kemal Beyatlı for their excellence in prosody and structure. Not long after this, however, Orhan Veli abandoned traditional forms. He wrote later that it was only a year or two after he was twenty when he felt it was time to search for new horizons in poetry. Traditional verse was too turned in upon itself; it suffered from stereotyped words, idioms, and imagery.

Orhan Veli's first book was also his most controversial and influential. Published in 1941 with the title Garip (Strange), it featured the work of Orhan Veli and his best friends Oktay Rifat and Melih Cevdet Anday. Garip began with an introduction which was in fact a manifesto, influenced by André Breton's Manifeste du Surrealisme according to Oktay Rifat. The manifesto, which marked a turningpoint in the modernization of Turkish poetry, declared:

"The literary taste on which the new poetry will base itself is no longer the taste of a minority class. People in the world today acquire their right to life after a sustained struggle. Like everything else, poetry is one of their rights and must be attuned to their tastes. This does not signify that an attempt should be made to express the aspirations of the masses by means of the literary conventions of the past. The question is not to make a defense of class interests,but merely to explore the people's tastes, to determine them, and to make them reign supreme over art.

"We can arrive at a new appreciation by new ways and means. Squeezing certain theories into familiar old molds cannot be a new artistic thrust forward. We must alter the whole structure from the foundation up. In order to rescue ourselves from the stifling effects of the literatures which have dictated and shaped our tastes and judgments for too many years, we must dump overboard everthing that those literatures have taught us. We wish it were possible to dump even language itself, because it threatens our creative efforts by forcing its vocabulary on us when we write poetry."

In the repressive Turkey of 1941 this vehement documents was a clear and courageous denunciation of the entrenched institutions and of the establishment. In the manifesto, Kanık and his two colleagues did not name their targets but they were obvious. Chief among them was the traditions of Turkish classical poetry which had used the stringent stanzaic forms, the quantitative "aruz" prosody, and the mythology and vocabulary of Arabic and Persian literatures from the 12th century until well into the 20th.

The confining effects of such highly formalized technique can be realized by examining a gazel (lyric ode), where the first couplet is self-rhyming and the second line of each succeeding couplet is rhymed with the opening couplet. The following gazel is by Fuzuli (16th centry), and translated by an indefatigable student and atrocious translator of Turkish classical poetry, E.J.W. Gibb (d.1901):

Goddess, when I sight thy figure wonder makes me dumb to be;

He who sees my plight and fashion for a figure holdeth me.

Naught of love to me thou showest, naught of ruth, till now at length

Passion for thy locks doth tread me like to shadow on the lea.

Weak my star, my fortune adverse, yet withal thy gracious mien

Ever fills my soul with yearning fond for union with thee.

Thou a princess; I, a beggar, may not woo thee; what can I?

Yearning dazeth me with fancies vain I ne'er can hope to see.

Shoot not forth thy glance's dart, it smites my vitals, spills my blood;

Cast not loose thy knotted tresses, for they work my tormentry.

Destiny long since hath vowed me to the love of darlings fair;

Every moon-bright one doth make me thrall of down and mole to be.

O Fuzuli, never shall I quit the path of love, because

Through his virtue gain I entrance mid the noble company.*

Another target of the Garip proclamation was the neo-classical poetry penned with impressive success by Yahya Kemal Beyatlı (1884-1958), whose refined formalistic poems were about love, the glory of the Ottoman past, the beauty of Istanbul, and so on. Kanık and his friends took their stand against such work as well as the malaise of Ahmet Haşim (1884-1933), whose half-European, half-Oriental pseudo-symbolism had excluded all social concerns. They were against the polished love lyrics and idealized depictions of Turkish life that Faruk Nafiz Çamlıbel (1898-1973) was turning out, and against the patriotic and religious verse of Mehmet Akif Ersoy (1873-1936) whose artistic output seemed to consist of paeans for Islam and Turkey. The Orhan Veli school had no patience for turgid verse and jungoistic doggerel. Kanık and his friends also considered Necip Fazıl Kısakürek (1905-1983), a poet who had been an early influence on Orhan Veli, tedious and tasteless for his treatment of human anguish as a literary conceit:

Month after month I roamed broken, aghast:

My soul was a cauldron which my mind drained;

With the madmen's town one horizon past,

My brain's fantasies were bridled and chained.

Why do all things in the distance dwindle?

In eyeless dreams who gives me piercing sight?

Why the dance of time in the globe's spindle?

I crave wisdom to see my life's twilight.

Thoughts burns as vitriol in the wound's grail

Clinging like leeches to the brain's membranes,

Hail, most majestic of agonies, hail,

Magic log that blooms as it sears and pains.

In my respects, in particular for their use of free verse, the Garip poets were indebted to Nazım Hikmet Ran (1902-1963) , who was silenced from the late thirties until the late forties during his imprisonment on charges of leftwing activities. They went far beyond his modernism and their verse had none of Ran's heavy rhymes, contrived rhythmic effects or all too obvious embellishments.

Orhan Veli revitalized Turkish poetry for social as well as aesthetic purposes. His work, purged of spurious devices, was to speak of and for the man in the street. Modern man, who was beginning to acquire a new sense of his worth, would best be served by free verse, a fresh style, and a colloquial idiom. In a poem which became famaus overnight, "Epitaph I," Kanık made the non-hero Süleyman Efendi ("efendi" refers to someone low on the social ladder) his hero:

He suffered from nothing in the world

The way he suffered from his corns;

He didn't even feel so badly

About having been created ugly.

Though he wouldn't utter the Lord's name

Unless his shoe pinched,

He couldn't be considered a sinner either.

It's a pity Süleyman Efendi had to die.

The closing line has become a proverbial expression among the Turks. The "corns" drove home the point that any subject or image - no matter how ugly or offensive - could be incorporated into a poem.

"Epitaph I" shocked the literary sensibilities of sedate circles. The Turkish bourgeoisie felt that it had received a slap on the face. For Orhan Veli this poem signifed an exploration into the new aesthetics and the "democratization" of poetry. In 1937, at age 23, and 3 years before the first publicion of "Epitaph I", he had resolved that "All of our concepts, not merely our conception of beauty, must change. We should find new elements, new substance, and new forms of expression."

The literary establishment opposed Kanık's new ventures with full force while a few progressive critics - principally Nurullah Ataç (1898-1957) - sided with him. In the early 1940's critical denunciations and blistering satires were published against the poet himself and his work, in particular, "Epitaph I". Typical of the comment from Turkey's literary circles was the following excerpt from an article by Yusuf Ziya Ortaç (1895-1967), himself a poet:

"Meters are gone, rhymes are gone, meanings are gone. They have been applauding the line 'It's a pity Süleyman Efendi had to die' as the most beatiful line of Turkish poetry... The insane asylum and the flop-house of art are now joined hand in hand... O Turkish Youth! I appeal to you to spit in the face of such shamefulness!"

There are no stentorian effects in Orhan Veli's verse, no rhetoric, no bloated images. In most of his poems he strikes a vital chord by offering the simple truth, and he is usually so sincere as to seem almost sentimental. He never wrote a complex line nor a single perplexing metaphor. His verse was a revolt of a purist against facile meters, pre-determined form and rhythm, pompous diction. Style, in his hands, became a vehicle for the natural sounds of colloquial Turkish.

Humor formed the vital core of Kanık's world-view and aesthetics. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he never gave vent to bitterness or cynicism in the face of inequity and suffering. His poetry remained free of polemics, protest and denunciation. The tenor of "Epitaph I" is characteristic. Its affable and ironic tone was to permeate the "Poetic Realism" of Kanık and his friends - an aura of bonhomie clothing the poets' awareness and criticism of injustice.

Orhan Veli Kanık was a prolific and excellent translator. His renderings of poems by François Villon, Pierre de Ronsard, Alfred de Musset, ThéophileGauter, Charles Baudelaire, Charles Cros, Paul Verlaine, Jules Laforgue, Stephane Mallarmé, Jules Supervielle, Phillippe Soupault, Paul Eluard, André Breton, Louis Aragon, Guillaume Apollinaire are deservedly famous. He also translated Arthur Rimbaud, Jean Moréas, Paul Valéry and Shelley as well as rubais by Omar Khayyam and Mawlana Djalal-al-din Rumi. Kanık wrote a few traditional rubais of his own. The following is a typical example:

To discover life's secret, just look arround;

With one root, trees cling on to the ground;

The world is precious: Without arms or legs,

People still yearn to live safe and sound.

Among his translations are haikus by Japanese poets and several Chinese verses. In addition to verse, Kanık also translated dramatic and prose works, including works by Moliére, Alfred de Musset and Nikolai Gogol, Jean-Paul Sarte's The Respectful Prostitute, and Jean Anouilh's Antigone.

Of the many poets he read or translated, particularly from the French, it was the contemporary poet Jacques Prevert who probably exerted the strongest influence on Orhan Veli. As his friend Oktay Rifat observed: "Orhan lived within his all too brief lifetime the adventures of several generations of French poets."

Kanık's natural bent for wit and humor led him, like Marianne Moore, to translate the Fables of La Fontaine, 49 of which he published in book form in 1948. He is also well-known for his verse versions of the anecdots of Nasreddin Hodja, a perennially popular Turkish wit and raconteur, who probably lived in the 13th century. The following is from the collection of Nasreddin Hodja stories Kanık published in 1949:


One day, Tamerlane and Hodja together take a trip

To a bath where they start to wash as soon as they strip.

While bathing, out of the clear blue, demands his Highness:

"If I were a serf for sale, how much would you bid?"

Of course Hodja knows no cowardice nor shyness:

First he pretends he ponders, then with customary slyness

"If you ask me," he says, "I would bid a hundred quid."

Tamerlane is furious: "You must be insane!"

"Our towel here alone is worth at least a hundred."

Hodja shakes with guffaws that he cannot restrain;

Then he bows and blandly says to Tamerlane:

"In fact, it was the towel for which I made my bid."

In 1945 Kanık re-published his Garip poems, using the same title, with a number of poems added and with the Oktay Rifat and Anday contributions in the original 1941 book eliminated. The same year saw the publication of Vazgeçemediğim (I Cannot Give Up). Three more books follewed: Destan Gibi (Like an Epic) in 1946, Yenisi (The New One) in 1947, and Karşı (Across) in 1949.

Orhan Veli's Complete Poems, published posthumously in 1951, has gone through nearly 20 printings, attentesting too his continuing popularity. His essays, critical pieces, and short stories were collected in a book which came out in 1953.

The selections in Just for the Hell of it represent about two-thirds of Kanık's lifetime output of poems in free verse. The translations are, on the whole, entirely faithful, although never slavish. No poem here appears as a free adaptation or as an "imitation". Most of Orhan Veli's work lends itself very well to colloquial English. In many ways the poems are akin in spirit and style to those of the newer generation of poets in America today. Since Turkish expressions usually find their exact counterparts in today's American and British vernacular, the poems can be translated without too great a loss of poetic values. Very few of Kanık's important poems have been omitted because of untranslatable features. Orhan Veli's poetry can probably be translated into many languages without too much difficulty. For as much as his work reflects Turkey and Turkish life, his substance and manner have universal validity and value.

*E.J.W. Gibb, A History of Ottoman Poetry, Luzac & Co Ltd, London, 1904, Vol. III pp. 95-96.