Five Poems

by Ahmet Haşim, translated by Donny Smith

Ahmet Haşim was born in Baghdad in 1887 to an old Ottoman family. In 1898, he was sent to Istanbul to learn Turkish and receive a good Ottoman education. He became interested in French and Ottoman poetry at the Sultanî (Galatasaray) High School and published his first poem in 1901. After graduating in 1907, he held various low-level bureaucratic and teaching posts. During World War I, he was a reserve officer and inspector in the Ottoman Army. After discharge, he again had to accept various low-level posts. His first poetry collection, Göl Saatleri (Lake Hours), was published in 1921 and his second collection, Piyale (Wineglass), in 1926. He traveled to Paris and Frankfurt a few times, mostly for medical care. He died in Istanbul in 1933. He is often cited as a forebear by Turkish poets today.

Donny Smith was born in Nebraska but teaches at a high school in Istanbul. His books of translations include Pigeonwoman / Üvercinka by Cemal Süreya (with A. Karakaya), I Too Went to the Hunt of a Deer by Lâle Müldür, and If Cutting Off the Head of the Gorgon by Wenceslao Maldonado. His other translations of Ahmet Haşim’s poetry have appeared in Turkish Poetry Today, Armarólla, and Bosphorus Review of Books.

Haşim’s response to criticism of the poem “Desire at the End of the Day” became his best-known statement on poetry, “Şiir Hakkında Bazı Mülâhazalar” (“Some Remarks about Poetry”), focusing on mâna, “meaning,” and vuzuh, “clarity.” Among other things, he asks, “How is dredging through poetry in the search for meaning different from killing for its meat a poor little bird whose song leaves the stars trembling in the night?”

Abdülhak Şinasi recounts a conversation with an unnamed writer who tells him, “As soon as I got back from Europe, the first thing, I ran into Ahmet Haşim and I really took him to task.” Şinasi asks why, what had Haşim done. The writer says, “Because he was still only an artist and hadn’t become a socialist. God! He was really petulant about it.”

After a journalist suggested that Haşim would never deign to dirty himself with the day-to-day politics of Ankara, Haşim wrote: “Whatever my sins may be, is it worth all the vexation and woe that Falih Rıfkı (Atay) has put into what he wrote, just to get a poet to stick his nose into the political milieu, or even into politics itself? Compared to a poet who has in his life in Istanbul only once or twice, and that unwittingly, brushed his arm against the electric wire of a political topic, there are in Ankara countless poets waddling about like bees who have lost the use of their wings after falling into a honey pot.”

Historian Enver Behnan Şapolyo writes that the poet Yahya Kemal came to Ankara in 1923, and “it was from his inexhaustible rumor-mongering that I learned about Ahmet Haşim. When I went to Istanbul a year later and got mixed up with publishing on Bab-ı Ali Avenue, I met Haşim in Akbaba magazine’s editorial offices. I repeated a bit of Yahya Kemal’s gossip to Haşim: ‘You apparently wrote a poem, sir, and in this poem, you laid your lover down on a bed of ‘pine leaves’—something that made Yahya Kemal laugh and say, “This guy must not know a thing about botany. He lays his lover down on a barrel of needles!”’ This got Haşim all worked up. ‘So he’s still messing with me?’ This really cut the man to the quick. ‘He doesn’t even stop talking about me in his sleep,’ he said. And what came after was a bit violent as well.”

His last words (a mix of Turkish and French) as reported by writer Mina Urgan: Haşim’s doctor has him on a restricted diet. One day as his boiled squash is placed before him, he berates the doctor: “Mon cher, why would you give me so many vegetables? I’m not a végétal patient, I’m an animal patient.”

—Donny Smith


Five Poems by Ahmet Haşim
Translated from the Turkish by Donny Smith

 

White Birds in the Darkness

In the wild shadows, in the long dark’s
discernible cleavage, the nightbeds of silvery birds:

as though the moment just before dawn, known well
to the light that is tossed aside in the world of shades, to empresses

whose offended hands have lined the shore with porcelain
bowls to receive the moon’s distillate there …


Lines to the Rim of the Setting Moon

This moon in the water so sedate
and so docile recalls a stricken god
who in the midnight’s distant waters
lingers, bathing, resting, and laughing …

*

His hand at times frightens the Silence,
for in sleep in the lands of water
he calls birds to him, ah,
those birds that now sway
in the motionless waters’ fire …

*

Marks of malefic battle: As arrows
rain from a hidden inexhaustible bow
(reflections of the distant world),
blood flows fiery into the water
from that divine and luminous body …


Swans

In the water, weary manifestations
glow, an approach:

Breasts opening in the night, eyes drunken,
the swans arrive,
as though ships laden with laughter
and built of stars …


unfinished poem

In these gardens a bird is thinking
… his golden plume … for autumn …


Carnation

One drop of flame carried
from the loved one’s lip this carnation,
known to my soul by its pain!

As butterflies fall here and there
as though shot by its red-hot scent,
my heart at once becomes a moth for her …


Five Poems by Ahmet Haşim

 

Karanlıkta Beyaz Kuşlar

Vahşi karaltılardaki sîmîn kuşların
Mer’î miyân-ı sîne-i yeldâda yerleri:

Gûyâ cihân-ı sâyede metrük-i nûr olan
Fecr-âşinâ melikelerin muğber elleri

Koymuş kenar-ı sâhile fağfur kâseler
Mâhın birikmiş orda ziyâ-yı mukattarı ..


Batan Ayın Kenarına Satırlar

Bir vurulmuş ilâhı andırıyor
Suda teskîn-i zahm eden bu kamer,
Nısf-ı leylin miyâh-ı dûrunda
Yıkanır, dinlenir, durur ve güler ..

*

Eli bazan “sükûn”u ürkütüyor
Ki miyâh ellerinde hâbîde,
Ediyor bazı kuşları da’vet,
Ah o kuşlar ki şimdi bî-hareket
Suların âteşinde sallanıyor ..

*

Zühalî bir cidâlin âsarı:
Gizli bir kavs-i bî-tenâhîden
Oklar indikçe –aks-i âlem-i dûr–
O muzî cüsse-i ilâhîden
Suya bir hûn-ı âteşîn akıyor ..


Kuğular

Suda yorgun, muzî tecelliler
Ediyor bir takarrübü ifşâ:

Kuğular, leyl içinde, sîne-küşâ,
Geliyor, gözlerinde mestîler;
Sanki mahmûl-i hande keştîler
Ki olunmuş nücûmden inşâ…


bitmemiş şiir

Bir kuş düşünür bu bahçelerde
Altın tüyü sonbahâra uygun


Karanfil

Yârin dudağından getirilmiş
Bir katre âlevdir bu karanfil,
Rûhum acısından bunu bildi!

Düştükçe, vurulmuş gibi, yer yer,
Kızgın kokusundan kelebekler,
Gönlüm ona pervâne kesildi…


Ahmet Haşim was born in Baghdad in 1887 to an old Ottoman family. In 1898, he was sent to Istanbul to learn Turkish and receive a good Ottoman education. He became interested in French and Ottoman poetry at the Sultanî (Galatasaray) High School and published his first poem in 1901. After graduating in 1907, he held various low-level bureaucratic and teaching posts. During World War I, he was a reserve officer and inspector in the Ottoman Army. After discharge, he again had to accept various low-level posts. His first poetry collection, Göl Saatleri (Lake Hours), was published in 1921 and his second collection, Piyale (Wineglass), in 1926. He traveled to Paris and Frankfurt a few times, mostly for medical care. He died in Istanbul in 1933. He is often cited as a forebear by Turkish poets today.

Donny Smith was born in Nebraska but teaches at a high school in Istanbul. His books of translations include Pigeonwoman / Üvercinka by Cemal Süreya (with A. Karakaya), I Too Went to the Hunt of a Deer by Lâle Müldür, and If Cutting Off the Head of the Gorgon by Wenceslao Maldonado. His other translations of Ahmet Haşim’s poetry have appeared in Turkish Poetry Today, Armarólla, and Bosphorus Review of Books.

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