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Soul Sundays: Karlı Kayın Ormanı

February 27, 2011

Soul Sundays lives! Here in the fourth installment, I’d like to present a Turkish song, “Karlı Kayın Ormanı” by Zülfü Livaneli. Livaneli is a very well-known folk-singer, novelist, and politician in Turkey. I was first introduced to his work through the excellent film, Bliss, which is based on Livaneli’s novel by the same name and amazingly enough also features his own music (talk about a Renaissance man!).

The song, “A Snowy Birch Forest,” is actually based on a poem by Nâzım Hikmet, a famous Turkish poet and writer. Hikmet was also quite the artiste and man of letters — he helped revolutionize Turkish poetry with his free verse in the 1920s and 1930s. Having been described as a “romantic communist,” he was persecuted by the Turkish government and spent a great deal of time in jail and exile. Nikmet died in Moscow and was actually buried at Novodevichy Cemetary, among other communist royalty.

Nazim's Grave. Photo by S. Hirst.

In the “folk music” tradition, Livaneli is known for putting many traditional poems to music, including a number of Hikmet’s works. This particular version is from a concert. I first became fascinated by it before I could even understand the words (so yes, I concur with Longfellow, “Music is the universal language of mankind”). Livaneli’s gorgeous voice, matched by the powerful and wonderful call and answer with the audience is simply mesmerizing.

Fortunately, I do have translation, provided by a dear friend and scholar, Samuel Hirst, who is currently researching in Turkey. Thanks, Sam. Enjoy!

Karli kayın ormanında, yürüyörüm geceleyin
In a snowy birch forest, I am walking in the night

Efkarlıyım efkarlıyım, elini ver – ver elini
I am full of sorrow, so full of sorrow, give me your hand, give your hand to me

Memleket mi yıldızlar mı, gençliğim mi daha uzak?
The stars, my homeland, or my youth? Which is farthest away?

Kayınların arasında bir pencere sarı-sıcak
Among the birches, a window glows yellow and warm

Ben oradan geçerken biri, amca dese gir içere
What if, as I go by, someone says, “uncle come inside”?

Gidip yerden selamlasam hane içindekileri
And if I go in and greet those inside with a bow?

Yeditepeli şehrimde bıraktım gonca gülümü
In my city of seven hills I left my rosebud.

Ne ölümden korkmak hayır, ne de düşünmek ölümü
There is no shame in fearing death, nor even in thinking of death.

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