On Sunday, while sitting at a Starbucks, I was attempting to translate this line from a poem by Nurduran Duman:
karanlık yoktur, ışığın yokluğudur
At the moment, I think it would be translated:
there is no darkness, it is the absence of light
darkness doesn’t exist, it’s light’s absence
Though neither of these options seems particularly right to my ear. The line comes from a series/long poem Duman recently finished called Neynur. It’s a set of eighteen poems, all titled “Beyit” or “Verse” and numbered. Each beyit is preceded by a couplet from Rumi, from which Duman’s poem emerges. From which Duman’s poem walks away.
Two of my favorite Turkish words are “var” and “yok.” These words are used to indicate existence or possession (in the sense of having something). “Param var” could be considered, hyper-literally, “My money, it exists.” “Param yok” as “My money, it doesn’t exist.” Of course, when translated, one naturally is inclined/encouraged to defer to “I have money” or “I don’t have money.”
That there is that it isn’t.
Last week, I finished reading the last book Nazim Hikmet wrote before his death, Life’s Good, Brother. Throughout the short novel, the main character Ahmet, whose fictional existence elides within/into/from Hikmet’s own biography, remembers again and again two lines of poetry:
The ship with a hundred masts, where is the port it sails for?
Listen to the flute’s lament, it grieves its separation.
The latter line comes from Mevlana Rumi. In one of his memories, Ahmet is caught mumbling it to himself:
I translated it into Russian for Anushka. And I explained its mystical meaning. The flute is made of a reed; it’s broken off from a reed. So when you play it, it mourns its separation. Man is a fragment of the Universal—God, that is—and he’s been torn away, separated from it, and he mourns this separation—I mean, the poet does.
The word for reed flute is ney. This is the first half of the title of Duman’s work, a mashup of ney + nur or reed flute + light. Perhaps it’s more correct to capitalize these, as they function more as proper nouns: (Reed) Flute + (Divine) Light. Flutelight. Flute/Light.
In addition to the two lines of poetry, physical lines proliferate throughout Hikmet’s novel. Lines drawn on prison walls. Lines drawn to mark a disease’s progression, a possible date of death.
The last line I worked on translating on Sunday was:
ışık ya vardır ya da değildir o ışık
Which, right now, I’m thinking of translating as roughly:
either light exists, or that isn’t the light