x0x TARANCI : NARCISSUS ALIVE
- x0x TARANCI : NARCISSUS ALIVE
By Prof. Talat S.Halman
Love and death were at the core of the narcissus that symbolizes the
poetic art of Cahit Sitki Taranci. Few poets in Turkey or elsewhere had as
their hallmark such interfusions of the joys and agonies of living. Fear
of any yearning for death. Love apotheosized. Simple sentiments distilled
into exquisite, yet sometimes excruciating lines. For Taranci, love always
affirms - and death, no matter how passionately it might be longed for,
ineluctably negates all hope. One of his most powerful poems, "After
Death", is a chilling lyric of shattered faith in life and its aftermath.
With many hopes about death we perished,
But the charm was broken in a vacuum.
Our song of love we cannot help exhume,
A view of the sky, tuft of twigs, bird's plume;
Living was a habit we had cherished.
No news comes from the world now or ever;
No one misses us, no soul cares to know,
The darkness of our night is endless, so
We might just as well do without a window;
Our image has faded from the river.
A sensitive, modest and withdrawn person, Taranci led an uneventful life.
Born in 1910 in the eastern city of Diyarbakir, he had his middle school
education at the St. Joseph and Galatasaray Lycees in Istanbul. Both
lycees, where the principal language of instruction was French, gave young
Cahit Sitki an encompassing knowledge of French literature. Before
graduation from Galatasaray, he had started publishing poems in leading
literary journals. After four years at the School of Political Science, he
quit, and later went to Paris in 1939 for further graduate studies. World
War II forced him to return to Turkey in 1940. He made his living as a
translator at several official agencies. In 1946, his long poem entitled
"Age Thirty-five" won First Prize in the prestigious Poetry Contest
organized by CHP, Turkey's ruling party. In 1956 he died in Vienna where
he was under treatment for cancer.
Many of Taranci's early poems employed a colloquial style in expressing
undramatic daily experiences:
FORGIVE US LAMP
Our embrace linked us so
We got so ecstatic that we forgot
To put out the lamp
Or to draw the curtains.
Suddenly the day is ripe
And the sun peeps through the window.
Goodbye, dearest night,
We must follow the day now.
Forgive us lamp
We dragged you all the way here,
Forgive us our drunkenness;
You go on home while there's still time,
As for us we'll go our daily way.
We entrust our nights to you.
He shaped his utopian vision with easy lyric formulations:
I WANT A COUNTRY
I want a country
Where the sky will be blue, branches green,
A land of birds and flowers.
I want a country
Where there'll be no headache nor heartache
Where brothers will no longer fight.
I want a country
Where there'll be no rich or poor, no you or me
Where everyone will find hearth and home.
I want a country
Where living will be like loving from the heart
Where if there is a complaint it will be about death.
Taranci often evoked the soul's transmogrified panoramas, as in "Terror":
Gently daylight recoiled from the windowpane
Baring all the mirrors desolate and stark;
Now in the gardens the voices of silence reign
And the dome of the sky is a blotch of dark
From fountains and springs water has ceased to pour
So our empty glasses may be filled no more;
Where narcissus had bloomed now a minotaur
Forbids passage to the birds that flee in vain.
Scylla is precious and so is Charybdis,
I fear the night and its dark-ridden abyss;
My trusted hills may suddenly go amiss
And beyond them dawn may never break again.
In a public opinion survey conducted by the influential literary journal
Varlik in 1957, Cahit Sitki Taranci was ranked no. 1 among Turkish poets.
In later decades his stature and popularity remained high. His best-known
and best-loved poem is probably "Age Thirty-five".
Age thirty-five: that means half the course,
Like Dante, we stand midway in life;
All our youthful vigor and resource
-Wanton is our plea, in vain our strife-
Drift away blind to tears of remorse
Look at my temples, are they snow-clad?
O my God, is this wrinkled face me?
These eyes rimmed with rings purple and sad?
Why are you now my arch enemy,
Mirrors, the best friends I ever had.
All this change is more than I can bear;
None of my pictures here could be mine.
Where did all those days of joy go, where?
Can't be me this man smiling, benign.
It's a lie that I am free of care.
Our first love looks hazy, far away
A memory driven from our heart.
Friends who set out with us on life's way
Took separate paths and strayed apart.
Now our loneliness grows day by day.
Odd, I now find that the sky can turn
Into other hues, that stone is hard,
That the waters drown and the flames burn,
And each new day brings a painful load --
All these at thirty-five I could learn.
Autumn, quince yellow, pomegranate red;
Each year I feel it's closer to me.
Why do these birds circle overhead?
And these ravaged gardens that I see?
What funeral is this? Who is dead?
Immutably death is all men's fare.
"Slept, never woke," will be the story,
And who knows where or why or how late?
You shall have but one prayer's glory
On your stone-bier throne lying in state.
* Prof. Talat S.Halman
Department of Turkish Literature