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Attila Ilhan: Modern English Translations

Attilâ İlhan (1925-2005) was a Turkish poet, novelist, journalist and reviewer. He was born in Menemen in İzmir Province, Turkey. At age 16 he enrolled in İzmir Atatürk High School, where he ran into trouble for sending a poem by Nazım Hikmet, a famous dissident communist Turkish poet, to a girl he fell in love with. İlhan was arrested, taken into custody for three weeks, dismissed from school and jailed for two months. After his imprisonment, İlhan was forbidden from attending schools in Turkey. Following a favorable court decision in 1941, he received permission to continue his education and enrolled in Istanbul's Işık High School. During his senior year, his uncle entered one of his poems in a poetry competition without telling him. The poem, "Cebbaroğlu Mehemmed," won second prize, beating poems by famous poets. İlhan graduated from high school in 1942 and enrolled in İstanbul University's law school. However, he left midway through his legal education to pursue his own endeavors and publish his first poetry book, Duvar (The Wall).

Ben Sana Mecburum
“You are indispensable”
by Attila Ilhan
loose English translation by Michael R. Burch and Nurgül Yayman

You are indispensable; how can you not know
that you’re like nails riveting my brain?
I see your eyes as ever-expanding dimensions.
You are indispensable; how can you not know
that I burn within, at the thought of you?

Trees prepare themselves for autumn;
can this city be our lost bloom’s Istanbul?
Now clouds disintegrate in the darkness
as the street lights flicker
and the streets reek with rain.
You are indispensable, and yet you are absent ...

Love sometimes is akin to terror:
a man tires suddenly at nightfall,
of living enslaved to the razor at his neck.
Sometimes he wrings his hands,
expunging other lives from his existence.
Sometimes whichever door he knocks
echoes back only heartache.

A screechy phonograph is playing in Fatih ...
a song about some Friday long ago.
I stop to listen from a vacant corner,
longing to bring you an untouched sky,
but time disintegrates in my hands.
Whatever I do, wherever I go,
you are indispensable, and yet you are absent ...

Are you the blue child of June?
Ah, no one knows you, no one knows!
Your deserted eyes are like distant freighters ...
perhaps you are boarding in Yesilköy?
Are you drenched there, shivering with the rain
that leaves you blind, beset, ravished,
with wind-disheveled hair?

Whenever I think of life
seated at the wolves’ table,
shameless, yet without soiling our hands ...
Yes, whenever I think of life,
I begin with your name, defying the silence,
and your secret tides surge within me
making this voyage inevitable.
You are indispensable; how can you not know?

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