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The Best Uyghur Poetry English Translations by Michael R. Burch

Who wrote the best Uyghur poems, also know as Uighur poems? Who are the best Uyghur poets? This is a new and ongoing project for me, as I try to identify the best Uyghur poets and translate their best poems into modern English. Uyghur poets represented here include Dr. Ablet Abdurishit Berqi aka Tarim, Téyipjan Éliyow, Tahir Hamut, Abdurehim Ötkür, Perhat Tursun, Dolqun Yasin and others who will be added as time permits.

modern English translations by Michael R. Burch

If you like my translations you are welcome to share them for noncommercial purposes, but please be sure to credit the original poet and the translator.

Please note that I call my translations "loose translations" and "interpretations" because they are not literal word-for-word translations. I begin with my personal interpretation of a poem and translate accordingly. To critics who object to variations from the original texts, my response is that there are often substantial disagreements among even the most accomplished translators. Variations begin with the readings because different people get different things from different poems. And a strict word-for-word translation will seldom, if ever, result in poetry. In my opinion translation is much closer to an art than a perfect science and I side with Rabindranath Tagore, who said he needed some leeway in order to produce poetry in another language when he translated his own poems into English.—MRB



Perhat Tursun (1969-) is one of the foremost living Uyghur language poets, if he is still alive. Born and raised in Atush, a city in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Tursun began writing poetry in middle school, then branched into prose in college. Tursun has been described as a "self-professed Kafka character" and that comes through splendidly in poems of his like "Elegy." Unfortunately, Tursun was "disappeared" into a Chinese "reeducation" concentration camp where extreme psychological torture is the norm. According to a disturbing report he was later "hospitalized." Apparently no one knows his present whereabouts or condition, if he has one. According to John Bolton, when Donald Trump learned of these "reeducation" concentration camps, he told Chinese President Xi Jinping it was "exactly the right thing to do." Trump’s excuse? "Well, we were in the middle of a major trade deal."

Elegy
by Perhat Tursun
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

"Your soul is the entire world."
— Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Asylum seekers, will you recognize me among the mountain passes' frozen corpses?
Can you identify me here among our Exodus's exiled brothers?
We begged for shelter but they lashed us bare; consider our naked corpses.
When they compel us to accept their massacres, do you know that I am with you?

Three centuries later they resurrect, not recognizing each other,
Their former greatness forgotten.
I happily ingested poison, like a fine wine.
When they search the streets and cannot locate our corpses, do you know that I am with you?

In that tower constructed of skulls you will find my dome as well:
They removed my head to more accurately test their swords' temper.
When before their swords our relationship flees like a flighty lover,
Do you know that I am with you?

When men in fur hats are used for target practice in the marketplace
Where a dying man's face expresses his agony as a bullet cleaves his brain
While the executioner's eyes fail to comprehend why his victim vanishes, ...
Seeing my form reflected in that bullet-pierced brain's erratic thoughts,
Do you know that I am with you?

In those days when drinking wine was considered worse than drinking blood,
did you taste the flour ground out in that blood-turned churning mill?
Now, when you sip the wine Ali-Shir Nava'i imagined to be my blood
In that mystical tavern's dark abyssal chambers,
Do you know that I am with you?

TRANSLATOR NOTES: This is my interpretation (not necessarily correct) of the poem's frozen corpses left 300 years in the past. For the Uyghur people the Mongol period ended around 1760 when the Qing dynasty invaded their homeland, then called Dzungaria. Around a million people were slaughtered during the Qing takeover, and the Dzungaria territory was renamed Xinjiang. I imagine many Uyghurs fleeing the slaughters would have attempted to navigate treacherous mountain passes. Many of them may have died from starvation and/or exposure, while others may have been caught and murdered by their pursuers. If anyone has a better explanation, they are welcome to email me at mikerburch@gmail.com (there is an "r" between my first and last names).



The Fog and the Shadows
adapted from a novel by Perhat Tursun
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

“I began to realize the fog was similar to the shadows.”

I began to realize that, just as the exact shape of darkness is a shadow,
even so the exact shape of fog is disappearance
and the exact shape of a human being is also disappearance.
At this moment it seemed my body was vanishing into the human form’s final state.

After I arrived here,
it was as if the danger of getting lost
and the desire to lose myself
were merging strangely inside me.

While everything in that distant, gargantuan city where I spent my five college years felt strange to me; and even though the skyscrapers, highways, ditches and canals were built according to a single standard and shape, so that it wasn’t easy to differentiate them, still I never had the feeling of being lost. Everyone there felt like one person and they were all folded into each other. It was as if their faces, voices and figures had been gathered together like a shaman’s jumbled-up hair.

Even the men and women seemed identical.
You could only tell them apart by stripping off their clothes and examining them.
The men’s faces were beardless like women’s and their skin was very delicate and unadorned.
I was always surprised that they could tell each other apart.
Later I realized it wasn’t just me: many others were also confused.

For instance, when we went to watch the campus’s only TV in a corridor of a building where the seniors stayed when they came to improve their knowledge. Those elderly Uyghurs always argued about whether someone who had done something unusual in an earlier episode was the same person they were seeing now. They would argue from the beginning of the show to the end. Other people, who couldn’t stand such endless nonsense, would leave the TV to us and stalk off.

Then, when the classes began, we couldn’t tell the teachers apart.
Gradually we became able to tell the men from the women
and eventually we able to recognize individuals.
But other people remained identical for us.

The most surprising thing for me was that the natives couldn’t differentiate us either.
For instance, two police came looking for someone who had broken windows during a fight at a restaurant and had then run away.
They ordered us line up, then asked the restaurant owner to identify the culprit.
He couldn’t tell us apart even though he inspected us very carefully.
He said we all looked so much alike that it was impossible to tell us apart.
Sighing heavily, he left.



The Encounter
by Abdurehim Otkur
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I asked her, why aren’t you afraid? She said her God.
I asked her, anything else? She said her People.
I asked her, anything more? She said her Soul.
I asked her if she was content? She said, I am Not.



With my translations I am trying to build awareness of the plight of Uyghur poets and their people, who are being sent in large numbers to Chinese "reeducation" concentration camps which have been praised by Trump as "exactly" what is "needed." This poem helps us understand the nomadic lifestyle of many Uyghurs, the hardships they endure, and the character it builds ...

Iz (“Traces”)
by Abdurehim Otkur
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

We were children when we set out on this journey;
Now our grandchildren ride horses.

We were just a few when we set out on this arduous journey;
Now we're a large caravan leaving traces in the desert.

We leave our traces scattered in desert dunes' valleys
Where many of our heroes lie buried in sandy graves.

But don't say they were abandoned: amid the cedars
their resting places are decorated by springtime flowers!

We left the tracks, the station ... the crowds recede in the distance;
The wind blows, the sand swirls, but here our indelible trace remains.

The caravan continues, we and our horses become thin,
But our great-grand-children will one day rediscover those traces.

The original Uyghur poem:

Yax iduq muxkul seperge atlinip mangghanda biz,
Emdi atqa mingidek bolup qaldi ene nevrimiz.
Az iduq muxkul seperge atlinip chiqanda biz,
Emdi chong karvan atalduq, qaldurup chollerde iz.
Qaldi iz choller ara, gayi davanlarda yene,
Qaldi ni-ni arslanlar dexit cholde qevrisiz.
Qevrisiz qaldi dimeng yulghun qizarghan dalida,
Gul-chichekke pukinur tangna baharda qevrimiz.
Qaldi iz, qaldi menzil, qaldi yiraqta hemmisi,
Chiqsa boran, kochse qumlar, hem komulmes izimiz.
Tohtimas karvan yolida gerche atlar bek oruq,
Tapqus hichbolmisa, bu izni bizning nevrimiz, ya chevrimiz.

Other poems of note by Abdurehim Otkur include "I Call Forth Spring" and "Waste, You Traitors, Waste!"



The Distance
by Tahir Hamut
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

We can’t exclude the cicadas’ serenades.
Behind the convex glass of the distant hospital building
the nurses watch our outlandish party
with their absurdly distorted faces.

Drinking watered-down liquor,
half-nude, descanting through the open window,
we speak sneeringly of life, love, girls.
The cicadas’ serenades keep breaking in,
wrecking critical parts of our dissertations.

The others dream up excuses to ditch me
and I’m left here alone.

The cosmopolitan pyramid
of drained bottles
makes me feel
like I’m in a Turkish bath.

I lock the door:
Time to get back to work!

I feel like doing cartwheels.
I feel like self-annihilation.



Refuge of a Refugee
by Dr. Ablet Abdurishit Berqi aka Tarim
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I lack a passport,
so I can’t leave legally.
All that’s left is for me to smuggle myself to safety,
but I’m afraid I’ll be beaten black and blue at the border
and I can’t afford the trafficker.

I’m a smuggler of love,
though love has no national identity.
Poetry is my refuge,
where a refugee is most free.

The following excerpts, translated by Anne Henochowicz, come from an essay written by Tang Danhong about her final meeting with Dr. Ablet Abdurishit Berqi, aka Tarim. Tarim is a reference to the Tarim Basin and its Uyghur inhabitants ...

I’m convinced that the poet Tarim [Ablet Berqi] the associate professor at the Xinjiang Education Institute, has been sent to a “concentration camp for educational transformation.” This scholar of Uyghur literature who conducted postdoctoral research at Israel’s top university, what kind of “educational transformation” is he being put through?

Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party secretary of Xinjiang, has said it’s “like the instruction at school, the order of the military, and the security of prison. We have to break their blood relations, their networks, and their roots.”

On a scorching summer day, Tarim came to Tel Aviv from Haifa. In a few days he would go back to Urumqi. I invited him to come say goodbye and once again prepared Sichuan cold noodles for him. He had already unfriended me on Facebook. He said he couldn’t eat, he was busy, and had to hurry back to Haifa. He didn’t even stay for twenty minutes. I can’t even remember, did he sit down? Did he have a glass of water? Yet this farewell shook me to my bones.

He said, “Maybe when I get off the plane, before I enter the airport, they’ll take me to a separate room and beat me up, and I’ll disappear.”

Looking at my shocked face, he then said, “And maybe nothing will happen …”

His expression was sincere. To be honest, the Tarim I saw rarely smiled. Still, layer upon layer blocked my powers of comprehension: he’s a poet, a writer, and a scholar. He’s an associate professor at the Xinjiang Education Institute. He can get a passport and come to Israel for advanced studies. When he goes back he’ll have an offer from Sichuan University to be a professor of literature … I asked, “Beat you up at the airport? Disappear? On what grounds?”

“That’s how Xinjiang is,” he said without any surprise in his voice. “When a Uyghur comes back from being abroad, that can happen.”…



My Feelings
by Dolqun Yasin
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The light sinking through the ice and snow,
The hollyhock blossoms reddening the hills like blood,
The proud peaks revealing their breasts to the stars,
The morning-glories embroidering the earth’s greenery,
Are not light,
Not hollyhocks,
Not peaks,
Not morning-glories;
They are my feelings.

The tears washing the mothers’ wizened faces,
The flower-like smiles suddenly brightening the girls’ visages,
The hair turning white before age thirty,
The night which longs for light despite the sun’s laughter,
Are not tears,
Not smiles,
Not hair,
Not night;
They are my nomadic feelings.

Now turning all my sorrow to passion,
Bequeathing to my people all my griefs and joys,
Scattering my excitement like flowers festooning fields,
I harvest all these, then tenderly glean my poem.

Therefore the world is this poem of mine,
And my poem is the world itself.




To My Brother the Warrior
by Téyipjan Éliyow
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

When I accompanied you,
the commissioners called me a child.
If only I had been a bit taller
I might have proved myself in battle!

The commission could not have known
my commitment, despite my youth.
If only they had overlooked my age and enlisted me,
I'd have given that enemy rabble hell!

Now, brother, I’m an adult.
Doubtless, I’ll join the service soon.
Soon enough, I’ll be by your side,
battling the enemy: I’ll never surrender!

Another poem of note by Téyipjan Éliyow is "Neverending Song."




The following are links to other translations by Michael R. Burch:

Jaun Elia
Mirza Ghalib
Gulzar
Ahmad Faraz
Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Rahat Indori
Allama Iqbal
Nasir Kazmi
Amir Khusrow
Rabindranath Tagore
The Love Song of Shu-Sin: The Earth's Oldest Love Poem?
Ancient Greek Epigrams and Epitaphs
Meleager
Sappho
Basho
Oriental Masters/Haiku
Ono no Komachi
Medieval Poetry Translations
The Seafarer
Wulf and Eadwacer
Adam Lay Ybounden
Sweet Rose of Virtue
How Long the Night
Caedmon's Hymn
Anglo-Saxon Riddles and Kennings
Bede's Death Song
The Wife's Lament
Deor's Lament
Lament for the Makaris
Geoffrey Chaucer
Charles d'Orleans
Tegner's Drapa
Alexander Pushkin's tender, touching poem "I Love You" has been translated into English by Michael R. Burch.
Charles Baudelaire
Whoso List to Hunt
Miklós Radnóti
Rainer Maria Rilke
Marina Tsvetaeva
Renée Vivien
Bertolt Brecht
Ber Horvitz
Paul Celan
Primo Levi
Sandor Marai
Wladyslaw Szlengel
Saul Tchernichovsky
Robert Burns: Original Poems and Translations
The Seventh Romantic: Robert Burns
Free Love Poems by Michael R. Burch

Related pages: Mirza Ghalib, Ahmad Faraz, Allama Iqbāl, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Rabindranath Tagore, Whoso List to Hunt, The Most Beautiful Sonnets in the English Language, The Most Beautiful Lines in the English Language, The Best Anglo-Saxon Riddles and Kennings, Ancient Greek Epigrams and Epitaphs, The Best Poems Ever Written, The Best Love Poems, The Best Erotic Poems, The Best Love Songs Ever, The Best Urdu Love Poetry, The Best Poetry Translations, The Best Poems for Kids, The Best Nonsense Verse, The Best Rondels and Roundels, The Best American Poetry, Caedmon's Hymn Modern English Translation, The Seafarer, Free Love Poems by Michael R. Burch

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