Caravanserai Walls

The black horses neighed, the leather whip cracked,
The carriage came to a sudden halt.
At long last, its iron springs began to judder,
Before my eyes, passed the caravanserais…
Travelling, the sorrow of leaving home in my heart,
To central Anatolia, on Ulukışla road.
First separation, first pain, as in first love!
The weather warm with the fire in my heart,
Golden, the sky, the bare trees and the earth…
Behind, the chain of the high Taurus mountains,
Ahead, the foothills, pale after a long winter;
Then, the turning and the moaning of wheels…
My hands tangled in the wind’s hair,
Up the mountain’s face our cart climbed its way.
On all sides crags, on all sides emptiness,
Only a whistle from the driver’s lips!
With his whistling, the roads stretched on, twisting and turning;
They snaked on, seeming to slumber,
Lifted up their heads, listening to the void.
The sky clouded over, the wind grew chiller;
Rain began in a fine drizzle,
As we turned from the last hilltop down towards the plain.

An endless plain turned pale our faces,
Roads, rope-like, bound us to the horizon,
Strange lands, unrelenting, drew me on.
Roads, roads, always roads…Still no end to lowlands;
No village nearby, no trace of a house,
The road telling you oblivion is your end;
Once in a while, one or two people on foot, or a horseman.
Rattling along the loose stones,
The wheels are talking to the roads;
The long roads, brushing them aside, stretch out…
Engrossed in listening to the wheels,
I fell asleep on the mattress of the springs…

A jolt…from a long sleep I awoke,
The carriage was moving on a river-like road,
Opposite, rose Niğde like a fort.
The sound of bells on our right,
In front, a caravan of camels slowly passed.
On one side, appeared the khan in a state of ruin
As twilight spread all around.
Our horses unfastened, inside the khan we went.
To find a cure for the pain in their hearts,
Lonely strangers had gathered in the caravanserai.

Here in one place, the four corners of the country were united;
By the homesick, the fireplace surrounded.
With each flicker their gaze drifted away;
They sighed, their breath was laboured.
The light of a smoky lamp
Drew wrinkles of melancholy on each face.
Gradually deepening like sacred verses,
The lines in the eyes, the lines on the faces…
Next to my bed was a dark wall,
A jumble of writings and drawings:
All who had lain here had left temporal traces,
Languid lyrics, obscene pictures…

Though I longed for sleep on this day of melancholy,
My eyes gazed at the walls, reluctant to close.
Suddenly, they were burnt by the sight of a few bright red lines;
Rather than lines, they looked like four trails of blood.
Absorbed in these strange drawings,
I had come upon a fellow poet :

Away from Karadağ, ten years
From home and my beloved’s arms
From the garden of love no flower
Sent from border to border.

And at the bottom: eight March, thirty-seven, the date…
No signature, no name.
Good fortune is with you now, don’t fret my friend !
No border, no soldiers, no war anymore.
Don’t grieve feeling your spring is gone,
The dignity earned from the borders will be your solace in the years to come!

The next day the journey began before sunrise,
A cold March morning…Each breath freezing.
Before the first flames of dawn set fire to the horizon,
We left the poor quarters of the town.
No daylight, the sun just behind the clouds,
Seen from afar, the hillocks were like mountains.
Caravans slowly passed us by,
Like feudal lords stood old khans.
We at last arrived on these endless roads
At a pass between two mountains.
A strong northerly wind…I shivered;
When we crossed the pass, with joy I was astounded:
Behind us spring was on its way,
Ahead, the land was covered in snow.
Winter and summer seemed to be separated at this pass,
Here, the last storm broke the last branch.

Our carriage travelled on at its steady pace,
Snow began to flurry.
Everywhere buried under snow, a darkness, white;
Falling from the sky not snow, but white death…
When my yearning to arrive at the village was almost drained,
The driver shouted: “Here we are, Arap Beli!”
God help those on the road,
Our horses are tethered at the khan at the end of the day’s journey.

Two or three fellows already arrived
Were sat legs folded, by the fire burning in the hearth.
Such a delight the crackling kindling;
Wolf and bandit stories, the fellows were telling.
As I felt drowsy,
Reflections from the fire threw
Flowered patterns on the wall.
Like fire, the following lines entered my heart:

Even if I dream of the beloved
No strength to cross mountains
A traveller like dried leaves
Swept away by winds.

In the morning, the horizon was clear, the sky bright,
A sunny day, our carriage set out…
Away from home, from land to land, on the road,
In three days, three seasons had changed.
After a long journey, we arrived at İncesu;
Exhausted, we slept soundly at a Caravanserai.

A dream of death awoke me at sunrise,
I was grieved by these lines at my bedside.

Poor and lonely I am. Kerem* they say
Strangers have taken away my Aslı*.Woman, they say
I am sick. You suffer from consumption, they say
I am Şeyhoğlu Satılmış from” Maraş”, I say.

Your words sound like an epitaph,
Away from home, I fear you were stranded at this impasse.
A promise made to saints, O Şeyhoğlu from Maraş!
Curse your fortune, if this mountain you couldn’t cross.
Many are those who like you can’t reach home,
Killed in the wilderness by bandits and wolves!..
As our carriage was about to set off down the road to Erciyeş:
‘Innkeeper’, I said, ‘Did you know Maraşlı Şeyhoğlu?’
Fixing his eyes on mine ,
He said:
– Alive, he arrived at the caravanserai, left dead just the other day!

Everything looked different now, my eyes filled with tears.
Poor Şeyhoğlu had never left here…
The news of Maraşlı’s death overwhelmed me.

Since that day years have gone by,
I shudder whenever I come across a caravanserai.
For I know your hidden woe,
O roads in mourning, that villages to borders connect,
Roads in mourning that weep for travellers who don’t come back!
O caravanserai walls, full of lines, drawings so strange,
O caravanserai walls, that make my heart ache…

Faruk Nafiz Çamlıbel (1898-1973). Han Duvarları. Translated from the Turkish.

* Folk tale lovers.

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