Ahmet’s Tale of the Wandering Minstrel

I see AHMET has brought his saz,

illustrative of his story.

He draws himself up to impress

his brooding presence upon us.

Glances at his handwritten notes

show us no improvisation

but rehearsed memorization.

“All who wander far are not lost–

All who sing blues have not lost hope–

All who lost all are not alone.

I will speak of Âşık Veysel,

his life, his songs, how he was brave

in the face of savage assaults

Fortune, Kismet threw at his eyes.

When the boy Veysel turned seven,

smallpox spread in Sivas, blinding

his left eye. And in his right eye,

a film became a cataract.

After an accident, blindness.

Are you counting the misfortunes?

His father wished to counteract

life’s cruelties. A bağlama

consoled the boy, who recited

epic poems of the ozans

taught to him by his loving dad.

Poets dropped by the house to sing.

Verses and tales, visions of love

Veysel took care to memorize

as song began to cauterize

his wounds.

When the First World War put Turkey

under attack, Veysel felt pride,

then loss, as his brothers and friends

rushed to the front. His bağlama,

left him, at age twenty, alone,

distant from combat’s great unknown.

Veysel became a family man

through Esma his wife, who bore him

a daughter and a son. Ten days

after birth, his son died. Dead, too,

his mother. Eighteen months passed by.

His father, grieving, passed away.

Then Esma ran off with a servant

from his brother’s house, and left him

their six-month old daughter, who, too,

died shortly. Sick, dizzy and dazed,

Veysel felt numb, empty, and crazed.

Ten years passed.

The time was 1931.

Fate placed Ahmet Kutsi Tecer

in Veysel’s path. Teacher, mover,

patriot, Tecer shined a light

on the forgotten road Veysel

rambled on. Association

for Folk Poets’ Preservation

sponsored Fest of Folk Poets.

These three days of music and song

turned around Veysel’s aimless life–

Music had healed him of his strife.

Nineteen thirty-three. Tecer Bey

exhorted all his folk poets

to write poems about the fledgling

Turkish Republic, 10 years strong.

Veysel submitted a poem

with a paean to the founder:

“Atatürk is the revival

of Turkey…” Hard to top that line…

Here’s a tale that backed up his claim

enshrined his singing, made his fame.

Ali Riza Bey the mayor

loved Veysel’s poem and urged him

to forward it to Ankara.

Naive and bold, Âşık Veysel

wanted to visit the leader

Mustafa Kemal in person.

Faithful friend Ibrahim, and he

set out in winter conditions

on foot. Three months walking, walking.

They arrived. “What to do? Where to go ?”

There lived a Pasha from Erzurum.

He put them up hospitably,

but only for a few days.

Another man, Hasan Efendi,

let them stay for forty-five days.

We have a tale! And a mission!

We aren’t here to ramble around.

How can we see Mustafa Kemal?”

And their request was met by this:

My God! This is not the right time

to lose time with poetry. Go.

Play, sing somewhere else.”

No, we won’t!

We’ll sing our tale to Mustafa Kemal.”

A deputy replied to me,

Then sing it to me first! Right now!

This should be in the newspaper!”

No luck, and worse, missing saz strings.

At the bazaar to buy some strings,

we hobbled up with worn sandals,

wearing woolen, baggy trousers,

woolen jackets, braced on our waists

a big cummerbund. Then the police.

Do not enter! It is forbidden!

Too crowded. You will get lost and hurt.”

We pretended to turn away

and circled back to the bazaar.

Are you crazy? Don’t go in there!

I’ll break your neck! Forbidden there!”

We won’t obey you. We’ll buy our strings there.”

Make it quick! Sit the blind man down there.”

So we bought the strings and strung my saz.

Next day, we found the printing house.

What do you want?” said the Director.

We have a tale. Please publish it.”

Play it to me first. I want to hear it…

Woo! Well done. I liked it a lot.

It will be published tomorrow.”

Next morning, we went back to the bazaar.

Policemen again. More trouble?

Oh, are you Âşık Veysel? Relax!

Get in the coffeehouses. Sit!”

My song appeared for three straight days.

But still no Mustafa Kemal.

Back to our village we must go.

Fame, but no money to travel.

The municipality refused us.

You are artisans. You can walk.

Go the way you came. You must walk.”

We tried the Community Center.

What are you doing here? Go home!”

Our newspaper photo worked.

“Let them in. These are well-known men.

This is Âşık Veysel, come sing.”

Then we departed in the spring.


Uzun ince bir yoldayım,
Gidiyorum gündüz gece,
Bilmiyorum ne haldeyim,
Gidiyorum gündüz gece.

A long and narrow road I’m on.
Day and night I’m walking.
What state I’m in I do not know.
Day and night I’m walking.

The time I came into the world
then I started walking.
At a country inn with two doors
Day and night I’m walking.

Even sleeping I am walking
I look for a reason to stay.
I always see the ones I left.
Day and night I’m walking.

For forty-nine years I’ve been walking
in valleys, mountains, deserts.
In strangers’ lands I make my way.
Day and night I’m walking.

If I think about it deeply,
my destination’s out of sight.
Only a minute seems the road.
Day and night I’m walking.

Surprised at his state, Veysel sings–
Smiles or frowns, which will it be?
My destination’s far way
Day and night I’m walking.”



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.