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libralady 02 Mar 2009

Can Yücel - Poet and Translator

Having read some of the poetry on this site, I notice that there is a lot of poetry by Can Yücel, which has been expertly translated, I decided to investigate more

Can Yücel – Poet and Translator


I find his poetry evocative, thought provoking and some quite emotional, even though his language leaves a little to be desired.  He obviously wrote from the heart, and did not dance around with fancy words.  So having read some of his poetry I decided to research him a little. 


Yücel was born in Istanbul in 1926 and lived until 1999 when he died in Izmir but was buried in Datça.  He has been described as one of the most distinguished poets of the 20th Centaury with a keen political and social awareness. He has also been described as one of the most prominent and controversial translators of his time.  He has also translated works by Shakespeare, TS Elliot and Dylan Thomas.


He studied classics at Ankara University and then at Cambridge University, (a beautiful and historic university city in the UK, which I have to say as I live close to this city……….. ) before working as a translator at several Turkish embassies and then as a Turkish announcer at the BBC in London for 5 years.  On returning to Turkey he worked in the resorts of Bodrum and Marmaris before becoming a poet and after moving to Istanbul in 1965 he became a freelance translator.


During his years in Istanbul, he pursued his political interests by continuing his support of the Labour party.  It was during these years in Istanbul that in 1971, the time of the Military Coup, Yücel was first imprisoned for 15 years because of two translations; one for Che Guevara the Argentinean Communist revolutionary and Mao Tsetung, the Marxist founder of the People’s Republic of China. He was released in 1974 because of a general amnesty.  It seems rather harsh to imprison for translating but he did not want to conform and chose not to fit into the ideology of the early 1970’s in Turkey.  He was to be imprisoned several times, because of his strongly critical work. 


It appears that he was due to be imprisoned again in 1998 shortly before his death, for his last speech criticizing strongly the action of the President of Turkey Suleyman Demirel.  An impassioned plea was made by two participants of “The Conference of Culture” that was held in Stockholm in 1998 for a petition to be signed by all at the conference for him not to be imprisoned in his final years.  He was at this point 72 and in failing health and prison would have certainly ended his life, shorter than may be it would have been.


In an analysis of his translations (Őzgür Cavausoĝlu 2007), a critical assessment was made:


“Yücel’s translations have been harshly criticised on the one hand and have been acclaimed on the other; thus it is of great importance to try and describe how those people responded to the “rewriter” Yücel’s translations.  What did they actually say to criticise or to honour him?”


There has been much criticism of his translations and some commentators claiming that he has not as such translated work but made his own interpretation, adaptation or a rewrite.  With certain ambivalence, one such claim of his work was his translation of Hamlet saying that it goes beyond “proper translation”.  This claim has been justified by saying that Turkish idioms and terms specific to Turkey have been used.  He was also criticised for not using the style of the writer in his translations.


I believe more has been written about his translations and the style that he adopts than that of his poetry.  Perhaps because not so much has been written in English about Yücel, it makes it difficult for me to assess or analysis his poetry in great detail.


May I finish with this short but poignant poem………….


Farzet hiç ayrılmadık
Gözümde tütüyor
Gözümü tütsülüyorsun hala
Hep birlikteyiz sanki
Seninle ben ve DÜNYA


Assume we never separated
I am still longing for you
Your magic is still in my eyes
I feel as if we are always together
You and I, and the world


Can Yücel

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