Only for Music

Hakan Savlı

ario da capo

     —there is a child at the door, Mr. Brahms. He insists on seeing you.
     —let him in...

it was a cold and humid room, we were only two
you were a little girl whose neck burned with fever
love is halved... a quiet word
an old world now filled with your absence
my beloved, listen, you are the clavichord

don't wash your belly, stay like that, sleep like that
let the rose I gave you dry like that...
a fragment of immortal memories
my face... the sound of a harp... forget everything
my beloved, listen, you are the clavichord

and Brahms in his deathbed
a wounded child plays clavichord for him
no one can turn music into life
a child is only for music
goodbye, my beloved, you are the clavichord

Before his death, Brahms adapted the theme of his last melodies written for stringed instruments from that child who played the harpsichord. So did I adapt from you, my dear. Good-bye. Büyükada 1996-Acıbadem 2003.

translated from the Turkish by Abbas Karakaya and Elizabeth Raible



Read the original in Turkish

Read translator’s note

Hakan Savlı was born in 1965 in Ankara, Turkey. He received his medical degree in 1989. Following his graduation, he spent many years working in Europe and the Far East. Currently, he is a faculty member at the Medical School of Kocaeli University in Turkey. His expertise is in cancer genetics. Hakan Savlı is a prolific poet. Turuncu (Orange-colored), his latest and sixth volume of poetry came out in 2009. Savlı is the winner of three prestigious poetry prizes. His poetry attests to the possibility of a lyrical experience in a world where all sorts of "cancers" threaten the world and living beings.

Abbas Karakaya teaches Turkish Language and Literature at the University of Kansas, Lawrence. His collection of poetry, Yüreğimin En Denizaltı Haliyle, came out in 2006. His translations of poetry and prose were published in various journals both in Turkey and in the United States.

Elizabeth Raible dabbles in translation with various languages. She received an MA in Russian and East European Studies from Indiana University Bloomington, focusing on the history and culture of western Balkans.  She lives in Boston.


Hakan Savlı's poem has two parts, the second of which is presented here. We were inspired to translate this poem at the end of a lazy day spent avoiding the late-fall cold of Chicago. The translation flowed easily, and the poem found its rhythm in English without too much coaxing. The part that we most struggled over was the first stanza, third line: "durgun bir sözcük."  The line is short and trying to capture its full meaning in English without making the phrase bloated and clumsy. Durgun, in particular, was problematic.  The word implies a lost vibrancy, almost deflatedness, but without necessarily negative connotations: it is also silent, still, in contrast to lively. I was sad to change the word klavsen in the final line of each stanza. Its soft but short sounds give a sweet ending to the lines, while clavichord draws them out. The slight antiquatedness of the English word meshes with the setting of the poem and avoids the jolt of the harsher-sounding piano.



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