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The text used for the translation here comes from Gölpınarlı and Boratav’s 1943 work on Pir Sultan Abdal with the original sources given as the early 20th century publication of Derviş Ruhullah and cönk in Gölpınarlı’s possession. Interestingly it does not appear in Ergun’s 1929 collection of Pir Sultan Abdal lyrics. A version, with remarkably little textual variation was recorded by Ulaş Özdemir for his 1998 album of Maraş Sinemilli deyişler called Ummanda. The version of this song was collected from Sadık Hüseyin Dede. The principal variation being in the opening lines, “Arzusun çektiğim gül yüzlü dostum / Erenlerin demi hurdan sayılır”, and in the form of the mahlas being Abdal Pir Sultan’ım, a form that seems rather typical of Pir Sultan deyiş collected from this region.

It is one of the category of Pir Sultan lyrics extolling sincere commitment to the dervish way. While conscious of the subtlety that will be lost, I have translated as ‘dervish’ – a term in English that has a wide embrace – a number of different terms that appear in the lyric, including gerçekler (the true ones), er (man, as in one who is brave or capable), aşık (devotee) and eren (one who has arrived at divine truth). Perhaps the most difficult line in the translation, not helped by its crowning a particularly paratactic verse,  is “Biri kırktır kırkı birden sayılır” and I am not entirely comfortable with my rendering in terms of accuracy or eloquence – a work in progress. I make less apology for the rendering of the final line and the introduction of the word ‘prick’ with some of (if not all!) its English connotations (certainly in Australian idiom as someone who is a bit of a ‘waste of space’). The play on words is justified by the connection to the preceding diken (thorn) and the multiple connotations of har/hâr meaning thorn, something that pricks, to go wild, a donkey or foolish person, vile or contemptible. I have seen a version of the lyric with hal instead of har, though that versions seems to diminish the robustness of the lyric’s climax. This is a fine and robust lyric and this rendering seems apposite to my ear.

Finally a word on a couple of references that might be slightly confusing. Firstly, in the final verse (another with evident parataxis) Baghdad is referred to as the motherland (vatan) which may seem at odds with Pir Sultan’s Anatolian presence. In fact this is clearly a metaphorical reference, or perhaps more correctly metonymical. Baghdad, here referred to as a motherland, would seem to be a metonym for Pir Sultan’s identification the mystical tradition founded in Baghdad and particularly associated with Hallaj al-Mansur, who in the tradition is believe to have been martyred for his expression that he was the ‘truth’ (enel hak). Secondly, the reference to ‘Muhammed Ali’, which I follow without the insertion of a conjunction in my English rendering. To paraphrase John Kingsley Birge – whose remarkable 1937 work, while specifically based on western Anatolian and Albanian Bektashi tradition, rather than Alevi tradition, remains an essential text and of great value on such matters – this does not refer to a single personage of that name but as if two names of the once concept, which is the concept of Muhammad and Ali as complementary personifications representing the divine radiance (nur). Indeed the expression of trinity is also common in Alevi tradition, as in: Allah Muhammed Ali.

Pir Sultan Abdal: Hû diyelim Gerçeklerin demine

Translation: Paul Koerbin

Let us say ‘hu’ to the breath of the true dervishes

The breath of the true dervishes is deemed from the light

One who is brought in train to the Twelve Imams

Is counted among the beloved for Muhammad Ali

Who comes with sincere belief  does not turn from this way

A friend does not know duplicity in his friend

Who does not see the dervish is truth does not see truth

His eyes watch but he is counted among the blind

The pleasure of the world was but three days, so they say

Following pleasure there  is suffering, supposed

Of the speech and the sigh of the true dervishes

One of them is Forty – counted one among the Forty

If the true dervish stops at the halting place

If, burning like a candle, his sap dissolves

If he perceives, what remains is the true self

He is a dervish counted among the true dervishes

I am Pir Sultan Abdal – Bagdad motherland

Who passes to unity from duplicity

The one joining the way of the dervishes sniping

Is the thorn in the way and counted among the pricks


Turkish text from Gölpınarlı and Boratav Pir Sultan Abdal (1943)

Hû diyelim Gerçeklerin demine

Gerçeklerin demi nurdan sayılır

On İk’İmam katarına düzelen

Muhammed Ali’ye yârdan sayılır

İhlâs ile gelen bu yoldan dönmez

Dost olan dostunda ikilik bilmez

Eri hak görmiyen Hakkı da görmez

Gözü bakar amma körden sayılır

Üç gün imiş şu dünyanın safası

Safasından artuk imiş cefası

Gerçek Erenlerin nutk u nefesi

Biri kırktır birden sayılır

Gerçek âşık menzilinde durursa

Çırağ gibi yanıp yağı erirse

Eksikliğin kend’özünde görürse

O da erdir gerçek erden sayılır

Pir Sultan Abdal’ım Bâğdattır vatan

İkilikten geçip birliğe yeten

Erenler yoluna kıyl ü kal katan

Yolun dikendir hârdan sayılır