Thursday, 15 January 2015

POET OF THE MONTH #24: Nazim Hikmet



Bursa Prison

My one and only!
Your last letter says:

'My head is throbbing,
my heart is stunned!'
You say:

'If they hang you,
if I lose you,
I'll die!'
You'll live, my dear ––
my memory will vanish like black smoke in the wind.
Of course you'll live, red-haired lady of my heart:
in the twentieth century
grief lasts
at most a year.

Death ––
a body swinging from a rope.
My heart
can't accept such a death.
you can bet
if some poor gypsy's hairy black
spidery hand
slips a noose
around my neck,
they'll look in vain for fear
in Nazim's
blue eyes!

In the twilight of my last morning
will see my friends and you,
and I'll go
to my grave
regretting nothing but an unfinished song

My wife!
eyes sweeter than honey –– my bee!
Why did I write you
they want to hang me?
The trial has hardly begun,
and they don't just pluck a man's head
like a turnip.

Look, forget all this.
If you have any money,
buy me some flannel underwear:
my sciatica is acting up again.
And don't forget,
a prisoner's wife
must always think good thoughts.


Translated by RANDY BLASING and MUTLU KONUK (1993)

The Poet:  Nazim Hikmet Ran, known throughout his career simply as 'Nazim Hikmet,' was born on 15 January 1902 in what was then the Ottoman province of Salonica (and is now the Greek province of Thessaloniki).  He was educated mostly in Istanbul (then known as Constantinople) before entering the Ottoman Naval School in 1918, from which he graduated as an officer.  His naval career was brief, however, with ill health seeing him declared unfit for active duty in 1919 and permanently exempted from undertaking any further military service one year later.  

Hikmet's poor health did not prevent him from walking to Ankara, home of the Turkish liberation movement, with his friend and fellow poet Vâlâ Nûreddin.  Here they met Mustafa Kemal Pasha, better known Atatürk ('the father of the Turks'), who was then engaged in fighting the Turkish War of Independence against France, Greece and Armenia – countries which, between them, had partitioned Turkey following the Allied victory in World War One and the subsequent collapse of what had formerly been the large but crumbling Ottoman Empire.  The independence movement was impressed enough with the work of these young volunteers to send them to Bolu, capital of the Western Turkish province of the same name, to help inspire and educate the local population about the necessity and righteousness of its cause.  Their stay in Bolu proved to be a short one, with the local authorities soon growing suspicious of the Communist sympathies which saw Hikmet and Nûreddin travel to Russia in September 1921 to observe the new Soviet 'worker's state' for themselves.  By July 1922 they were in Moscow, where Hikmet would enter university to study Economics and Sociology and fall heavily under the influence of contemporary Soviet poets including the Futurist Vladimir Mayakovsky.

The young poet returned to Turkey in 1924, where his pro-Communist activities quickly brought him into conflict with the repressive one-party government of the newly-established Republic of Turkey.  He was arrested and incarcerated by the government and spent much of the next thirty years in prison.  In April 1950 he began a hunger strike which saw his case become a cause célèbre for both Turkish and international intellectuals, all of whom demanded his immediate and unconditional release.  Hikmet's elderly mother soon joined his hunger strike, as did many of Turkey's leading poets, artists and writers, their protest only ending with the election of the country's first Democrat Party government in November 1950 and the granting of a long-awaited general amnesty to all political prisoners.  

After winning the 1951 International Peace Prize, Hikmet fled to Romania and from there to the USSR, where he remained for the rest of his life, dying in Moscow of heart failure on 3 June 1963.  Despite having had his Turkish citizenship revoked in 1959 and being constantly attacked and harassed by its various governments after his long-delayed release from prison, he remains one of the most popular and beloved writers in all of Turkish literature, nearly as famous for his plays, film scripts and only published novel as he remains for his poetry.

Click HERE to read more poems (in English) by NAZIM HIKMET at the website.

You might also enjoy: 
POET OF THE MONTH #11: Fatma Ben Mahmoud
POET OF THE MONTH #8: Mohammed Bennis
ANNA AKHMATOVA Selected Poems 1909-1963 (1985)

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