Nazim Hikmet: Poet of Homeland and Love

Nâzım Hikmet Ran (15 January 1902 – 3 June 1963), commonly known as Nâzım Hikmet was a Turkish poet, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, director and memoirist. He was acclaimed for the “lyrical flow of his statements”.[2] Described as a “romantic communist” and “romantic revolutionary”, he was repeatedly arrested for his political beliefs and spent much of his adult life in prison or in exile. His poetry has been translated into more than fifty languages.

Style and achievements

Despite writing his first poems in syllabic meter, Nazım Hikmet distinguished himself from the “syllabic poets” in concept. With the development of his poetic conception, the narrow forms of syllabic verse became too limiting for his style and he set out to seek new forms for his poems.

He was influenced by the young Soviet poets who advocated Futurism. On his return to Turkey, he became the charismatic leader of the Turkish avant-garde, producing streams of innovative poems, plays and film scripts.[2] Breaking the boundaries of syllabic meter he changed his form and began writing in free verse, which harmonised with the rich vocal properties of the Turkish language.

He has been compared by Turkish and non-Turkish men of letters to such figures as Federico García Lorca, Louis Aragon, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Pablo Neruda. Although Ran’s work bears a resemblance to these poets and owes them occasional debts of form and stylistic device, his literary personality is unique in terms of the synthesis he made of iconoclasm and lyricism, of ideology and poetic diction

Later life and legacy

Ran’s imprisonment in the 1940s became a cause célèbre among intellectuals worldwide; a 1949 committee that included Pablo Picasso, Paul Robeson, and Jean-Paul Sartre campaigned for his release.[3]

On 8 April 1950, Ran began a hunger strike in protest against the Turkish parliament’s failure to include an amnesty law in its agenda before it closed for the upcoming general election. He was then transferred from the prison in Bursa, first to the infirmary of Sultanahmet Jail in Istanbul, and later to Paşakapısı Prison.[17] Seriously ill, Ran suspended his strike on 23 April, the National Sovereignty and Children’s Day. His doctor’s request to treat him in hospital for three months was refused by officials. So, as his imprisonment status had not changed, he resumed his hunger strike on the morning of 2 May.[3]

Ran’s hunger strike caused a stir throughout the country. Petitions were signed and a magazine named after him was published. His mother, Celile, began a hunger strike on 9 May, followed by renowned Turkish poets Orhan Veli, Melih Cevdet and Oktay Rıfat the next day. In light of the new political situation after the 1950 Turkish general election, held on 14 May, the strike was ended five days later, on 19 May, Turkey’s Commemoration of Atatürk, Youth and Sports Day, he was finally released through a general amnesty law enacted by the new government.[16]

 

On 22 November 1950, the World Council of Peace announced that Nazım Hikmet Ran was among the recipients of the International Peace Prize, along with Pablo Pic

asso, Paul Robeson, Wanda Jakubowska and Pablo Neruda.[3]

Later on, Ran escaped from Turkey to Romania on a ship via the Black Sea, and from there moved to the USSR. Because in the Soviet bloc the only recognized Turkish minority existed in communist Bulgaria, the poet’s books were immediately brought out in this country, both in Turkish originals[4] and Bulgarian translations. The communist authorities in Bulgaria celebrated him in Turkish and Bulgarian publications as ‘a poet of liberty and peace.’[5] The goal was to discredit Turkey presented as a ‘lackey of the imperialist’ United States in the eyes of Bulgaria’s Turkish minority, many of whom desired to leave for or were expelled to Turkey in 1950-1953.[6]

When the EOKA struggle broke out in Cyprus, Ran believed that the population of Cyprus would be able to live together peacefully, and called on the Turkish minority to support the Greek Cypriots’ demand for an end to British rule.

Persecuted for decades by the Republic of Turkey during the Cold War for his communist views, Ran died of a heart attack in Moscow on 3 June 1963 at 6.30 am while picking up a morning newspaper at the door of his summer house in Peredelkino, far away from his beloved homeland.[25] He is buried in Moscow’s famous Novodevichy Cemetery, where his imposing tombstone is still today a place of pilgrimage for Turks and many others from around the world. His final wish, never carried out, was to be buried under a plane-tree (platanus) in any village cemetery in Anatolia.

Despite his persecution by the Turkish state, Nâzım Hikmet has always been revered by the Turkish nation. His poems depicting the people of the countryside, villages, towns and cities of his homeland (Memleketimden İnsan Manzaraları, i.e. Human Landscapes from my Country), as well as the Turkish War of Independence (Kurtuluş Savaşı Destanı, i.e. The Epic of the War of Independence), and the Turkish revolutionaries (Kuvâyi Milliye, i.e. Force of the Nation) are considered among the greatest patriotic literary works of Turkey.

Following his death the Kremlin ordered the publication of the poet’s first-ever Turkish-language collected works in communist Bulgaria, where at that time a large and still recognized Turkish national minority existed. The eight volumes of these collected works, Bütün eserleri, appeared at Sofia between 1967 and 1972, that is, in the very last years of the existence of the Turkish minority educational and publishing system in Bulgaria.[7]

Ran had Polish and Turkish citizenship. The latter was revoked in 1959, and restored in 2009. His family has been asked if they want his remains repatriated from Russia.

In popular culture

  • Hikmet’s poem We’ll Give the Globe to the Childrenwas set on music in 1979 by Russian composer David Tukhmanov.
  • Tale of Talesis a Russian animated film (1979) partially inspired by Hikmet’s poem of the same name.
  • Finnish band Ultra Brarecorded a song “Lähettäkää minulle kirjoja” (“Send me books”)based on a translated excerpt of Hikmet’s poem “Rubai”
  • The Ignorant Fairiesis a 2001 Italian film, in which a book by Hikmet plays a central plot role.
  • Mavi Gözlü Dev(Blue Eyed Giant) is a 2007 Turkish biographical film about Nazım Hikmet. The title is a reference to the poem Minnacık Kadın ve Hanımelleri. The film chronicles Nazim Hikmet’s imprisonment at Bursa Prison and his relationships with his wife Piraye and his translator and lover Münevver Andaç. He is played by Yetkin Dikinciler.
  • Hikmet’s poem was quoted in the 2012 Korean drama Cheongdam-dong Alice.

On Living

Living is no laughing matter:
you must live with great seriousness
like a squirrel, for example–
I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
you must take it seriously,
so much so and to such a degree
that, for example, your hands tied behind your back,
your back to the wall,
or else in a laboratory
in your white coat and safety glasses,
you can die for people–
even for people whose faces you’ve never seen,
even though you know living
is the most real, the most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees–
and not for your children, either,
but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
because living, I mean, weighs heavier.

II

Let’s say you’re seriously ill, need surgery–
which is to say we might not get
from the white table.
Even though it’s impossible not to feel sad
about going a little too soon,
we’ll still laugh at the jokes being told,
we’ll look out the window to see it’s raining,
or still wait anxiously
for the latest newscast …
Let’s say we’re at the front–
for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
we might fall on our face, dead.
We’ll know this with a curious anger,
but we’ll still worry ourselves to death
about the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let’s say we’re in prison
and close to fifty,
and we have eighteen more years, say,
before the iron doors will open.
We’ll still live with the outside,
with its people and animals, struggle and wind–
I mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
we must live as if we will never die.

III

This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet–
I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
in pitch-black space …
You must grieve for this right now
–you have to feel this sorrow now–
for the world must be loved this much
if you’re going to say “I lived” …

References

1-Selected poems, Nazim Hikmet translated by Ruth Christie, Richard McKane, Talat Sait Halman, Anvil press Poetry, 2002, p.9 ISBN 0-85646-329-9

2-Saime Goksu, Edward Timms, Romantic Communist: The Life and Work of Nazim Hikmet, St. Martin’s Press, New York ISBN 0-312-22247-

3-“Nazım Hikmet”. Ministry of Culture. Retrieved 2010-02-07.

4- Nazim Hikmet. 1951. Secilmis siirler [Selected Poems] (translated by Ludmil Stoyanof Людмил Стоянов). Sofia: BKP

5-Kamilef, H [Кямилев, X]. 1953. Nazim Hikmet – hurriyet ve baris sarkicisi[Nazim Hikmet: A Singer of Liberty and Peace] (translated from the Bulgarian into Turkish by Suleyman Hafizoglu). Sofia: BKP; Кямилев, Х. [Kiamilev, Kh]. 1953. Назъм Хикмет, певец на свободата и мира Nazim Khikmet, pevets na svobadata i mira [Nazim Hikmet: A Singer of Liberty and Peace] (translated from the Russian into Bulgarian by Кругер Милованов Krugev Milovanov]. Sofia: BKP.

6-Kostanick, Huey. 1957. Turkish resettlement of Bulgarian Turks, 1950-1953(Ser: University of California Publications in Geography, Vol 8, No 2). Berkeley : University of California Press

7-Nâzım Hikmet. 1967-1972. Bütün eserleri [Collected Works] (8 vols, edited by Ekber Babaef {Babaev}, illustrated by Abidin Dino). Sofia: Narodna prosveta. OCLC Number: 84081921.

Prepared by: Ahmet Bhattacharji Avsar

 

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