Nazım Hikmet Ran –commonly known as Nazım Hikmet—was a Turkish poet, playwright, and novelist. He was recognized and revered throughout the world as one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century.
In his homeland however he was treated differently by more than one government because of his social criticism and commitment to communism. Basically, Nazim Hikmet was branded as a traitor and imprisoned for over a decade. A. Kadir, another Turkish poet who is a distant relative of mine was arrested together with Nazim Hikmet and served time in prison in 1934. My relative has a book based on his reflection of the time which is still in print. In the end, Nazim Hikmet had no choice but to leave the country. He took a small boat and went to Moscow via Romania. In his home country he left behind, his books were banned and eventually, in July 25 1951, his Turkish citizenship was cancelled. Forty-six years after his demise, he regained his citizenship. No wonder why he called poetry “the bloodiest of the arts.”
I don’t remember ever having Nazim Hikmet books on the shelves of our home library and I have a feeling that my father might have burnt them because they were considered as subversive material at the time. It was simply too dangerous to own such books. Because of that, I have never been able to keep track of which one of his books I read. Here’s the silver lining though… There was this unspoken arrangement between my parents and their communist/teacher friends. Every time we visited those “comrades,” my parents were taken into the living room, I to their home library. I was overly fond of those stolen moments spent on borrowed books. Who knows how many personal libraries I had been through…
Nazım Hikmet’s Work
In his poetry, the main themes of hope, his women (mainly Vera), his love and longing for his country, hope for social justice and struggles of common man frequently occur.
Many of Nazim’s work have been translated into more than fifty languages. I have put together a list of English translations. They can be purchased through Amazon or eBay.
- Human Landscapes from My Country: An Epic Novel in Verse (2009)
- Things I Didn’t Know I Loved: Selected Poems
- The Day Before Tomorrow
- The Moscow Symphony
- Selected Poems
- The Epic of Shayk Bedreddin
Last time I was in Turkey, his complete works, all in one volume was out. It is a leather-bound, Bible looking book –only slightly thicker—and I am so kicking myself for not buying it. Because of the recent increase in shipping charges to Australia, it is incredibly expensive to buy books from Turkey these days. Well, next time I guess.
International Peace Prize
In 1950, Nazim Hikmet received International Peace Prize and was immortalised with Neruda’s lines in his acceptance speech: “Thanks for what you were and for the fire / which your song left forever burning.” Same year, Pablo Neruda, Wanda Jacubowska, Pablo Picasso and Paul Robeson received the same prize.
On June 3 in 1963, Nazim Hikmet died of a heart attack in Moscow. Fifty-three years ago, today, to be precise. It is true that he had said he wished to be buried in Turkey. I recently read an article about Nazim Hikmet’s adopted son Cengiz Ferecov who stated that Nazim’s greatest wish was to be able to go back to Turkey. He had said: “If that doesn’t happen, being buried there is enough for me.” Hikmet also mentioned the very same wish in his poem called Vasiyet (Testament) which I translated for you (above). Despite his wish, he is buried in Novodevichy Cemetery today. If any consolation, he is buried in the most famous cemetery in Moscow and sharing the same graveyard with Anton Chekhov, Nikolai Gogol and Mikhail Bulgakov.
I mean you must take living so seriously
that even at seventy, for example, you will plant olives –
and not so they’ll be left for your children either,
but because even though you fear death you don’t believe it,
because living, I mean, weighs heavier.
(from On Living, 1948)
Kız Çocuğu by Nazim Hikmet
Kız Çocuğu (translated as I Come and Stand at Every Door or The Little Girl) is a one of Nazim Hikmet’s poems. The literal translation of it is The Girl Child. The poem is about a seven-year-old girl who was killed during the bombing of Hiroshima. My primary school teacher was communist so she taught us the song Kız Çocuğu composed by Zülfü Livaneli as part of his 1978 Nazım Türküsü album using Nazim’s poems. This particular version was sung by many international singers around the world including Joan Baez.
Later on, Fazıl Say, a Turkish pianist and composer wrote Nazım Oratorio (link below).
As you can read the English translations in the video above, the little girl who died in Hiroshima conveys a plea for peace by knocking on every door and asking people to sign a petition so that the children in the future wouldn’t be killed by bombs.
There is no doubt that Nazim Hikmet is the most-loved poet in Turkey. How do I know? Because, people celebrate Nazim’s birthday with carnations at the very spot where he took the boat to escape after receiving death threats. Because, people write his name on their walls with lights. The photo below was taken last year in Istanbul. The name of the place is Franz Kafka Bistro and Bar.
Additional Information About Nazim Hikmet
There is a movie about Nazim Hikmet’s life called Mavi Gözlü Dev (Blue Eyed Giant) and you can find IMBD information about the movie here.
Nazim Hikmet Poetry Festival
For those poets out there, this annual festival is for you. Nazim Hikmet Poetry Festival is organised by the American Turkish Association of North Carolina, supported by a major grant from the Turkish Cultural Foundation and hosted by Town of Cary.