Saturday, April 30, 2011

Nazim Hikmet on Optimism

"It's this way: being captured is beside the point
the point is not to surrender" 
Nazim Hikmet
 Just back from watching my nephew's Aussie Rules match at a nearby park, where I alternated between football and the poetry of Nazim Hikmet (Hikmet's poetry has featured on this blog before).

Nazim Hikmet (1902-1963) is considered Turkey's greatest 20th century poet, although his work was suppressed in Turkey for over 50 years. It is only recently that Hikmet's citizenship was restored by the Turkish Government.

He was outspoken, revolutionary and a dedicated political activist and communist who was first jailed in 1924 at the age of 22 for working on a leftist magazine.  He spent 18 years in prison in Turkey as a political prisoner.

Hikmet was awarded the World Peace Prize in 1950, the same year he gained his release from prison after 12 years,  following an international campaign for his release led by Picasso, Paul Robeson, Bertrand Russell, Pablo Neruda and Jean Paul Sartre. Within a short time of being released he was again forced into exile from Turkey in 1951. He spent the last 13 years of his life in exile from Turkey. He died in Moscow in 1963, where he is still buried, although there are moves to return his remains to Turkey. 

An exhibition of photos of Hikmet and his unpublished poems was recently held in Istanbul to commemorate his 109th birthday (a report on the exhibition is here) and a new book on Hikmet and CD of him reading his poems has also been released in Turkey.

His prison poems are deservedly famous, but those from his time in exile, written during the the 1950's- in Budapest, Moscow, Prague, and Warsaw-express his longing for his country of  birth.

His poetry is characterized by a wonderful generosity of spirit and a powerful sense of human solidarity. You can read more about Hikmet  here.
by Nazim Hikmet

I write poems
they don't get published
but they will
I'm waiting for a letter with good news
maybe it will arrive the day I die
but it will come for sure
the world's not ruled by governments or money
but by the people
a hundred years from now
but it will be for sure

2 September

The Optimist
by Nazim Hikmet
as a child he never plucked the wings off flies
he didn't tie tin cans to cats' tails
or lock beetles in matchboxes
or stomp anthills
he grew up
and all those things were done to him
I was at his bedside when he died
he said read me a poem
about the sun and the sea
about nuclear reactors and satellites
about the greatness of humanity 
written 6th December 1958 Baku 
by Nazim Hikmet
I was born in 1902
I never once went back to my birthplace
I don't like to turn back
at three I served as a pasha's grandson in Aleppo
at nineteen as a student at Moscow Communist University
at forty-nine I was back in Moscow as the Tcheka Party's guest
and I've been a poet since I was fourteen
some people know all about plants some about fish
I know separation
some people know the names of the stars by heart
I recite absences
I've slept in prisons and in grand hotels
I've known hunger even a hunger strike and there's almost no food
I haven't tasted
at thirty they wanted to hang me
at forty-eight to give me the Peace Prize
which they did
at thirty-six I covered four square meters of concrete in half a year
at fifty-nine I flew from Prague to Havana in eighteen hours
I never saw Lenin I stood watch at his coffin in '24
in '61 the tomb I visit is his books
they tried to tear me away from my party
it didn't work
nor was I crushed under the falling idols
in '51 I sailed with a young friend into the teeth of death
in '52 I spent four months flat on my back with a broken heart
waiting to die
I was jealous of the women I loved
I didn't envy Charlie Chaplin one bit
I deceived my women
I never talked my friends' backs
I drank but not every day
I earned my bread money honestly what happiness
out of embarrassment for others I lied
I lied so as not to hurt someone else
but I also lied for no reason at all
I've ridden in trains planes and cars
most people don't get the chance
I went to opera
most people haven't even heard of the opera
and since '21 I haven't gone to the places most people visit
mosques churches temples synagogues sorcerers
but I've had my coffee grounds read
my writings are published in thirty or forty languages
in my Turkey in my Turkish they're banned
cancer hasn't caught up with me yet
and nothing says it will
I'll never be a prime minister or anything like that
and I wouldn't want such a life
nor did I go to war
or burrow in bomb shelters in the bottom of the night
and I never had to take to the road under diving planes
but I fell in love at almost sixty
in short comrades
even if today in Berlin I'm croaking of grief
I can say I've lived like a human being
and who knows
how much longer I'll live
what else will happen to me
This autobiography was written
in East Berlin on 11 September 1961


Ciaran Lynch said...

Still find myself trawling back through 'Always Keep a Diamond', Colin. This one got me. Beautiful.

I was born in '63.

The pope of Camden Town said...

Loved this post. That's it.