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Nâzim Hikmet (1902-1963)


One of the most important figures in 20th century Turkish literature and one of the first Turkish poets to use more or less free verse. Hikmet's works were widely translated both in the Communist East and the West during his lifetime. However, in his home country Hikmet remained a controversial figure due to his social criticism and commitment to Marxism. Spending some 17 years in prisons, Hikmet once called poetry "the bloodiest of the arts."  He was the only major writer to speak out against the Armenian massacres in 1915 and 1922.

"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."

(in 'On Living', 1948)

Nazim Hikmet was born Mehmet Hazim in Salonica, Ottoman Empire (now Thessaloniki). His father, Nazim Hikmet Bey, was a civil servant, whose father Nazim Pasha, had been a leading figure in the Ottoman civil service. Hikmet's mother, Aisha Dshalila (Cecile), was a painter, partly of Polish, partly of Huguenot descent. In 1905, Hikmet Bey was obliged to resing from his post at the foreign service. For a period the family lived in Aleppo, where Hikmet Bey invested his money in a unsucessful project. After returning to Istanbul started a new business, and went bankrupt. In 1909 he was appointed translator in the press department of the Foreign Ministry. He then  worked as managing director of a publishing firm and the manager of a cinema. Hikmet Bey died in 1932.

While still at school, Hikmet began writing poems. He studied briefly at the French-language Galatasary Lycée in Istanbul and attended the Naval War School, but dropped out in 1920n because of ill health. Soon after, he wrote a lampoon about the British and became involved with his friends in  gun smuggling to Mustafa Kemal. During the war of independence, Hikmet went to Anatolia to join Atatürk and then worked as a teacher at a school in Bolu. He studied sociology and economics at the University of Moscow (1921-28) and joined  in the 1920s the Turkish Communist Party. In Turkey he was sentenced in prison in absentia. While in the Soviet Union, Hikmet had a short-lived marriage to Nüzhet Nazim, a student, and then he lived together with Ludmilla Yurchenko in a second-floor flat in Tverskaya Boulevard. Ludmilla was a dentist, Hikmet referred to her as Dr. Lena.

After returning to Turkey in 1928 without a visa Hikmet continued to contribute to newspapers and periodicals and write plays. At the Ipek Film Studios he wrote scripts under the name  Mümtaz Osman and directed films. Because of his unauthorized re-entry, he was sentenced to a prison term but pardoned in 1935 in a general amnesty. In his cell he he wrote a long poem, 'Giaconda and Si-Ya-U', about Leonardo's famous Mona Lisa, the Giaconda of the title, who fells in love with a young Chinese man visiting the Louvre museum in Paris. Miraculously, she escapes from the wall of the museum, and joins revolutionaries. At the end she dies in flames. "And so it was that in Shanghai, on this day of death / The Florentine Gioconda lost / A smile more famous than Florentine."

In 1935 Hikmet married Piraye Altinogly, a woman with striking red hair, whose father was editor of the newspaper Tercuman-i Ahval. With Piraye he had two children; she had also two children from her first husband, Vedat Örfi Bengü, who had moved to Paris. Some of his best poems Hikmet wrote to her.

Hikmet was condemned in 1938 to prison for 28 years and four months for anti-Nazi and anti-Franco activities. According to the Military Court, he had provoked naval soldiers to rebellion. Hikmet spent the following 12 years in different prisons, unable to publish his work. During this period he fell in love with Münevver Andac, the daughter of his uncle. In the poem 'Some Advice to Those Who Will Serve Time in Prison' (1949), Hikmet expressed his will to survive: "To think of roses and gardens inside is bad, / to think of seas and mountains is good. / Read and write without rest, / and I also advise weaving / and making mirrors." (tr. Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk, in Things I Didn't Know I Loved, 1975)

In 1950, to hasten his release after international protests, Hikmet went into a huger strike at the Pasakapisi prison in Üsküdar. Upon his release, Hikmet divorced Piraye, moved together with Münevver, and began to work at the Ipek Film Studios.  Being constantly under the surveillance of the police and in fear of an attempt on his life, Hikmet eventually escaped  from Turkey in a small boat. His wife and his son, Memet, were not allowed to travel abroad. 

After losing his Turkish citizenship, Hikmet lived in the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. In 1950 he shared with Pablo Neruda the Soviet Union's International Peace Prize. Hikmet became a Polish citizen and from 1951 lived his remaining days in Sofia, Warsaw, and finally in Moscow. In spite of his heart disease and the warnings of his doctors he also travelled in Africa, China, Cuba, and spent time in Paris, Rome, and Prague. An administrator of the communist-dominated World Peace Council (WPC), he participated in conferences around the world.

From the early 1950s, Hikmet's companion was Galina Grigoryevna Kolesnikova, a doctor, whom he met in the Barvikha Sanatorium. After separation, he married a young woman named Vera Tulyakova; born in 1932, she was thirty years his junior. Vera was the last great love of his life. With her Hikmet wrote for the Soyuz Multifilm Institute a scenario for a puppet film, entitled A Cloud in Love. Many of Hikmet's poems, composed during the years of exile, are nostalgic. 'Paris Without You' (1958), which he wrote during his visit to France, reflected his longing for Vera. While in Warsaw he imagined about platans, "white houses" and "an autumn morning in a wine yard" – there are no wine yards in Warsaw and the city is not white. A poem about Donau brings his thoughts to Istanbul. Broken in health, Hikmet died on June 3, 1963 in Moscow, where he was buried. Just a few months before his death Hikmet had written a poem, in which he bids his farewell to his neighbors in his Moscow apartment building, and ponders over how his coffin is to be transported down from the fourth floor. ´

Hikmet's first poems appeared in the 1920s, but he had started to write earlier. In Moscow he saw a poem by Mayakovsky, and although he did not understand Russian, the free-flowing lines fascinated his imagination. Hikmet also worked with Mayakovsky at the satirical Metla theater.

Hikmet combined Turkish traditional poetry with avant-gardist trends, and deeply influenced Turkish literature in the 1920s and 1930s. His own passionate poetic voice Hikmet found in his twenties. He proclaimed that "the artist is the engineer of the human soul." In 1936 he published one of his most famous works, Simavne Kadısı Oğlu Şeyh Bedreddin Destanı (The Epic of Sheikh Dedreddin), which depicted a 15th century revolutionary religious leader in Anatolia. Among his later major works is the five-volume Memleketimden İnsan Manzaraları (1966-67), a 20,000 line epic. In his early poems Hikmet never used completely free verse. Typical for his poems is change of metre and irregular use of rhymes.

As a playwright Hikmet applied the techniques of Brecht's epic theater. His Marxist-inspired dramas enjoyed success in the Soviet Union and other communist countries. Hikmet's first published play Ocakbasi (1932, By the Fireside), was a verse drama about a poet's love. In 1932 he made a strong impact with his innovative play Kafatası and consolidated his reputation with Unutulan Adam (1934), which demonstrated the dubiousness of fame and the frequent discrepancy between one's success in the world and one's unhappiness in private life.

Other dramatic works in the 1930s and 1940s include Bir Ölü Evi (1932, The House of the Deceased), which focuses on the greed and hypocrisy of a middle-class family. Ferhad ile Şirin (1945,  Ferhad and Sirin), written in a prison and based on a Persian-Turkish love legend, has been adapted into a three-act ballet and filmed twice. İvan İvanoviç Var mıydı, Yok muydu? (1956), published shortly after Stalin's death, attacked the cult of personality and the new hierarchy that replaced the old. This play, which was performed for the first time in Moscow, was compared to Mayakovsky's The Bedbug (1928), a social satire. Demokles'in Kılıcı  (1974,  Sword of Damocles) depicted the threat of nuclear holocaust, and Sabahat (1977) revealed the exploitation of the hardworking people by the civic leaders.

Hikmet's poetry and plays gained a wide popularity in France and Greece, and in 1970 he received critical praise from some prominent American poets. In Turkey the ban on Hikmet's works was not lifted until 1964. A vast numbers of books and articles about the author and his work were published in the late 1970s and early 1980s. However, the multi-volume complete works project, started in 1968, remained still incomplete by the early 1980s. The first complete edition of Hikmet's poems appeared in Bulgaria in the 1960s.

Hikmet did not consider his theater works to be of major importance, but during the years in Moscow he met such Russian theater geniuses as Stanislavsky, Meyerhold, Vachtangov and Tairov. The main themes in his dramas are loneliness, betrayal and the evils of capitalism. Also many of his poems have been dramatized and staged. In 1972 Paris's Théâtre de la Liberté offered a production called Légendes à Venir, which was a mixture of the author's poems and Aziz Nesin's short stories. Hikmet's novels do not compare in quality to his poetry and plays. His collection of tales, Sevdalı Bulut (1968), and his anthology of newspaper columns, It Ürür Kervan Yürür (1965), represent his better production. Hikmet's three volumes correspondence, posthumously published, reveal the author as a master letter writer.

For further readingThe Image of Nazim Hikmet and His Poetry: in Anglo-American Literary Systems by Basak Ergil (2008);  Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Vol. 2, ed.  Steven R. Serafin (1999); Romantic Communist: The Life and Work of Nazim Hikmet, by Saime Goksu, Edward Timms (1999); Modern Turkish Poetry, ed.  Feyyaz Kayacan Fergar (1992); Contemporary Turkish Writers by Louis Mitler (1988); McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Drama, ed.  Stanley Hochman (1984); Contemporary Turkish Literature, ed.  Talat S. Halman (1982); 'The Poetry of Nazim Hikmet' by M. Dohan, in Lotus: Afro-Asian Writing, 26 (1975); Turkin kirjallisuus, toim. Mervi Nousiainen (1997) - Other famous Turkish writers: Yashar Kemal, Melih Cevdet Anday, Haldun Taner, Aziz Nesin, Oktay Akbal, Fakir Baykurt, Orhan Pamuk  - Suom.: Hikmetiltä on myös suomenettu runovalikoima Punainen omena (1972) ja Puut kasvavat vielä (1978) 

Selected works:

  • 835 Satır, 1929
  • Jokond ile Si-Ya-U, 1929 - Giaconda and Si-Ya-U (tr. 1982)
  • Varan 3, 1930
  • 1+1=1, 1930
  • Sesini Kaybeden Şehir, 1931
  • Ocakbasi, 1932 - By the Fireside (play)
  • Kafatası, 1932 - The Skull (play)
  • Bir Ölü Evi, 1932 - The House of the Deceased (play)
  • Gece Gelen Telgraf, 1932
  • Seçilmiş yazılar, 1932
  • Benerci Kendini Niçin Öldürdü?, 1932
  • Unutulan Adam, 1934 - The Forgotten Man (play)
  • Portreler, 1935
  • Taranta Babu'ya Mektuplar, 1935
  • Simavne Kadısı Oğlu Şeyh Bedreddin Destanı, 1936 - The Epic of Sheik Bedreddin and Other Poems (translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk, 1977)
  • Şeyh Bedreddin Destanına Zeyl, 1936
  • Ferhad ile Şirin, 1945 - Ferhad and Shirin (play) - Films: Leganda za lyobova, 1957, prod. Boyana Film, dir. Václav Krska, starring Apostol Karamitev, Emilia Radeva,  Zheni Bozhinova, Andrey Chaprazov; Lyobov moya, pechal moya,  1978, prod. Mosfilm, Tugra Film, dir. Azhdar Ibragimov, starring Türkan Soray, Alla Sigalova, Faruk Peker, Yilmaz Duru
  • Seçilmiş Şiirler, 1951
  • Fatma, Ali ve Diğerleri, 1952 - Ali, Fatima and Others (play)
  • Min shiʻr Nāẓim Ḥikmat, 1952
  • Poems by Nazim Hikmet, 1954
  • İvan İvanoviç Var mıydı, Yok muydu?, 1955 - Was There and Ivan Ivanovich or Not? (play)
  • Mivḥar shirim, 1955
  • Enayi, 1957 - The Sucker (play)
  • İnek, 1965 - The Cow (play)
  • Kurtuluş Savaşı Destanı, 1965 (rev. ed. Kuvâyi Milliye, 1968)
  • Şu 1941 Yılında, 1965
  • It Ürür Kervan Yürür, 1965
  • Saat 21-22 şiirleri, 1965 (ed. Memet Fuat)
  • Kan Konuşmaz, 1965
  • Yesil Elmalar, 1965
  • Ferhad ile Şirin, 1965 (ed.  Memet Fuat)
  • Sabahat, 1965 (ed.  Memet Fuat)
  • Nazım Hikmet ve Başkaları: Şiirinden ve Nesrinden Seçmeler, 1965
  • Piraye için yazılmış saat 21-22 şiirleri, 1965 (ed.  Memet Fuat)
  • Dört Hapishaneden, 1966 (ed.  Memet Fuat)
  • Yeni Şiirler, 1966
  • Rubailer, 1966 (ed.  Memet Fuat) - Rubáiyát  (translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk, 1986)
  • Ocak Başında, 1966 (ed. Serif Hulusi)
  • Sabahat, 1966 (ed. Memet Fuat)
  • Yolcu, 1966 (prod.) - The Traveler (a play, written in jail) - Film 1994, dir. Basar Sabuncu, starring Tarik Akan, Müjde Ar, Halil Ergün, Berhan Simsek
  • Memleketimden İnsan Manzaraları, 1966-67 (5 vols., ed.  Memet Fuat) - Human Landscapes (translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk, 1982) / Human Landscapes from My Country: an Epic Novel in Verse (translated by Randy Blasing & Mutlu Konuk, 2002)
  • Yusuf ile Menofis, 1967 - Joseph and Menofis (play)
  • Selected Poems, 1967 (translated by Taner Baybars)
  • Yaşamak Güzel Şey Be Kardeşim 1967 - Life’s Good, Brother: A Novel (translated from the Turkish by Mutlu Konuk Blasing, 2013) 
  • Kemal Tahir'e Mapushaneden Mektuplar, 1968
  • Oğlum, Canım Evladım, Memedim, 1968
  • Kuvâyi Milliye, 1968 (rev. ed. of Kurtuluş Savaşı Destanı, ed.  Cevdet Kudret)
  • Sevdalı Bulut, 1968
  • Nazim Hikmet: bütün eserleri, 1968
  • Nazim Hikmet'in ilk şiirleri. Hazirlayan Kerim Sadi, 1969
  • Son Şiirleri 1959-1961, 1969
  • The Moscow Symphony and Other Poems, 1970 (tr.  Taner Baybars)
  • Vâ-Nû'lara Mektuplar, 1970
  • The Day Before Tomorrow, 1972 (translated by Taner Baybars)
  • Things I Didn't Know I Loved, 1975 (translated by Randy Blasing & Mutlu Konuk)
  • Demokles'in Kılıcı, 1974 - Sword of Damocles (play)
  • Nâzım Hikmet ve seçme şiirleri: inceleme-antoloji, 1975 (ed. Asim Bezirci)
  • Henüz vakit varken gülüm, 1976
  • Kerem gibi, 1976
  • Nazim ile Piraye, 1976 (ed. Memet Fuat)
  • Sabahat, 1977 (play)
  • Türkiye İşçi Sınıfına Selam, 1978
  • Tüm Eserleri, 1975-1980 (ed. A. Bezirci)
  • Selected Poetry, 1986 (translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk)
  • İlk şiirler, 1987
  • Şafakta Suydu Evler, 1987
  • Sanat ve Edebiyat Üstüne, 1987 (ed. Aziz Calislar)
  • Kafatası / Oyunlar 1, 1989
  • Nazım Hikmet'in Yaşadığı Adalet Dramı ve Açlık Grevi Olayındaki Gerçekler, 1993 (ed. Adnan Cemgil)
  • Poems of Nazim Hikmet, 1994 (translated by Randy Blasing & Mutlu Konuk)
  • Piraye'ye Mektuplar 1-2, 1998 (ed. Memet Fuat)
  • Beyond the Walls: Selected Poems by Nazim Hikmet, 2002 (translated by Ruth Christie, Richard McKane and Talat Sait Halman)
  • Bizim Radyoda Nâzım Hikmet, 2002
  • Bütün Şiirleri, 2007
  • Öteki Defterler, 2008
  • Nâzım Hikmet ve "Tosca"sı Semiha Berksoy: mektuplar, 2008
  • Çankırıdan Piraye'ye Mektuplar, 2010

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