Some Advice To Those Who Will Serve Time In Prison : 3 Poems by Nazim Hikmet

Nâzım Hikmet  has been described as the first modern Turkish poet. He was born on January 15, 1902 in Salonika, Ottoman Empire, where his father served in the Foreign Service. Raised in Istanbul, Hikmet left Allied-occupied Turkey after the First World War and ended up in Moscow, where he attended the university and met writers and artists from all over the world. After the Turkish Independence in 1924 he returned to Turkey, but was soon arrested for working on a leftist magazine. He managed to escape to Russia, where he continued to write plays and poems.

In 1928 a general amnesty allowed Hikmet to return to Turkey, and during the next ten years he published nine books of poetry—five collections and four long poems—while working as a proofreader, journalist, scriptwriter, and translator. He left Turkey for the last time in 1951, after serving a lengthy jail sentence for his radical acts, and lived in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, where he continued to work for the ideals of world Communism.

After receiving early recognition for his patriotic poems in syllabic meter, he came under the influence of the Russian Futurists in Moscow, and abandoned traditional forms while attempting to “depoetize” poetry.

Many of his works have been translated into English, including Human Landscapes from My Country: An Epic Novel in Verse(2009), Things I Didn’t Know I Loved (1975), The Day Before Tomorrow (1972), The Moscow Symphony (1970), and Selected Poems (1967). In 1936 he published Seyh Bedreddin destani (“The Epic of Shaykh Bedreddin”) and Memleketimden insan manzaralari(“Portraits of People from My Land”).

Hikmet died of a heart attack in Moscow in 1963. The first modern Turkish poet, he is recognized around the world as one of the great international poets of the twentieth century.

Some Advice To Those Who Will Serve Time In Prison

If instead of being hanged by the neck
you’re thrown inside
for not giving up hope
in the world, your country, your people,
if you do ten or fifteen years
apart from the time you have left,
you won’t say,
“Better I had swung from the end of a rope
like a flag” —
You’ll put your foot down and live.
It may not be a pleasure exactly,
but it’s your solemn duty
to live one more day
to spite the enemy.
Part of you may live alone inside,
like a tone at the bottom of a well.
But the other part
must be so caught up
in the flurry of the world
that you shiver there inside
when outside, at forty days’ distance, a leaf moves.
To wait for letters inside,
to sing sad songs,
or to lie awake all night staring at the ceiling
is sweet but dangerous.
Look at your face from shave to shave,
forget your age,
watch out for lice
and for spring nights,
and always remember
to eat every last piece of bread—
also, don’t forget to laugh heartily.
And who knows,
the woman you love may stop loving you.
Don’t say it’s no big thing:
it’s like the snapping of a green branch
to the man inside.
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.
I mean, it’s not that you can’t pass
ten or fifteen years inside
and more —
you can,
as long as the jewel
on the left side of your chest doesn’t lose it’s luster!May 1949Trans. by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk (1993)

Since I’ve Been In Jail

Since I’ve been in jail
the world has turned around the sun ten times
And if you ask the earth, it will say:
“It’s not worth mentioning,
a microscopic time.”
And if you ask me, I will say:
“It’s ten years of my life.”
I had a pencil
the year I came to jail.
It wore out in a week from writing.
And if you ask the pencil, it will say:
“A whole life.”
And if you ask me, I will say:
“It’s nothing, a mere week.”
Osman who was jailed for murder
completed a seven-year stretch and left
since I’ve been in jail.
He wandered around outside for a while,
and then got jailed again for smuggling.
He served a six-month term and left again,
and yesterday a letter came saying he’s married
and a child will be born in the spring.
Now they’re ten years old
the children who fell from their mothers’ womb
that year I came to jail,
And the colts of that year who had long thin shaky legs
have long since become docile broad-rumped mares.
But the olive shoots are still shoots
and they’re still children.
New squares have opened up in my distant city
since I’ve been in jail.
And our family
is living in a house I’ve never seen
on a street I don’t know.
The bread was pure white, like cotton,
the year I came to jail.
Later it was rationed out,
And we here on the inside beat one another
for a piece of black crust the size of a fist.
Now it’s free again,
But brown and tasteless.
The year I came to jail
The Second One had just begun.
The ovens in Dachau Camp were not yet lit,
The atom bomb was not yet hurled upon Hiroshima.
Time flowed like the blood of a child with his throat cut.
Later that chapter was officially closed,
Now American dollars are talking about a Third.
But in spite of everything, the days have brightened
since I’ve been in jail,
And about half of them
“put their heavy hands on the pavement
and on the edge of darkness
straightened up.”
Since I’ve been in jail
the world has turned around the sun ten times.
And again I repeat with the same passion
what I wrote for them
the year I came to jail:
“They
whose number is as great
as ants on the earth
fish in the water
birds in the sky
are fearful and brave
ignorant and learned
and they are children,
And they
who destroy and create
it is only their adventure in these songs.”
And for the rest,
for example, my lying here for ten years,
it’s nothing…

Last Will And Testament

Comrades, if I don’t live to see the day
— I mean,if I die before freedom comes —
take me away
and bury me in a village cemetery in Anatolia.The worker Osman whom Hassan Bey ordered shot
can lie on one side of me, and on the other side
the martyr Aysha, who gave birth in the rye
and died inside of forty days.Tractors and songs can pass below the cemetery —
in the dawn light, new people, the smell of burnt gasoline,
fields held in common, water in canals,
no drought or fear of the police.Of course, we won’t hear those songs:
the dead lie stretched out underground
and rot like black branches,
deaf, dumb, and blind under the earth.But, I sang those songs
before they were written,
I smelled the burnt gasoline
before the blueprints for the tractors were drawn.

As for my neighbors,
the worker Osman and the martyr Aysha,
they felt the great longing while alive,
maybe without even knowing it.

Comrades, if I die before that day, I mean
— and it’s looking more and more likely —
bury me in a village cemetery in Anatolia,
and if there’s one handy,
a plane tree could stand at my head,
I wouldn’t need a stone or anything.

Moscow, Barviha Hospital

Trans. by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk (1993)

pirated from various sources for educational purposes

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Nazim Hikmet Written by:

Nazim Hikmet was born on January 15, 1902 in Salonika, Ottoman Empire (now Thessaloníki, Greece), where his father served in the Foreign Service. He was exposed to poetry at an early age through his artist mother and poet grandfather, and had his first poems published when he was seventeen. Raised in Istanbul, Hikmet left Allied-occupied Turkey after the First World War and ended up in Moscow, where he attended the university and met writers and artists from all over the world. After the Turkish Independence in 1924 he returned to Turkey, but was soon arrested for working on a leftist magazine. He managed to escape to Russia, where he continued to write plays and poems. In 1928 a general amnesty allowed Hikmet to return to Turkey, and during the next ten years he published nine books of poetry—five collections and four long poems—while working as a proofreader, journalist, scriptwriter, and translator. He left Turkey for the last time in 1951, after serving a lengthy jail sentence for his radical acts, and lived in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, where he continued to work for the ideals of world Communism. After receiving early recognition for his patriotic poems in syllabic meter, he came under the influence of the Russian Futurists in Moscow, and abandoned traditional forms while attempting to "depoetize" poetry. Many of his works have been translated into English, including Human Landscapes from My Country: An Epic Novel in Verse (2009), Things I Didn't Know I Loved (1975), The Day Before Tomorrow (1972), The Moscow Symphony (1970), and Selected Poems (1967). In 1936 he published Seyh Bedreddin destani ("The Epic of Shaykh Bedreddin") and Memleketimden insan manzaralari ("Portraits of People from My Land"). Hikmet died of a heart attack in Moscow in 1963. The first modern Turkish poet, he is recognized around the world as one of the great international poets of the twentieth century.

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