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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Words from a Poet of the People

When I discovered the Turkish poet Nazım Hikmet Ran (1902-1963), I discovered myself.

He was the second blue-eyed Thessalonian Turk to affect more than a generation of people. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was the other.

Irrelevant of political persuasion, reading his poems made me realise how endearingly - and with brutal honesty - human a poet could be.

The greatest of his works, in my opinion, deal with the extraordinary hearts that beat in the life of ordinary people, his people, irrelevant of race or history, that shared the land he loved so much.

To give a quick example: His amazing "Epic of the National Forces and Human Landscapes from My Country" (a compilation of previous works, 1950s) puts you in the trenches with the soldiers, dying for causes not of their making, but dying because freedom sadly does not come free. He makes the characters so human, so real, you feel you are with them, in the dark and the misery, waiting to die, to enter a deeper dark than the one they sit in, while sharing tales of home and hearth.

How a people can be raised on this type of inspirational literature (though patriotic) and still wage war so dismissively I will never know, except that it proves the adage that after all this time, humanity still has a lot to learn.

While the type of social justice he yearned for is still out of our grasp, one hopes the desire and hope for it will never be out of our minds, especially when reading such poetry.

A Good Man

It's been said that every poet, when he dies, becomes a good man - but Hikmet truly was a good man.

He will always be to me the Yunus Emre of his Turkish generation, though he fared less well in estimation during his lifetime. A true humanitarian, Hikmet was driven into exile to Russia never to see the land he loved again.

Although this man merely wanted to be buried under some tree in any simple village cemetery in his homeland, I am thankful to Russia - for whatever political reasons - for welcoming Hikmet and upon his death laying him to rest in Moscow's famous Novodevichy Cemetery, amongst their own prestigious people.

I'm not going to continue to give a long write-up on the life of the man or his works here (about the awards he won or how he inspired Pablo Picasso for example). Those interested to find out about him, will find the few excerpts of his work that I provide below enough motivation to go and find Hikmet for themselves.

His name Nazim Hikmet in English literally means "the wisdom of verse". No man was ever more aptly named.

Words from a Poet

Here is Hikmet in his own words:

"Tavşan korktuğu için kaçmaz, kaçtığı için korkar." (The rabbit does not flee because it's frightened, it's frightened because it flees.)
from "The Epic of the National Forces and Human Landscapes from My Country", tr. by Ali Yildirim

"Yaşamak bir ağaç gibi tek ve hür ve bir orman gibi kardeşcesine." (To live like a tree single and at liberty, and brotherly like the trees of a forest.)
from "Davet" (Invitation), tr by Fuat Engin

"All that I ask is that for peace
You fight today, you fight today
So that the children of this world
May live and grow and laugh and play."
from a loose English translation of Hikmet's Hiroshima poem "Kız Çocuğu" (The Little Girl) known as "I Come And Stand At Every Door", which has achieved popularity as an anti-war message and been performed as a song by a number of singers and musicians worldwide.

Read more: About words | My Life | Turkish Culture >>

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