Spring 2005 (13.1)
Poetry by Nazim Hikmet
As Long As the Heart Doesn't Lose Its Luster
Hikmet (1902-1963), poet, playwright and novelist, was born in
Turkey and sentenced to 28 years in prison for inciting Turkish
armed forces to revolt on the grounds that military cadets were
reading his poetry. Much of his lifetime was spent in prison
or in exile away from Turkey. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in
1950. Azerbaijani composer Arif Malikov developed a close relationship
with him in the 1960s and based his most popular work, "Legend
of Love", on Hikmet's poetry. The poet died in Moscow of
a heart attack in 1963 and is buried there. We include a few
short poems of his writing as an introduction to his work.
The knight of immortal youth
at the age of 50, found his mind in his heart
and on a July morning went out to capture
the right, the beautiful, the just.
Facing him - a world of silly
and arrogant giants,
he, on his sad, but brave [horse] Rocinante.
I know what it means to be longing for something,
but if your heart weighs only a pound and sixteen ounces,
there's no sense, my Don, in fighting these senseless windmills.
But you are right, of course,
Dulcinea is your woman,
the most beautiful in the world;
I'm sure you'll shout this fact
in the face of the street vendors;
but they'll pull you down from your horse and beat you up.
But you, the unbeatable knight of our curse,
will continue to glow behind the heavy iron visor
and Dulcinea will become even more beautiful.
Translated by Taner Baybars
If half my heart is here, doctor,
the other half is in China
with the army flowing
toward the Yellow River.
And, every morning, doctor,
every morning at sunrise my heart
is shot in Greece.
And every night, doctor,
when the prisoners are asleep and the infirmary is deserted,
my heart stops at a run-down old house
And then after ten years
All I have to offer my poor people
Is this apple in my hand, doctor,
One red apple - my heart.
And that, doctor, that's the reason
For this angina pectoris -
Not nicotine, prison, or arteriosclerosis
I look at the night through the bars,
And despite the weight on my chest
My heart still beats with the most distant stars.
Advice to Those
Who 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 10 or 15 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 40 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
for 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
10 or 15 years inside
and more - you can,
as long as the jewel
on the left side of your chest doesn't lose its luster!
Translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk
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