Nazim Hikmet is a ‘world poet’. Many have asked why he is referred to in these terms. He has been mocked, belittled and accused – all because of this term. Questions of this type have generally been put by military prosecutors or judges. They were also asked at Selimiye Barracks in Istanbul (where interrogations took place after the 1980 military coup). They were fired at the leaders of the Union of Turkish Writers. But no organisation, no political view can make a poet look greater than he is. First of all it would lack conviction. When we say that Nazim Hikmet is a world poet, we receive international approval. Thus, we must investigate the qualities that make him a ‘world poet’.
‘Nazim Hikmet is a world poet because he wanted all the people of the world to live in freedom and happiness; that is what he fought for.’
This is a correct but incomplete answer. Only a small number of the poets who shared Nazim Hikmet’s view of the world, who represented the same ideals, deserve this title. One of them is Pablo Neruda. A poet’s view of the world is important, but it is insufficient for him to become a ‘world poet’.
‘Nazim Hikmet is a world poet because he spoke of the yearnings of people in all geographies, not about what the art of poetry had until then taken such pains to describe.’
This answer is also correct, but at the same time it prompts the question of how. How did he speak of these things so that readers of Turkish poetry were moved, felt the need to learn his poems by heart and copy them out? Why is it that readers of the poems in translation are unable to forget them, although the possibilities of the original language, its poetic qualities have been lost?
Nazim Hikmet’s poetry is characterised by visions and words that come from living – from life itself. A person’s ‘love of living’ (joie de vivre), the worker suffering from lack of sleep, the sadness of being unable to give even a flower to one’s beloved are all expressed together with the conviction that better days are to come. There is imprisonment, falling in love, deception, unemployment, loving one’s country so much that one can see it in a much-loved face, a puff of cigarette smoke, even a shirt; admiration of a cucumber because of its smell, its freshness and colour; there is understanding of the sensitivities and feelings in a worker’s hand. There is the ability to be convincing in every line of the poem. An example of this is the statement that children should not be killed, that they have the right to eat sweets. It is seen in the sharpness with which he describes a youth maimed by the atom bomb, in the mockery with which he refers to conceit. Is it his simplicity of narration that makes him a world poet?
The answer to this question is ‘yes’. If you work for a living, you know that his voice speaks for you as well. It is because Nazim Hikmet’s voice never lies, for it states unhesitatingly that its owner has never tilled the soil. It is because he feels that no person should fear another person. It is because even though he accepted death and defeat with his mind, he never accepted them with his heart. It is because he was able to create a feeling of ‘oneness’ similar to that existing between a driver and his car, a rider and his horse.
Nazim Hikmet is a poet who describes the conflict between labour and capital, the dreams of workers, a poet who tells us how the world would change if the money spent on armaments were spent on meeting other needs.
He reflects this situation just like all the truths he describes, together with the situations in the ‘yesterday-today-future’ tenses and their changing aspects. He narrated his epics with structures as mobile as changes in time and place, flashbacks and flashes forward in a film script.
Let us remember The Epic of Sheikh Bedrettin, Son of the Qadi of Simavna, Human Landscapes from my Country, and Straw Yellow.
I consider it would be no exaggeration to say that these poems are a major contribution to world literature.
I feel we can perhaps explain Nazim Hikmet’s status as a world poet by the fact that his poetry is expressed in cries –statements – above distinctions of class, culture and religion. Whatever it is that enables lines such as ‘They took me out into the sun for the first time today’, ‘Dead children do not grow’ and ‘Children can die just like bearded soldiers’ to be translated and read all over the world – this is the quality which makes Nazim Hikmet a world poet. A poet who acted in defence of life.
Click here to return to the September 2002 index.