A fervent nationalist patriot, a socialist whose humanistic views tran- scended barriers of race and country, Nazim Hikmet is considered one of Turkey's very foremost modern poets . . . and yet for many years his works were banned in his native country and he himself suffered long exile.
Nazim Hikmet himself had the most impeccable bourgeois antecedents. His grandfather had been the governor of Salonica and his father consul at Hamburg. Hikmet was enrolled at the Naval Academy but after five years he suffered repeated bouts of pleurisy and was given a medical discharge. During the Nationalist struggle he went to Anatolia and taught school in Nationalist territory but swiftly became disillusioned and went on to Batum in 1921. The next year he was accepted into the Department of Economic and Social Studies at the University of Moscow where he remained until 1924, coming under the influence of the Futurist poet Mayakowski and into contact with Vera, Piraia and the other women who inspired some of his poetry and prose.
Though he returned to Istanbul and began publishing his poetry in local journals, the Ankara Independence Tribunal sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor and exile ``in absentia'' in 1926 for one of his poems. Apprised of the sentence, Hikmet was able to flee to Russia, only to return in 1928, hoping to benefit from a general amnesty for political offenders. But immediately on his return he was emprisoned at Hopa and later sentenced to six years and six months of penal servitude. This sentence was shortened by a year and a half through another amnesty in 1933 on the tenth anniversary of the Republic. A period of freedom, publication and activity in local film studios was once more terminated by the decree of the Court of the Military Academy which sentenced Nazim Hikmet to 15 years for his supposed subversive activities among its student body while the Naval Academy Special Court added a sentence of 20 years for the same offense. Sentences delivered by the courts brought the total sentence to 61 years and 6 months. (Karaalioglu, Edebiyatimizda sair ve yazarlar, 1979, p.272)
On the accession of the Democratic Party in 1950, numerous lawyers and intellectuals petitioned the new goverment to include Nazim Hikmet's name in the political amnesty list. He was released from prison in 1950, but alarmed by threats against his life he fled once more, this time aboard a freighter bound for Rumania. He spent his remaining days as a political refugee in Poland, Bulgaria and the Soviet Union, dying of a heart attack in Moscow where he is buried.
The influence of Nazim Hikmet on the young Turkish poets of his day was considerable both from an ideological perspective and from his blank verse and expressionistic poetry after the style of Mayakowski. In spite of the fact that none of his works were published or publicly sold between 1938 and the reestablishment of multi-party goverment in 1965, his poems printed outside the country have been circulated and read by the intervening generation.
Nazim Hikmet's plays, with the exception of ``Ferhad and Shirin'' which was revived in 1965, were rather less durable than his poetry and lacking in strong plot and characterizations.
His use of Turkish lyric, almost musical compositions, rescues his verse, even at its most didactic, from the level of propaganda.
The Japanese fisherman who was killed in the sea By a cloud, was a young man. From his friends, I heard this song It was a bright yellow evening on the Pacific. Forget me, my almond-eyed one. Putrid, from a putrid egg Would be the child you'd bear from me. This ship is a black coffin. This sea, a dead sea. Oh, mankind, where are you? Where are you? (Japon Balikcisi [The Japanese Fisherman]. Secme Siirler, 1968)
Alongside of a universalism and compassion which finds its roots as much in Sufism as in ``socialist internationalism,'' Hikmet expressed a passionate love of his native country and ``sense of place,'' through a rare scheme of impressions evoking a land from which he was barred and in which he had been deprived of his liberty for much of his life.
I love my country . . . I love my country . . . I swung in its lofty trees, I lay in its prisons. Nothing relieves my depression Like the songs and tobacco of my country. . . . and then my working, honest, brave people. Ready to accept with the joy of a wondering child, everything, progressive, lovely, good, half hungry, half full. half slave . . . (Memleketimi seviyorum [I love my country]. Secme Siirler, 1968)
Comtemporary Turkish Writers - A Critical Bio-Bibliography Louis Mitler - Indiana University Uralic and Altaic Series, 1988. p. 178-179.