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Two Poems from “835 Lines” by Nazım Hikmet

Oct 28, 2021 | Poetry | 0 comments

Translated from the Turkish by Neil P. Doherty

Translations dedicated to Trevor Joyce

Weeping Willow
The water was flowing
the willow trees reflected in its mirror:
The weeping willows washing their hair in the water!
Striking the willows with their burning, bare swords
the red horsemen run towards the setting sun!
Suddenly like a bird
                 like a bird hit
                                in the wing
a wounded horseman falls from his horse!
Yet he does not shout,
Nor call back those who go ahead,
he just stares with streaming eyes
                 at the shining horseshoes growing more distant!

A shame!
A shame that
never again will he lie on the lathered necks of galloping horses,
never again will he wave his sword at the white armies!

Bit by bit the horseshoe sounds fade away,
And the horsemen disappear into where the sun sets!

Horsemen horsemen red horsemen,
their horses wingéd in wind! 
their horses wingéd in...
their horses wingéd...

their horses...


Like wind wingéd horseman life has passed!

The sound of the flowing water fades
and shadows are shadowed
                         and colours wiped away.
A black cover slips
                         over his blue eyes,
the weeping willows lean down
                        into his
                                blond hair!
Do not weep weeping willow
                    do not,
in the mirror of the black water do not bow and scrape!
                            do not!
                                   do not weep!”

The Caspian Sea
From horizon to horizon
Run armies and armies of purple foaming waves,
The Caspian Sea speaks the wild language of the wind’s tongue
Speaks cascades speaks.
And someone utters: “Chort vazmi!”
                       Like a dead lake the Caspian Sea!
An infinite, aimless expanse of salty water!
On the Caspian Sea fare friends a…h..!
On the Caspian Sea fare enemies!
The wave is a mountain
            the boat a deer!
The wave is a well
            the boat a bucket!
The boat rises
            the boat falls,
Off the back
          of a
              stumbling horse
The boat rises
       on the hoofs
             of a rearing horse
The Turkmen boatman
Sits cross-legged at the wheel,
A huge black kalpak on his head
Yet this is no kalpak: 
He has torn open the stomach of woolly sheep
            and wrapped it round his head
The fleece down in his eyes!

The boat rises
        the boat falls
And the boatman
Like a Turkmen Buddha statue
Sits cross-legged at the wheel
Ah but do not think he bows and scrapes to the Caspian Sea
With the stony tranquillity of a Buddha statue
He is sure of himself
As he sits there, cross-legged at the wheel.
He does not
         look at the 
               waters twining
                     round the boat!

He does not 
         look at the cracking
                 cleaving waters
                      round the boat!
-But this North-westerly blows hard
Look out lest the Caspian fool you
Do not let the wind play its tricks

-Ah pay no heed, come what may!
What may come
       let the North Westerly
                      the waters,
He who was born on the Caspian
Will find his grave on the Caspian!
The boat rises
          the boat falls
The boat rise…
          the boat fall…

*Chort Vazmi: (Russian) Your soul to the devil.


Translator's Note

The son of an Ottoman government official, Nazim Hikmet grew up in Anatolia; after briefly attending the Turkish naval academy, he studied economics and political science  at the University of Moscow. Returning home as a Marxist in 1924 after the advent of the new Turkish Republic, he began to work for a number of journals and became active in the Turkish Communist Party. After spending long years in various Turkish prisons he left the country forever and went into exile in the Soviet Union. His mastery of language and introduction of free verse  and a wide range of poetic themes strongly influenced Turkish literature from the late 1920’s onward.  His early poems were written in syllabic metre , but in Moscow  he came under the influence of the Russian Futurists, and there he abandoned traditional poetic forms, utilised exaggerated imagery and unexpected associations, and attempted to “depoetize” poetry . In 1928, his first book, from which these two poems are taken, “835 Lines “dropped like a bomb into the world of Turkish poetry. One must bear in mind that no poetry like this had been seen in Turkish before and the fact that it was published in 1928 in the new Latin script must only have added to the shock. Now some 93 years after the publication of this volume it is time we added it to the list of avant-garde works that affected a seismic change in the way poetry was written and seen. For too long modernist poets from outside a narrow Eurocentric circle have been written out of the history of modernism. While Nazım Hikmet has been translated and published in the West much of the focus has been on his later work. Perhaps a volume dedicated to his extraordinary early experiments would add a vital voice to the familiar chorus of the 1920’s and 30’s.
Later Nazım’s style and poetics became quieter, though always revolutionary, and he published Şeyh Bedreddin Destanı (1936; “The Epic of Shaykh Bedreddin”), about a 15th-century revolutionary religious leader in Anatolia; and Memleketimden insan manzaraları (“Human Landscapes from My Country”), a 20,000-line epic. Although previously censored, after his death in 1963 his works began to be published and widely read, and he became a poet of the people and a revolutionary hero of the Turkish left. Many consider him to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, modern Turkish poet.

Nâzım Hikmet Ran (15 January 1902 – 3 June 1963),commonly known as Nâzım Hikmet, was a Turkish poet, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, director and memoirist. He was acclaimed for the “lyrical flow of his statements”. Described as a “romantic communist” and “romantic revolutionary”, he was repeatedly arrested for his political beliefs and spent much of his adult life in prison or in exile. His poetry has been translated into more than fifty languages.

Neil P. Doherty is a translator born in Dublin, Ireland in 1972 who has resided in Istanbul since 1995. He currently teaches in Bilgi University. He is a freelance translator of both Turkish and Irish poetry. In 2017 he edited Turkish Poetry Today, which was published in the U.K by Red Hand Books. His translations have appeared in Poetry Wales, The Dreaming Machine, The Honest Ulsterman, Turkish Poetry Today, Arter (İstanbul), Advaitam Speaks, The Seattle Star, The Enchanting Verses and The Berlin Quarterly.


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