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Nazım Hikmet Ran (Thessaloniki, Ottoman Empire, November 20, 1901-Moscow, June 3, 1963) was a Turkish poet and playwright, considered in the West the most important poet in the Turkish language of the twentieth century. His works have been translated into numerous languages. Long exiled from his country of origin because of his communist militancy, he died in 1963 as a Polish citizen.
He was born in the Greek city of Salonica, which at the time of his birth was part of the Ottoman Empire. Although he had actually been born two months earlier, his birth was recorded on January 15, 1902, and this was considered the official date. His father, Nazım Hikmet Bey, was a high imperial official, and his mother, Ayşe Dshalila, a leading painter. He studied at the Galatasaray Institute in Istanbul, and later at the naval school in Turkey, although he did not get to embark because of his state of health. During the war of independence, he joined Atatürk in Anatolia and served as a teacher in Bolu. In 1921, impressed by the Bolshevik Revolution, he traveled to the USSR. He studied sociology and economic sciences at the University of Moscow and joined the TKP, the Communist Party of Turkey.
In December 1924 he returned to Istanbul and joined the editorial office of the newspaper Aydınlık (Claridad), the TKP organ, which was closed by the authorities in February of the following year, coinciding with the exceptional measures that the Government had adopted taking as a pretext a Kurdish uprising. The collaborators of Aydınlık were arrested and prosecuted. Nazım Hikmet managed to avoid being arrested by fleeing to Smyrna and going underground. Judged in absentia, was sentenced to 15 years in prison, so, in September 1925, having to go into exile in the Soviet Union. There he took part in the creation of a theater-studio (METLA), which disappeared in March 1927.
He returned to Turkey in 1928, without a passport, and, after spending six months in prison, he dedicated himself to writing poems, novels, stories, articles, essays and theater for Akşam. In 1929 he published his poetry books 835 lines, La Gioconda and Si-Ya-U. At this time he was also part of the drafting committee of the avant-garde magazine Resimli Ay (Monthly Illustrated), which caused great stir in intellectual media. He then meets his future first wife, Pirayé, who was then only 22 years old.
In 1930 he published two new poems, Varan 3 (Y van 3) and 1 + 1 = 2, the second in collaboration with Nail V. (Nail Çakirhan); in 1931, the city that lost its voice, illustrated by Abidin Dino; and, in 1932, the anthology of poems Telegram nocturne, and Why Benerci committed suicide ?. He also wrote plays: Kafatası (The Skull) and The House of a Dead, both premiered in Istanbul in 1932.
In 1933 he was arrested and imprisoned, accused of illegal association and of trying to establish a communist regime, although in 1935 he benefited from a general amnesty. After leaving prison he married Piraye. In the 1930s he published two of his most important works: the narrative poems The Epic of Sheikh Bedreddin (Şeyh Bedrettin Destanı, 1936), in which the figure of a revolutionary religious leader of the fourteenth century is glossed over; and Letters to Taranta Babd (Taranta Babu’ya Mektuplar, 1935), about the invasion of Ethiopia by the troops of Benito Mussolini.
In 1938 he was sentenced to 28 years and 4 months in prison for sedition. He spent twelve years in prison. In the prison of Bursa he met the young Orhan Kemal, future great writer, and Ibrahim Balaban, who would achieve success with his pictorial work. During his stay in prison he married Münevver Andaç (it was his second marriage). In prison he wrote his Poemas de las 22-23 hours, and his most ambitious work, Human Landscapes of my country, in which he proposed to portray his people in different historical moments.
Thanks to an important international campaign to ask for his release, he was amnestied in 1951. That same year he left Turkey forever. Stripped of his Turkish nationality, he ended his life in exile with Polish citizenship. He died of a heart attack in Moscow in June 1963.
Hikmet abandoned the traditional metric forms of Turkish poetry in search of new forms of expression. This formal search reached its culminating moment during its first years in the USSR, between 1922 and 1925. At this time it began to use free verse. His work is very influenced by the poetry of Mayakovsky and the Russian Futurists.
Hikmet’s work is characterized by political commitment. One of his poems, translated into English as “I Come and Stand at Every Door”, played by several American singer-songwriters (among them Pete Seeger and the Byrds, in whose disc Fifth Dimension the song appears), gives the floor to a child of seven years deceased in Hiroshima, and it is one of the toughest antiwar writings ever written.
Hikmet used to say: “I am a poet, / I am whistling through the streets / and drawing on the walls / my poems in the form of rays …”.
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