A Sad State of Freedom

You waste the attention of your eyes,
the glittering labour of your hands,
and knead the dough enough for dozens of loaves
of which you’ll taste not a morsel;
you are free to slave for others —
you are free to make the rich richer.
The moment you’re born
they plant around you
mills that grind lies
lies to last you a lifetime.
You keep thinking in your great freedom
a finger on your temple
free to have a free conscience.
Your head bent as if half-cut from the nape,
your arms long, hanging,
your saunter about in your great freedom:
you’re free
with the freedom of being unemployed.
You love your country
as the nearest, most precious thing to you.
But one day, for example,
they may endorse it over to America,
and you, too, with your great freedom —
you have the freedom to become an air-base.
You may proclaim that one must live
not as a tool, a number or a link
but as a human being —
then at once they handcuff your wrists.
You are free to be arrested, imprisoned
and even hanged.
There’s neither an iron, wooden
nor a tulle curtain
in your life;
there’s no need to choose freedom:
you are free.
But this kind of freedom
is a sad affair under the stars.

— Nâzim Hikmet

Turkish poet Nâzim Hikmet was a dedicated leftist and a member of the Communist Party of Turkey. He spent much of World War I in Russia. When he returned to Turkey in 1924, he was a regular contributor to the Communist magazine Aydinlik. His poems and articles earned him a fifteen-year prison sentence, but he fled to Moscow before he could be jailed. He returned to Turkey in 1928, but in 1932 was sentenced to four years in prison for his work on the magazine Resimli Ay (Illustrated Monthly), a cosmopolitan literary magazine. He was pardoned in 1933, but arrested again in 1938 and given a 28-year sentence. He was eventually moved to house arrest, out which he escaped to Moscow. His Turkey citizenship was revoked in 1951.

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