Invitation

Galloping from Far Asia and jutting out
into the Mediterranean like a mare’s head
this country is ours.

Wrists in blood, teeth clenched, feet bare
and this soil spreading like a silk carpet,
this hell, this paradise is ours.

Shut the gates of plutocracy, don’t let them open again,
annihilate man’s servitude to man,
this invitation is ours.

To live like a tree single and at liberty
and brotherly like the trees of a forest,
this yearning is ours.

— 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 His Turkey citizenship was revoked in 1951.

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.

Prayer on the Threshold of Tomorrow

Look. New sprouts push through the fields.
But which are thorns and which wheat
I do not know. Perhaps to the appetite
that is sated, all is chaff,
while to the hungry all is wheat.

Undistinguishable sounds, blows, footfalls,
thud in the distance, an agonizing attack,
where the oppressed plant red
flames with their blood.
And the rains sweat and expand
into floods that shake the walls
of the oldest dams.

Lord, now is the time to send
your wisdom and kindness
to the tortured who, although
they have forgotten, need you as they hurl
themselves closer to the precipice.

Oh, God, who trimmed the wick of the mind
and poured the oil of life, do not let
your lamps be overturned.
Let them illuminate paths to your truth.

Plant love in the eyes of today’s
And tomorrow’s mighty. Do not let
their hearts close.

And do not let the hearts of the child
and the aged be strangers
to tenderness and hope.

Let the struggle of our time be short.
Let it be settled with justice.

Let the fortress of egos,
that huge barricade,
crumble. And let every treasure
go to every man. Let every garden
gate be open. But let no flower be crushed.
No single branch fall.

— Vahan Tekeyan
(Trans. by Diana Der Hovanessian)

Armenian poet Vahan Tekeyan was in Jerusalem on business when he received news of the murder of 1.5 million Armenians under the Young Turk government. He lived in exile in Cairo until his death in 1945.

Things I Didn’t Know I Loved

it’s 1962 March 28th
I’m sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train 
night is falling
I never knew I liked
night descending like a tired bird on a smoky wet plain 
I don’t like
comparing nightfall to a tired bird

I didn’t know I loved the earth
can someone who hasn’t worked the earth love it 
I’ve never worked the earth
it must be my only Platonic love

and here I’ve loved rivers all this time
whether motionless like this they curl skirting the hills
European hills crowned with chateaus
or whether stretched out flat as far as the eye can see
I know you can’t wash in the same river even once
I know the river will bring new lights you’ll never see
I know we live slightly longer than a horse but not nearly as long as a crow
I know this has troubled people before
                         and will trouble those after me
I know all this has been said a thousand times before 
                         and will be said after me

I didn’t know I loved the sky 
cloudy or clear
the blue vault Andrei studied on his back at Borodino
in prison I translated both volumes of War and Peace into Turkish 
I hear voices
not from the blue vault but from the yard 
the guards are beating someone again
I didn’t know I loved trees
bare beeches near Moscow in Peredelkino
they come upon me in winter noble and modest 
beeches are Russian the way poplars are Turkish 
“the poplars of Izmir
losing their leaves . . .
they call me The Knife . . .
                         lover like a young tree . . .
I blow stately mansions sky-high”
in the Ilgaz woods in 1920 I tied an embroidered linen handkerchief 
                                        to a pine bough for luck

I never knew I loved roads 
even the asphalt kind
Vera’s behind the wheel we’re driving from Moscow to the Crimea 
                                                          Koktebele
                               formerly “Goktepé ili” in Turkish 
the two of us inside a closed box
the world flows past on both sides distant and mute 
I was never so close to anyone in my life
bandits stopped me on the red road between Bolu and Geredé
                                        when I was eighteen
apart from my life I didn’t have anything in the wagon they could take 
and at eighteen our lives are what we value least
I’ve written this somewhere before
wading through a dark muddy street I’m going to the shadow play 
Ramazan night
a paper lantern leading the way
maybe nothing like this ever happened
maybe I read it somewhere an eight-year-old boy
                                       going to the shadow play
Ramazan night in Istanbul holding his grandfather’s hand 
   his grandfather has on a fez and is wearing the fur coat
      with a sable collar over his robe
   and there’s a lantern in the servant’s hand
   and I can’t contain myself for joy
flowers come to mind for some reason 
poppies cactuses jonquils
in the jonquil garden in Kadikoy Istanbul I kissed Marika 
fresh almonds on her breath
I was seventeen
my heart on a swing touched the sky 
I didn’t know I loved flowers
friends sent me three red carnations in prison

I just remembered the stars 
I love them too
whether I’m floored watching them from below 
or whether I’m flying at their side

I have some questions for the cosmonauts 
were the stars much bigger
did they look like huge jewels on black velvet
                             or apricots on orange
did you feel proud to get closer to the stars
I saw color photos of the cosmos in Ogonek magazine now don’t 
   be upset comrades but nonfigurative shall we say or abstract 
   well some of them looked just like such paintings which is to 
   say they were terribly figurative and concrete
my heart was in my mouth looking at them 
they are our endless desire to grasp things
seeing them I could even think of death and not feel at all sad 
I never knew I loved the cosmos

snow flashes in front of my eyes
both heavy wet steady snow and the dry whirling kind 
I didn’t know I liked snow

I never knew I loved the sun
even when setting cherry-red as now
in Istanbul too it sometimes sets in postcard colors 
but you aren’t about to paint it that way
I didn’t know I loved the sea
                             except the Sea of Azov
or how much

I didn’t know I loved clouds
whether I’m under or up above them
whether they look like giants or shaggy white beasts

moonlight the falsest the most languid the most petit-bourgeois 
strikes me
I like it

I didn’t know I liked rain
whether it falls like a fine net or splatters against the glass my 
   heart leaves me tangled up in a net or trapped inside a drop 
   and takes off for uncharted countries I didn’t know I loved 
   rain but why did I suddenly discover all these passions sitting 
   by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
is it because I lit my sixth cigarette 
one alone could kill me
is it because I’m half dead from thinking about someone back in Moscow
her hair straw-blond eyelashes blue

the train plunges on through the pitch-black night
I never knew I liked the night pitch-black
sparks fly from the engine
I didn’t know I loved sparks
I didn’t know I loved so many things and I had to wait until sixty 
   to find it out sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train 
   watching the world disappear as if on a journey of no return

—Nâzim Hikmet
19 April 1962, Moscow
(Trans. by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk)

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 Turkish citizenship was revoked in 1951.

[Research note: Things I Didn’t Know I Loved comes from Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk, Trans., Selected Poetry (Persea Books, Inc., 1986)]