Of the first modern Turkish poet Nâzim Hikmet (1902-1963) I enjoy the longer pieces ‘On Living‘ or ‘Some advice to those who will serve time in prison’, but here I want to read a short poem translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk:
It’s this way
I stand in the advancing light,
my hands hungry, the world beautiful.
My eyes can’t get enough of the trees-
they’re so hopeful, so green.
A sunny road runs through the mulberries,
I’m at the window of the prison infirmary.
I can’t smell the medicines-
carnations must be blooming nearby.
It’s this way:
being captured is beside the point,
the point is not to surrender.
A concise poem, rendered in excellent English verse. Hikmet had been imprisoned for his radical acts in Turkey. I witness daybreak (the advancing light) and my hungry hands seem to symbolize the desire to work, to work the beautiful world. When my eyes catch the hopefulness of the trees, I think “wait a minute!” If I need the trees to project hope, I must be in a position that requires hope. I see the sunny road and the mulberry bushes.
And then Hikmet says wryly where I am, or where he is. He is probably working there. What matters is that he can’t smell the medicines because of blooming flowers. The last stanza of the poem has become famous. Yes, we can not surrender, even though we have been captured. This reminds of course of Sartre’s freedom in a prison cell. And indeed, in 1949 when he was imprisoned, a committee including Sartre and Picasso campaigned for his release.