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Nazım Hikmet

Nâzım Hikmet (RAN) (1902-1963)

He was born in Salonica (1902). He completed his primary education in İstanbul at Göztepe Taşmektep, primary section of Galatasaray High School (1914) and Nişantaşı Numune School, and received his secondary education at Heybeliada Naval School (1918) where he attended upon the recommendation of Naval Forces Commander Cemal Paşa, who listened and very much admired his poem "The Words of a Naval Officer" that he wrote when he was only 12. After graduating from the Naval School, Nâzım Hikmet was assigned to Hamidiye Cruiser as a trainee deck officer, he caught cold and pleurisy during a night watch (1919), and as he could not recover his health, he was discharged from military as disabled (1920).

After leaving military, being very sorry about the occupation of İstanbul, Nâzım Hikmet went to Anatolia to participate in the National Struggle and served as a teacher at Bolu High School for a short time (1921). The poet, interested in the Russian revolution, went to Moscow from Batum after some time and studied economy and social science at the Easter University (1922-1924). He joined Aydınlık magazine after his return home, passed to Russia again when he was informed that a verdict of sentence "in default" was given against him because of his poems published there, returned to Turkey upon the enforcement of amnesty and kept under detention at Hopa prison for sometime (1928).

Nâzım Hikmet then settled in İstanbul, worked at various newspapers and magazines and film studios, published his first poetry books and wrote his plays (1928-1932). Meanwhile, he was arrested again and gained his freedom upon the amnesty law that was put into effect due to the 10th year of the Republic. He worked as an article writer and editor at Akşam, Son Posta and Tan newspapers with Orhan Selim nickname (1933).

He was prosecuted with the indictment that he made propaganda among the students of Army War Academy and sentenced to 15 years by the Military Court of War Academy and subsequently to 20 years by the Military Court of Naval Command, so as to be totally 35 years and his sentence was reduced to 28 years and four months under articles 68 and 77 of Turkish Penal Code (1938). Following the great campaign launched by the intellectuals to include him within the scope of the amnesty law introduced after the Democrat Party came to power (1950), the jurists made recourse to legal remedies and meanwhile, Nâzım Hikmet commenced a hunger strike in the prison. Eventually, the remaining sentence of Nâzım Hikmet was excused and the poet gained his freedom after 13 years of imprisonment.

A decree for military service was taken for the poet, who could not find work and publish books after being released, and Nâzım Hikmet, 50 years old and ill, was in a very hard condition. Very afraid of being killed, the poet accepted the recommendation of Refik Erduran (reputed playwright and journalist of later times) and left Turkey by getting on a Romanian-flag vessel navigating in the Black Sea via a motorboat by his help.

Nâzım Hikmet died in Moscow (3rd June 1963).

Nâzım Hikmet published his first poems that he wrote with syllabic meter in magazines such as Yeni Mecmua, İnci, Ümit and Birinci Kitap, İkinci Kitap, etc. published by Celal Sahir (Erozan). He won the first prize in the contest held by Alemdar newspaper with his poem "Bir Dakika" (1920). Writing subsequently in magazines such as Aydınlık, Resimli Ay, Hareket, Resimli Herşey and Her Ay, Nâzım Hikmet could not publish anything after going to prison. However, during 1940s, some of his poems were published in socialist magazines such as Yeni Edebiyat, Ses, Gün, Yürüyüş, Yığın, Baştan and Barış with the nicknames İbrahim Sabri and Mazhar Lütfi or without signature. His Kuvâyı Milliye Destanı was published in feuilletons in Havadis newspaper in İzmir (1949). Yön magazine published that work (1965), reestablishing communication between Nâzım Hikmet and his readers and broke the ring placed on the work of the poet.


835 Satır (1929), Jokond ile Si-Ya-U (1929), Varan 3 (1930), 1+1=1 (1930-with Nail V.), Sesini Kaybeden Şehir (1931), Benerci Kendini Niçin Öldürdü (1932), Gece Gelen Telgraf (1932), Taranta Babu'ya Mektuplar (1935), Simavna Kadısı Oğlu Şeyh Bedrettin Destanı (1936), Kurtuluş Savaşı Destanı (1965), Saat 21-22 Şiirleri (1965-Pub. Prep. M. Fuat), Memleketimden İnsan Manzaraları (1966-1967-Pub. Prep. M. Fuat, 5 Volumes), Rubailer (1966-Pub. Prep. M. Fuat), Dört Hapishaneden (1966-Pub. Prep. M. Fuat), Yeni Şiirler (1966-Pub. Prep. Dost Yayınevi), Son Şiirleri (Pub. Prep. Habora Kitabevi), Tüm Eserleri (All Works) (1980-Pub. Prep. A. Bezirci, 8 Volumes).

Kafatası (1943), Bir Ölü Evi Yahut Merhumun Hanesi (1932), Unutulan Adam (1935), İnek (1965), Ferhat ile Şirin (1965), Enayi (1965), Sabahat (1966), Yusuf ile Menofis (1967), İvan İvanoviç Var mıydı, Yok muydu (1985).

Kan Konuşmaz (1965), Yeşil Elmalar (1965), Yaşamak Güzel Şey Be Kardeşim (1966).

İt Ürür Kervan Yürür (1936-with Osman Selim nickname), Alman Faşizmi ve Irkçılığı (1936), Milli Gurur (1936), Sovyet Demokrasisi (1936).

Kemal Tahir'e Hapishaneden Mektuplar (1968), Cezaevinden Memet Fuat'a Mektuplar (1968), Bursa Cezaevinden Vâ-Nû'lara Mektuplar (1970), Nâzım'ın Bilinmeyen Mektupları (1986-Letters with Adalet Cimcoz, Prep. Ş. Kurdakul), Piraye'ye Mektuplar (1988).

La Fontaine'den Masallar (1949-with the name Ahmet Oğuz Saruhan), Sevdalı Bulut (1967).

Nâzım Hikmet, who started writing poems at a very young age, wrote his first poem on 3rd July 1913, when he was only 11: "Feryâd-ı Vatan". The subject of this poem is the victory of Balkan War and the progress of the enemy up to Çatalca. Stating that in the poems of Nâzım Hikmet written between 1913-1920 mostly personal subjects are handled, Asım Bezirci writes that particularly the theme of love is dominant and they have a "melancholic air".

Vâ-Nû states that Yahya Kemal, who was his instructor at Naval School and had sympathy to his mother Celile Hanım, revised some of his early youth poems. The first published poem of the poet is "Hâlâ Servilerde Ağlıyorlar mı?" published in the Yeni Mecmua dated 3 October 1918 with the signature of Mehmet Nâzım. This poem was later published in Ümid magazine with the same name and signature.

Besides patriotism and loyalty to the historical past, these poems also demonstrate that the poet started to become a master, did not have difficulty using the meter and was tending to use a more pure Turkish.


After going to Anatolia and meeting with the problems of war on one hand and those of people on the other and the realities that he could not differentiate sufficiently until then, Nâzım Hikmet understood that he could not be contended with syllabic and prosody meters and that he should lead towards a new poetry, a different poetry. "I went to Anatolia. The people were skinny and combating against the Greek armies with ancient weapons, with their hunger and their louse. I discovered the people and their war. I was surprised, afraid, I loved them and perceived that all these should be written. I perceived that new things, things that were not expressed until then should be expressed through poetry. In this sense, I was first interested in finding a new form for this new essence. I started from the meter. I tried meter not at the end of lines, but one at the end and one at the beginning."

Nâzım Hikmet had gained a new world vision in Russia and his attitude towards events and human relations had changed radically. The poet was engaged to Marxism and he had adopted dialectic and historical materialism. However, he could not yet completely save himself from the old shapes. For example, his poem called "Kitâb-ı Mukaddes" published in Yeni Hayat magazine in 1922 criticizes the religions and thus gives clue about transformation of content. An attempt to surpass syllabic meter is also observed in this poem. Nâzım Hikmet says that he wrote the poem with lines consisting of 7 and 14 syllables.


Desiring to form a new poetry, Nâzım Hikmet saw a poem of Maiakowski in a newspaper at Batum and was enchanted from the form of this poem that he could not understand the content of, as he did not know Russian. Nâzım Hikmet tells the story of "Açların Gözbebekleri", his first poem written with free verse as follows: "We passed from the starvation area while coming to Moscow from Batum. What I have seen touched me much. But I wanted to scream that even such a starvation could not destroy the revolution. In Moscow, I attempted to write a poem on starvation with syllabic meter and various syllable combinations of this meter; I could not succeed. Then the form of the poem that I had seen in Batum appeared before my eyes. I decided that this could not be French free verse that I knew very well, I considered that this was a brand-new thing and the poet thought in this way as waves, and I wrote 'Açların Gözbebekleri'." This poem is a very different poem with its different use of letters and its order of broken lines.

Although it was asserted that Nâzım Hikmet directly imitated Maiakowski's poem, the seriousness of such allegations is disputable. In fact Nâzım Hikmet himself states that he saw Maiakowski's poem, but this was only seeing in these years. He tells the followings: "In the beginning I did not understand anything from it, because my Russian was bad. I can not say that I now understand it completely. But I was imitating his lines in the form of steps. The common aspects of Maiakowski's poem and mine: Firstly, poetry and prose; secondly, surpassing the gap between various kinds (lyrical, critical, etc.); third, introduction of political discourse in poetry. On the other hand, we are using different forms with him. Maiakowski is my mentor, but I am not writing like he does."

He writes more interesting things in a letter that he sent to Kemal Tahir: "I found the poems of Maiakowski published in 940 and gathered in one single volume. I am reading them. I shall confess to you, but let this remain a secret between us, that I am getting to know Maiakowski new. I mean, except one or two poems that I listened from himself, I am reading his published poems for the first time. And unfortunately I assure you that I am seeing his views on art also for the first time. However, the rule that similar conditions give rise to similar ideas was realized here with its rough lines. We had made the same thing with Maiakowski. Of course he made it better than me in many aspects, but there is no need to be modest; in some aspects I made it better. This is so."


Nâzım Hikmet proves that he actually founded a modernist poetry with 835 Satır, his first book that he published after returning to Turkey from Russia (1929). There are obviously the influences of Russian futurists and constructivists on the poems in this book. This influence is seen at first sight in his poem "San'at Telakkisi".

The basic elements of futurist art, such as admiration of technology and speed, externalization of sensitivity and appraisal of the chaos of the city and crowd are also defended in his poem "Orkestra".

Admiration of the machine, or technology, if I express it with a more extensive word, is also stated in his poem "Makinalaşmak".

The formal characteristics of the poems of Nâzım Hikmet belonging to this period may be taken under several sub-titles:

1- Visual Characteristics: Nâzım has completely demolished the traditional line structure. The poems illustrate a step structure. Words are cut in the middle and sometimes reduced to one syllable.

The poet writes some part of his poems in upper case letters and uses different letters and fonts. Therefore, the page setting itself appears as a structure. The page has gained an almost independent entity with words, letters and lines. The appearance/form rather than the meaning of the poem is highlighted.

However, one point should particularly be stressed: Nâzım Hikmet does not use visual elements merely for a game purpose. The fiction of the poem is always adjusted to the essence: Because the literature understanding of Nâzım finds its simplest expression in the principle "the essence determines the form". For this reason, both the form and the selected words of for example the poem "Makinalaşmak" were selected according to the content. The words "trrrum, trak, tiki tak" are aimed at apprehending the mechanical sound. The greatest difference between him and Ercümend Behzad, who used the same methods to some extent, can be observed here. Because, as Ercümend Behzad can not sufficiently ensure unity of form/content, his poetry is always lacking at the level of either content or form. Moreover, as I will mention later, Nâzım Hikmet succeeds in giving a direction to its poetry, but the poetry of Ercümend Behzad does not have any direction. The poet does not find anything at the end of the experience; everything is always in the state of a Potential power in that poetry.

2- Sound Characters: The poems of Nâzım Hikmet in the period between 1929-1932 are, as he himself emphasizes, works based on the literal orchestration of the word. The length/shortness of lines, ways of breaking of the words, choice of rhymes, repetitions and the use of prosody and syllabic meters completely reflect the melodic structure of a polyphonic piece of music.

Moreover, it should be reminded that the visual elements and sound elements are used by Nâzım Hikmet always together, in order to make the whole, the structure evident and a balance is established between them. Let us consider the poem "Bahri Hazer": Here, a boat just about to sink and the sailor struggling waves are described. This poem also constitutes a competent first example of the cinematography method that Nâzım Hikmet used in his masterpiece Memleketimden İnsan Manzaraları as well. Furthermore, that of talking film. Because here, the image has completed unity with sound. The distance between the point that Nâzım Hikmet carried free verse in terms of visual and sound effects and possibilities and the point that Ercümend Behzad carried it is indisputably evident. Whatever the allegations of Ercümend Behzad on this subject.

3- Complex Techniques: A quotation from Nâzım Hikmet: "The thing that relatively differentiates literature branches such as verse, novel, story, and others from each other is content, air, depth, difference of scale, that is to say, their service in the areas of thought and sense. (...) The composition and technique of new verse, which is the urban verse, has become more complex." Stating that both poetry and novel can handle the same content and event and that the composition of poetry has become more complex, Nâzım Hikmet tells the following on the structure of his own poetry: "Both melody and harmony. Both rhyme and rhymelessness, both 'master line' and 'whole'. Both solo violin and the orchestra. That is to say, dynamic forms and scales suitable for the poetry that should reflect the reality with its past, present and future and the active human in this reality in its 'internal' and 'external' world through all its complexity and motion."

As it is seen, suggesting to give reality in the dimensions of past, present and future, Nâzım Hikmet made use of complex techniques starting from his initial works: Namely, of verse and prose, form of play and scenario, and novel fiction. For example, in Jokond ile Si-Ya-U, the poet used section titles such as "Paris Telsizinin Haberleri", "Muharririn Not Defterinden" and "Jokond'un Not Defterinden", and placed sections of mutual dialogs and prose in Benerci Kendini Niçin Öldürdü.

These are the applications that were neither seen nor thought of in the Turkish poetry until then. Ahmet Haşim says the followings about 835 Satır: "The poet plays the strings of a strange instrument which is really odd but the harmony of which is really unique, standing against the blue of the sky as a form like a statue. Nâzım Hikmet Bey did not invent his style himself, poems in this form are written all around the world now. Nâzım Hikmet Bey is a great new poet of us who understood this style, adapted it to Turkish and succeeded in making it take roots in the soil of this climate." Yakup Kadri writes the followings: "835 Satır is the first line of the revolution in Turkish poetry, even in Turkish language. Nâzım Hikmet is running by yelling hot and strange words on a rearing up (Iron Horse) with bolt upright manes by upsetting all the verse rules and meter systems that we were accustomed to since even Aşık Paşa and by breaking the borders of Turkish dictionary. He is not only a literature revolutionary who marked a new epoch in Turkish poetry, but also a poet type that we are not accustomed to see at all."

Stating that the Russian futurists like Maiakowski and Klebnikov have three major purposes of "1- rescuing poetry from metaphysical abstractions and putting it into a state to word the industrial and political realities of contemporary life, 2- abandoning outmoded associations, images, senses, thoughts and forms acknowledged as 'beautiful' in general, 3- creating a brand new language freed from crusted associations", Selâhattin Hilâv writes: "Nâzım Hikmet is indirectly within the leading art and poetry trends as regards his starting point. It is seen that the leading poetry understandings of our century combine as opened to a certain direction and as surpassed in his work bearing an unlimited richness."

Monumental-Work: Memleketimden İnsan Manzaraları
This work of Nâzım Hikmet, published in five volumes, constitutes the peak of his poetry. Breaking off from his old sectarian attitude, Nâzım can be said to have almost accomplished in this work the targets that he declared in an interview made with him after the publication of Şeyh Bedrettin: "I want to reach a realism that gives the reality in poetry with all its complexity, its past, present and future elements and in motion. The realism of many of my writings is unilateral. Therefore, they most of the time have an attitude of a 'propaganda' screaming in excess. My conceptions in terms of the reflection of the sight and understanding of the world in the art rather than in terms of the sight and understanding of the world are not much."

Aiming to present the human/social view of Turkey during a certain period of time by relating it with the international formation surrounding this specific geography as well, Nâzım presents Manzaralar by reasonably saying "the book is not a poetry book" and by saying "I will not write poems any more", he demonstrates how much the new way that he found impressed him. Telling that he surpassed the "duality of verse/prose" observed in his previous studies, in Jokond, Benerci, Taranta Babu and Bedrettin, Nâzım states that the book is the "unity" of the elements of verse, prose, drama and scenario, "these very contrast elements".

Nâzım Hikmet explains his preplanning regarding this multi-form, multi-purpose and multi-meaning work of him, which surpassed even the intellectual, fictional and narrative limits of his book Aragon'un Paris Köylüsü, that was considered to have actually made a revolution within the surrealist literature in those years, as follows: "1) I wish the reader shall have passed a great crowd full of plenty of persons after having finished 12.000 lines, 2) I wish the concrete expression of this human crowd tells the reader the social status of Turkey during a certain historical period by means of Turkish people in a certain period, who are members of various classes, 3) I wish the state of the world surrounding Turkish society is understood at a certain period on the background, 4) I wish the question of where we are coming from, where we are now and where we are going to are replied to the maximum possible extent within my field"

It is evident that such a plan can not be realized through poetry or at the level of mere poetic discourse. However, stating that even in the case of utilizing a multi-form technique, this plan may face the danger of schematism, Nâzım Hikmet decided to "put on the screen" around 300 primary and secondary characters as he suggested in a way that "some remain till the end", within the framework of this besieging plan.


1902 : He was born in Salonica on 15th January.
1913 : He writes his first poem titled "Feryad-ı Vatan". He starts to attend school at Galatasaray Sultani.
1914 : He passes to Nişantaşı Sultani because of economic reasons.
1917 : He enters the Naval School.
1918 : One of his poems is published for the first time. This first poem of him published in Yeni Mecmua has the title "Hâlâ Servilerde Ağlıyorlar mı".
1920 : He has to leave several months prior to his graduation from the Naval School for health reasons. İstanbul is under military occupation. He secretly goes to Anatolia together with his friend Vâ-lâ Nurettin. He is assigned to Bolu as a teacher by Ankara Government.
1921 : He goes to Moscow via Azerbaijan. He witnesses the first years of revolution. He studies economy-politics. He participates in artistic studies.
1924 : His first poetry book published in Moscow, "28 Kânunisani" is staged. This performance takes place in Pravda with admiration on 12th March. He returns to Turkey and starts to work at Aydınlık magazine.
1925 : He is prosecuted in his default in Ankara Tribunal of Independence with the charge that he is a member of a secret organization and sentenced to "fifteen years of rowing". This leads to his leaving the country. He goes to Moscow.
1926 : He passes to Vienna and attends the "party" meeting, which becomes the subject of his accusation in the future. The penalty of "rowing" is abandoned upon the enforcement of Turkish Penal Code.
1927 : He is prosecuted in İstanbul Penal Court in his default because of the "Vienna Conference" that he had attended. He is sentenced to three months of imprisonment.
1928 : He applies to the Embassy at Moscow to return home. He wants to take a passport. However, he does not receive a reply and then although he crosses the border secretly, he is seized at Hopa. He is taken to Ankara via İstanbul. The judgements previously made in his default are repeated in Ankara Penal Court. He is sentenced to three months of imprisonment. He is released through the consideration of the period that he remained in prison previously.
1929 : He works at Resimli Ay magazine. His first poetry book "835 Satır" is published. Others follow it.
1930 : A lawsuit is lodged against his poem "Sesini Kaybeden Şehir". He is acquitted by the Court of Appeal.
1931 : Once more a lawsuit is lodged against his books "Sesini Kaybeden Şehir" and "Varan 2" with "1+1=1", "835 Satır" and "Jokond Si-Ya-U". He is acquitted from all.
1932 : His play "Kafatası" is staged at İstanbul City Theatre.
1933 : He is prosecuted because of his poem "Gece Gelen Telgraf". He is sentenced to six months and three days of imprisonment. His father died after an accident. He writes the poem "Hiciv Vadisinde Bir Tecrübei Kalemiye" upon his death. A lawsuit is lodged against him with the carge that he intimidated Süreyya Paşa, the employer of his father, in the poem. He is sentenced to one year of imprisonment and a fine of 200 liras. Meanwhile, he is prosecuted with the claim of sentence of death in a Separate case lodged in Bursa Penal Court with the indictment that he established a "secret organization". He is sentenced to four years of imprisonment with hard labor.
1934 : He benefits from the amnesty law introduced because of the 10th year of the Republic. He is released.
1936 : he is prosecuted with the charge of establishing and managing a secret organization and is acquitted.
1937 : His "Simavne Kadısı Oğlu Şeyh Bedrettin Destanı" is published.
1938 : "Navy" lawsuits are lodged with the accusation that he encouraged the military students for revolting. He is sentenced to totally 28 years and 4 months of imprisonment with hard labor.
1941 : He starts writing "Memleketimden İnsan Manzaraları" in Bursa.
1943 : His prison colleague Orhan Kemal is released. He assists the painting studies of Balaban, provides his training.
1944 : His liver and heart diseases start.
1949 : Writings on his unjust imprisonment start to increase in the press. Ahmet Emin Yalman attracts attention to the unjust imprisonment of Nâzım by publishing an article with the title "Tevfik Fikret ve Nâzım Hikmet" in Vatan newspaper.
1950 : "Campaigns for Freedom for Nâzım" are launched by various institutions at home and abroad. Upon the closing of the parliament without introducing the Amnesty Law in its agenda, Nâzım commences a hunger strike on 8th April. On the same day, he is taken to İstanbul Paşakapısı Prison from Bursa. He temporarily ceases his strike on 23rd April upon the request of his counsels. He is seriously ill, the doctors state that he should be treated in a hospital during three months. However, as there is no change in his status, he restarts the strike on 2nd May. The hunger strike causes great reaction of people. Signature campaigns are launched. A magazine called "Nâzım Hikmet" is published. His mother Celile Hanım commences a hunger strike on 9th May and poets Orhan Veli, Melih Cevdet and Oktay Rıfat commence it on 10th May. Upon the new situation that occurs upon the elections on 14th May, the strike is discontinued on 19th May. He is released through the General Amnesty Law. On 22nd November, it is announced by the World Council of Peace that he is entitled to receive the "International Piece Award" together with Pablo Picasso, Paul Robeson, Wanda Jakubowska and Pablo Neruda. Neruda would receive his award in the ceremony that he can not attend.
1951 : His son Memed is born. He is called for military service, he is 49 and ill. Moreover, the periods that he passed in the military school as a student should substitute military service according to the law. He leaves the country because of the threats against his life. It is announced on 15th August in the official journal that he is "dismissed from citizenship". He receives the "International Peace Award" that the World Council on Peace had awarded to him one year ago with a ceremony held in Prague.
1952 : He goes to China. However, he has to discontinue his journey when he gets ill. He had a coronary thrombosis. He lays ill during four months. His life will pass under the supervision of physicians after then.
1953 : He continues to attend international meetings. His play "Bir Aşk Masalı" is staged in Moscow. The staging of his other plays follow.
1958 : He goes to Paris. He meets many writers and artists including Aragon and Picasso.
1962 : His 60th birthday is celebrated by the Soviet Writers' Union. A second meeting is held at the Polytechnic Museum for his readers on the day following the night arranged at the Writers' House. İlya Ehrenburg coordinates the night.
1963 : He goes to Africa, Tanganica. He writes his poem "Cenaze Merasimim" (My Funeral) (April). He dies in his house on the morning of 3rd June.