Nazim Hikmet Analysis

Other literary forms

(World Poets and Poetry)

Although he is remembered primarily for his poetry, Nazim Hikmet (HIHK-meht) also became known early in his career for his plays; among the most notable of these are Kafatas (pb. 1931; the skull) and Unutulan adam (pb. 1935; the forgotten man), which deal with the practice of psychology and the conflict between worldly recognition and inner dissatisfaction. Other works in this genre, however, have been criticized for a facile identification of personages with political and social standpoints that they were meant to represent. Hikmet subsequently moved in other directions in his dramatic writing, first with works such as Bir ak masal (pb. 1945; a love story), which attempted a modern interpretation of traditional Middle Eastern characters. Other plays involved experiments with old and new technical forms, as a part of the author’s effort to adapt classical literary themes to contemporary concerns. Among later plays, by far the most widely known was van vanoviç var myd yok muydu? (was there or was there not an Ivan Ivanovich?), which was written in exile and was first published in a Russian translation in 1956. In this contribution to the literary “thaw” in the Soviet Union, the author took issue with the personality cult and rigid, unswerving norms of criticism that had dominated creative writing under dictator Joseph Stalin.

Hikmet’s narrative fiction is rather uneven; there is some moving and effective writing in Sevdal bulut (1968; the cloud in love), which brings together short pieces, including children’s stories, written over many years. His novels tend to display his ideological concerns. Of these perhaps the most interesting is Yeil elmalar (1965; green apples), which deals with crime, corruption, and penal detention. Also of interest as a semiautobiographical effort is Yaamak güzel ey bekardeim (1967; The Romantics, 1987). Works of political commentary furnish direct statements of the author’s views on leading issues of his time; his treatises on Soviet democracy and on German fascism, both originally published in 1936, are particularly revealing in this regard. Other insights into the writer’s thought may be gathered from his collected newspaper columns and compilations of his personal letters.


(World Poets and Poetry)

Throughout his creative lifetime, Nazim Hikmet was regarded as a politically controversial figure whose poetry expressed ideological concerns that situated him well to the left among Turkish writers of his generation. Although officially he was almost invariably out of favor in his own country—indeed, much of his adult life in Turkey was spent in prison, and work from his later years was composed under the shadow of Soviet cultural standard-bearers—his experiments with versification produced poetic forms that, more than any other works, announced the introduction of modern techniques into Turkish writing in this genre. During the last years of the Ottoman Empire, major innovations had been attempted by leading literary figures; language reform movements proceeded alongside the development of literary vehicles suitable for wider circles of readers among the masses. Enlarging on the earlier efforts of Mehmet Tevfik Fikret and other important writers, Nazim Hikmet devised new and strikingly resonant verse patterns that in their turn pointed to the possibilities that could be achieved with the use of free verse. Moreover, while admittedly experimental, his verse was distinctive in the unusual confluence of models chosen: Hikmet’s poems show the influence of Soviet post-Symbolists while, in some notable works, recalling classical Islamic traditions in modern, reworked guises. Hikmet’s poetry is alternately strident in its political declamations and intensely...

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(World Poets and Poetry)

Baak, Ergil. The Image of Nâzim Hikmet and His Poetry: In Anglo-American Literary Systems. Istanbul: Nâzim Hikmet Culture and Art Foundation, 2008. The work, from the Turkish perspective, looks at how Hikmet is portrayed in Europe and America.

Göksu, Saime, and Edward Timms. Romantic Communist: The Life and Work of Nazim Hikmet. 1999. Reprint. New York: Gardners Books, 2006. The authors propose in this biography of Hikmet that his life and career form a microcosm of twentieth century politics. Göksu and Timms explore Hikmet’s life chronologically through ten well-researched chapters. The clear structure helps the narrative to flow from one chapter to the next and allows the reader to grasp both the detail and the broad picture. Includes bibliographical references and index.

Halman, Talât Sait. Rapture and Revolution: Essays on Turkish Literature. Edited by Jayne L. Warner. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press/Crescent Hill, 2007. This study on Turkish literature contains a chapter that notes Hikmet’s importance in Turkey and sees him as the voice of iconoclasm.

Kinzer, Stephen. “Turkish Poet Is Lauded, but Stays Exiled in Death.” The New York Times, February 27, 1997, p. A4. As Turkey settles into what is likely to be an extended confrontation between secular and pro-Islamic forces, symbols take on exaggerated political importance for both sides. Perhaps no individual crystallizes the conflict better than Hikmet, atheist and Communist and also one of the greatest literary figures ever to emerge from this country.