Nâzım Hikmet


TRAITOR

(English translation by James Ryan and Hüda Cereb)

“Nâzım Hikmet is still continuing to be a traitor,
We are a half-colony of American imperialism, said Hikmet.
Nâzım Hikmet is still continuing to be a traitor.”
This came out in one of the Ankara newspapers,
Over three columns, in a pitch-black screaming streamer.
In an Ankara newspaper, beside a photograph of Admiral Williamson,
            smiling in 66 square centimeters, his mouth in his ears,
            the American admiral.
America gave 120 million lira to our budget, 120 million lira.

“We are a half-colony of American imperialism, said Hikmet.
Nâzım Hikmet is still continuing to be a traitor.”

Yes, I am a traitor, if you are a patriot, if you are a defender of our homeland,
            I am a traitor to my homeland, I am a traitor to my country.
If patriotism is your farms,
if the valuables in your safes and your bank accounts is patriotism,
if patriotism is dying from hunger by the side of the road,
if patriotism is trembling in the cold like a cur and shivering from malaria in the summer,
if sucking our scarlet blood in your factories is patriotism,
if patriotism is the claws of your village lords,
if patriotism is the catechism, if patriotism is the police club,
if your allocations and your salaries are patriotism,
if patriotism is American bases, American bombs, and American missiles,
if patriotism is not escaping from our stinking black-minded ignorance,
                  then I am a traitor.
Write it over three columns, in a pitch-black screaming streamer,
Nâzım Hikmet is continuing to be a traitor, STILL!

July 1962

 

 

 

 

 

LIKE KEREM

           Kerem was a Turkish folk hero who literally died for love. His unbridled passion for his beloved Sirin on their wedding night raged beyond control. He spontaneously combusted and burned to ash. Nâzım Hikmet’s imagery of burning and melting lead lends a particular gravitas, a seriousness of purpose to the piece. First, there is a deeply rooted cultural tradion in Turkey of melting lead to dispel nazar, the evil eye. Second, melting lead connotes a call to arms, that is, using lead to cast bullets. Published in 1930, the poem is a call to ultimate action. Dispelling oppressive, dark-mindedness requires a passionate commitment and a willingness to suffer, even to die. The poem remains enormously popular in today’s problem-ridden Turkey.

Air heavy as lead!!

Shout
          Shout
                    Shout
                             I am shouting.

Run!
         I am calling you
                                       to melt lead.

He tells me:
-Hey! You’ll become ashes with your own voice!
         burning
         burning
        like Kerem’s
                              burning…

<<Many troubles
                                   no fellow sufferers>>

The ears of the
                          hearts are
                                              deaf…
The air heavy as lead…

I tell him:
-Let me burn to ashes
                                        just
                                                 like
                                                          Kerem’s
                                                                        burning.


If I don’t burn
                         if you don’t burn
                                                       if we don’t burn
how will the light
                                                                                                   vanquish the darkness?

Air pregnant as earth.
Air heavy as lead.
Shout
          Shout
                    Shout
                             I am shouting.

RUN
         I am calling you
                                       to melt lead.

 

May 1930

 

Translated by James Ryan and Hüda Cereb

 

 

 

 

- - - - - -

Nâzım Hikmet (1902-1963) is widely considered to be Turkey’s greatest modern poet, and one of the greatest international poets of the 20th century. His writings remain enormously popular and relevant in today’s troubled Turkey. They serve as a source of enlightenment and intellectual energy for those battling against the religious fascism of the present Turkish government. The above poem, “Traitor,” is the first English translation of Nâzım’s 1962 work, “Vatan Haini.” The piece encapsulates Hikmet’s lifelong revulsion of oppression, hypocrisy, and black-minded ignorance. It skewers American imperialism and those so-called Turkish “patriots” who collaborate to subvert Turkey’s secularity and independence. This subversion continues to this day, forty-seven years after Nâzım wrote the poem. No further explanation is needed about why this poem stands today as a signature piece of Nâzım Hikmet and his beloved, unfortunate country, Turkey.

 

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