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This biography of Nazim Hikmet


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This biography of Nazim Hikmet portrays a writer who combined political courage with artistic creativity, even under prison conditions. 
Born in Salonika in 1902, he was descended from a cosmopolitan Ottoman family.  It was the turmoil of the First World War and the Allied occupation of Istanbul that inspired him to start writing poetry.  After escaping to Ankara at the age of nineteen to join the anti-imperialist resistance, he was advis 252j97c ed by Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) to write 'poetry with a purpose'.  But it was in Moscow during the 1920s that he found his mission, drawing inspiration from the artistic experiments of Mayakovsky and Meyerhold as well as the political vision of Lenin. 
Returning to Istanbul in 1928. he became the charismatic leader of the Turkish avant-garde, publishing an exhilarating series of poems, polemics and plays.  He was not only a communist committed to revolution, but a romantic who was passionately in love: with his country and his people, with nature and the women to whom he dedicates his finest poetry.  Repeatedly arrested for his political beliefs, he was sentenced in 1938 to twenty-eight years imprisonment on trumped-up charges of organizing a revolt in the armed forces.  His epic poem Human Landscapes was written during a ten-year period in Bursa Prison. 
From 1949, an international campaign centred in Paris helped to secure Nazim's release under an amnesty in July 1950.  In November 1950, at a congress in Warsaw, he was officially awarded a peace prize, which he shared with Paul Robeson and Pablo Neruda.  Since he was not permitted to leave Turkey to attend the conference, Neruda received the prize on Nazim's behalf.   

Nazim's position during this period is summed up by a poem ironically entitled  'A Sad State of freedom'. The Turkish people, he wrote with bitter irony, are free to see their country turned into an American air base, free to be drafted to fight in Korea.  He himself was under constant police surveillance.  And although he was now forty-eight years old and in poor health, the authorities decided to conscript him to military service.   
Having failed to persuade the authorities to be exempt from the military service and the anti-Communist climate of the Cold War led him to fear further imprisonment, he fled to the Soviet Union in 1951, and during the following decade he used his literary prestige to campaign against the spread of nuclear weapons, He became a prominent member of the World Peace Council sharing a platform with Sartre and Picasso, Neruda, Ehrenburg and Aragon.   
With his most poignant poem 'Japanese fisherman' he protested against the testing of the Hydrogen bomb at  Bikini Atoll in 1954.  He remained remarkably creative, becoming involved in the theatre and broadcasting and entering into further relationships which find their echo in poignant lyrics and love letters, as well as political poetry of great imaginative power.  His work, although banned in Turkey, was translated into many other languages. In exile he became the poet laureate of the Soviet-backed peace movement, which reflected his lifelong commitment to internationalism.  His satire on Stalinism, Ivan Ivanovich, which was banned by the Soviet authorities, led Stalin's daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, to identify him with 'romantic communism'.  His poetry celebrates the vitality of struggle rather than the authority of any system, and his writings retain their vitality precisely because they challenge the historical determinism of his day. 

Approaching the age of sixty, he fell in love and married again, but his health had been undermined by long years in prison, and his late poetry is permeated by intimations of death and longing for his country.  He died in Moscow in June 1963.   


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