Howard Fast
American author
New York, August 2001

I wrote of Nâzım Hikmet and called him my brother because his life was connected with my life, his thoughts connected with mine and his suffering had come out of doing what I would have done were I a part of his community.

Like him, I was a member of a brotherhood, the people in the Communist Party; and not since the first Christians had there been such a brotherhood, not of family, nation or race, but of a dream that mankind might one day live in the peace and love that Christ preached.

It was destroyed by the malice and fear of one man, Stalin who was a Communist only in name, but in all else an enemy of communism; and in that
I include e men in Russia who carried out his ordeds.

But the destruction of the Soviet Union was a part of the endless struggle for human dignnity. It had to happen because it was wrong on every level, but communism was not destroyed, nor did Nâzım Hikmet live and die in vain.

The struggle will take time, a long, long time, but only a moment in God’s time-and in the end, the people will win. As workers rights advocate, Mother Bloor used to say: “We are many, they are few” Or to quote Eleanor Roosevelt: “It is better to light one little candle than to sit and curse the dark”


The way your own walls could not contain your words,
so did they find us, my brother,
nor could our walls exclude them.
And there came to me that day in prison,
speaking in the prison whisper you know so well,
that gentle writer, Albert Maltz -
Like you, his crime was words that sang of life,
of peace and hope and the things men cherish –
¬and told me you were free.
Free, he said, Nazim Hikmet's free,
and walks in freedom on his own good native ground,
and sings loud and proud, for all men to hear.
How can I tell you, friend, comrade, brother too,
whom I have never seen but know so well,
and hold so high, in such precious esteem -
how can I tell you what this. meant?
For in that moment we were free.
For in that moment my heart sang a song to equal yours,
and I knew you as well as ever I knew a man,
knew you and all your kind, our kind,
such a brotherhood that surmounts nations,
and they think to quiet us,
to make us silent behind walls.
A small blow once we struck in your behalf,
yet I tell you that you freed us,
two writers of a land five thousand miles from yours, 
like yours a land where evil men do evil things,
like yours a land where freedom bows her head in shame,
but will awaken yet.
When you went free we understood
the small moment of our own walls,
erected by clowns and smirking killers,
a small moment in the march of man toward light and glory –
¬yet do I have to tell you,
when surely you heard the song our hearts made!

From: Masses and Mainstream, cultural monthly, New York, October 1950

Quoted from To live, free and single like a tree  / but in brotherhood like a forest edited by Erhan Turgut.




This Youth Festival in Berlin was one of Nâzım Hikmet’s first encounters with people from other lands since his 13-year ordeal in Turkish dungeons. Every moment of it seemed precious to him.

When I presented myself one morning at the German Press Club where he was surrounded by half a dozen journalists all seeking an appointment-he brushed aside his solicitous German secretary to insist on finding time for an American.

"This is very important for me," he said, "I want to send greetings to the American friends who are now being imprisoned."

There is a magnetic nobility about Nâzım Hikmet, a strength and simplicity hard to capture in words. Hikmet is a tall, broad-shouldered man with a full face, deep blue eyes under reddish-brown lashes, a mustache of the same hue and a trace of gray at the temples which merges with a full shock of sandy brown hair. Nothing in his demeanor suggests the torture of his long imprisonment.

The amazing story he told me began immediately after the first World War, when Hikmet was an officer in the Turkish Navy. Several sailors who had taken part in the 1918 revolt of the German sailors at Kiel had returned home with Marxist ideas. Hikmet was among those who mutinied against the old Empire; he was forced to flee, and made his way to young revolutionary Russia.

Despite a sentence over him, he returned and took part in the bourgeois national revolution led by Kemal Ataturk against the invasion of Greece, then the pawn of the British effort to dismember and dominate Turkey. But he was on the Left of the national movement.

While in the thick of political activity, he was above all the poet. A young Turkish student who was with us during the interview said he remembered his family reading Hikmet's poems from the very earliest years.

At the trial, following his arrest in 1937, it was alleged that Hikmet had carried on revolutionary education among the students; his volume of poems, though published legally, was placed in evidence as "subversive" and designed to "corrupt the youth."

That brought a first sentence of 15  years by the Military Tribunal. In a second case, conducted by the Maritime Tribunal, the sentence was 20 years. The judge admitted the reason: a war was in the offing. Turkey would have to side with Hitler and gain the oil of Baku.

Hikmet was held three months in a four-by-six cell through whose open roof the snow poured in. Later it was even worse; a cell on board a ship, actually the ship's latrine where he was forced to live for weeks, taken out each evening to pace the deck. He never knew whether his jailers were tempting him with the visions of liberty if he would "confess" or preparing to dispose of him by alleging an accidental fall overboard.

And then a ship's cell (at this point, he drew a picture of a vessel and showed the porthole of the cell in the hold). There it was, in the steaming summer, a virtual coffin.

When he was, transferred to Anatolia, it was a different kind of prison - full of peasants, sometimes entire families, who had transgressed a minor law, or fought against the rich land-owners. They lived in common - these families. And through the coming and going of the simple peasants, he was able to keep contact with his people, to send his poems out.
Toward the end, when the old Kemalist Party was on the verge of being forced out of power, the politicians were prepared to release him... it was the American minister, Hikmet said, who intervened and was responsible for more months of imprisonment.

What enabled him to survive all this? He replied directly to the question. "I never lost faith. 1 believe in Man, in my own people, in the peoples of the world."

I asked him about the Americans in Turkey. For it was with regard to Turkey (was it not?) that the Truman Doctrine began. Apart from militarizing the country, planting air-bases everywhere and vassalizing the economy (so that the native textile industry, for example, cannot compete) the Americans are behaving very badly in Turkey, said Hikmet.

"But," he added quickly, "we always make a distinction between the American people and the American ruling circles." Your soldiers, he said, "seem to be kept drunk most of the time; there are incidents every week in which Turkish girls are kidnapped in plain daylight to serve them.... We detest this America of the atomic madness; we honor the America of Walt Whitman, of Paul Robeson, of Howard Fast ... "

When I mentioned the protest movement in our own country during his hunger strike, the poet said quite simply, "Yes, I heard of it. I saw clippings of the Daily Worker while in prison .... "

Masses & Mainstream? Yes, he had seen the magazine which introduced his poems from prison to America.

Hikmet wanted to know each detail about the trial of the Communist leaders, about the current arrests. He took out a sheet of paper and wrote out a message. It must be sent immediately, he insisted, a message of admiration and affection for William Z. Foster and Eugene Dennis, from faraway Turkey, from a man who had faced prison too.

And his immediate plans? "I have one plan - the independence of my people. I have fought for this in every way I could, sometimes by attending peace congresses, sometimes by illegal work, sometimes from prison, sometimes by writing poems. And sometimes (he smiled) by an interview such as this to an American such as you."

From: Masses and Mainstream, cultural monthly, New York, October 1951

Louis Aragon (1897-1982)

"Nâzım, they told me about you first in 1934; you were in prison; I was able to write something then. Our friendship did not last thirty years. How short, a mere thirty years. In 1950, when we, the Turkish people and poets from all around the world, obtained your release from prison, on that fourteenth of July you directly plunged into life. But now, this year, you were too impatient to for July... Thirteen years outside of prison, or something close to that, from forty-eight to sixty-one¾that is a nice life. Thirteen years, is and means a lot. You died outside of prison, this means a lot, too."

(From "For Nâzım Hikmet.")

One of my dearest comrades

My fellow countrymen know me well, and they know I never keep to the subject. While talking of these people present now in our country, who are here to show the growing importance of communist in the political and moral tissue of our times, I would like also to talk of one absent.

His absence is a terrible thing for poetry in general, and for my own heart in particular. A short while ago, Nâzım Hikmet, a great poet and one of my dearest comrades, died in Moscow. One of the greatest communists of our time has died, far from his homeland, Turkey. It was the Soviet Union, generous mother-figure of all those who are persecuted.

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973)
Chilen Poet


Why have you died Nâzım? And now
What will we do without your songs?
Where  will we find the source?
Where  will your great smile be waiting for us?
What will we do without your stance.
Without your inflexible renderness?
Where  will we find eyes like yours
Containing the fire and the water
Of demanding truth, weeping compassion and courageous joy?
Brother, you taught me so many things
That were I to take them apart they might vanish and feel like
Snow, far away there in the land you chose while living
Which now also holds you in death.
A spray of Chilean winter chrysanthemums
The cold moon of the South Seas month of June
And something else: the peoples combat in my country
And in yours the muted beat of a drum in mourning.
My Brother, soldier, how lonely now is the eart for me
Without your face blooming like a golden cherry
Without your friendship which was the bread I ate, the water
that quenched my thirst and the energy of my blood.
I saw you arrive from prisons that were like sombre wells
Wells of cruelty, of error and pain.
I caught the traces of punishment in your hands and I searched
your eyes for the poison of hatred
But your heart was radiant
Your wounded heart carried only light.
And now? I ask myself, Let me see think
Imagine the world without the flower you gave me
Imagine the battle without you to show me
The people’s clarity and the poet’s honour
Thanks for what you were and for the fire
Your song left forever burning.

Translation from the Spanish. Susan Drucker-Brown

*When Nâzım died, Neruda took the opportunity of a speech he gave in Bustamente
Park in Santiago, Chile, on 29 Semtember 1963, to add these emotional words.

Quoted from To live, free and single like a tree  / but in brotherhood like a forest edited by Erhan Turgut.

The work of Nâzım Hikmet is the legend of our century

The work of Nâzım Hikmet is the legend of our century. No poet of our times will have been able to express as he did the anxiety which oppressed us in the atomic era, against which our only defence is the confidence we have, which we must continue to have, in mankind.
The poet offers to us - no, even more - he imposes on us this muchneeded confidence. The poetry of someone who has suffered greatly but never lost his courage is shot through with hope. We must not fear to accept the whole of Nâzım Hikmet’s works as a message for us.

Nevertheless, we must stress that Nâzım Hikmet, while knowing he had to bear witness to his time, refused to take himself seriously, as so many poets do, taking themselves for prophets. He had a sense of humour which required us to understand what he suggested  to us through allusion. Indeed, he was and still is completely natural, totally himself. But Nâzım Hikmet’s
Humour is never destructive. It is the humour of the smile, that comforts us and does not leave us in despair.

Philippe Soupault (1897 – 1990 )
Frenc poet

Translation: John Mullen

Quoted from To live, free and single like a tree  / but in brotherhood like a forest edited by Erhan Turgut.

The greatness of poetry lies in its universality

 The greatness of poetry lies in its universality. The poet is great in as far as the universe he carries in him flows out of him to join the world of the living. It gives this world a new aspect, which, while following the poet’s vision, reflects also a common image we all know. What belongs specifically to the poet then becomes an expression dense and powerful enough for each man to recognise within it is own hopes and suffering, his present and his future.

 Obviously, since we know Nâzım Hikmet’s poetry only through translation, the original fluidity cannot have been communicated to us. Even so, despite the imperfection inherent in all translation, his poetry is filled with such human potential that, even stripped of the charm of the language, it comes together and reappearswithin us with all the freshness of its emotional resonance.

Tristan Tzara  (1896-1963)
French Poet

Translation: Jonn Mullen

1. Interview by Aşkın Baran in the journal Yorum, Sydney, 22 June 1992.

Quoted from To live, free and single like a tree  / but in brotherhood like a forest edited by Erhan Turgut.