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I Love My Country (1939)

By:
Nâzım Hikmet
Document type:
Book Chapter

    I Love My Country (1939)

    Commentary

    Penned during his detention at Sultanahmet Jail, the Istanbul prison reserved for intellectuals and dissidents, I Love My Country is a representative work of Turkish poet and dissident Nâzım Hikmet. Though deliberately ironic given the circumstances of its writing, I Love My Country is not wholly dark; resentment contrasts with affection toward the Turkish experience (“My country: camels, train, Fords and sick donkeys”), the theme of duality also reflective of Hikmet's oft-troubled life. Accordingly, Hikmet, a lifelong communist and perhaps Turkey's most important poet, battled relentlessly to reconcile his intense patriotism with his political leanings, which the Turkish authorities considered a danger to the state—so much so, in fact, that his poetry was banned until 1965, and it wasn't until 2009—more than 45 years after his death while in exile in Russia—that his citizenship was restored. Much of his life was spent in prison in Turkey and in involuntary exile despite widespread admiration by the Turkish public.

    In addition to his eyebrow-raising commentary, Hikmet is recognized for upending Turkish poetry conventions. Renowned late Ottoman poets such as Tevfik Fikret and Mehmet Akif, early models for Hikmet, wrote exclusively in rigid syllabic meter. After returning home from Russia in the late 1920s, Hikmet abandoned this style in exchange for free verse, a radical new style that would come to define his work and exert great influence over succeeding generations of poets. This change is often credited to the influence of Russian futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, who Hikmet had befriended in Moscow.

    I love my country: I have swung on its plane trees, I have stayed in its prisons. Nothing can overcome my spleen as the songs and tobacco of my country.

    My country: Bedreddin, Sinan, Yunus Emre and Sakarya, lead domes and factory chimneys are all the work of my people who even hiding from themselves smile under their drooping mustaches.

    My country. My country is so large: it seems that it is endless to go around. Edirné, Izmir, Ulukıshla, Marash, Trabzon, Erzurum. I know the Erzurum plateau only in its songs and I am ashamed not to have crossed Tauruses even once to go to the cotton pickers in the south.

    My country: camels, train, Fords and sick donkeys, poplar willow and red earth.

    My country. The trout which likes pine forests, best freshwaters and the lakes at the top of mountains, and at least half a kilo, with red reflections on its scaleless, silver skin swims in the Abant lake of Bolu.

    My country: goats on the Ankara plain: the sheen of blond, silky, long furs. The fat plump hazelnuts of Giresun. The fragrant red-cheeked apples of Amasya, olive fig melon and of all colours bunches and bunches of grapes and then the plough and then the black ox and then: ready to accept everything advanced, beautiful and good with the joyous admiration of a child my hard-working, honest, brave people half hungry, half full half slave …

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