Nâzım Hikmet (1902-1963), Turkey’s best-loved poet and still a commanding presence in its public life, lived through a turbulent era—the end of the Ottoman Empire, the rise of Communist Russia, and the birth of the Turkish Republic. Born into the Ottoman elite, he embraced Communist ideals and joined the revolutionary ranks when he was nineteen. He lived his life full-tilt, deeply romantic in his loves and uncompromising in his politics, for which he spent more than twenty years in prisons or in exile. His stirring, unadorned verse, praising his country, his women, and the common man was considered “subversive” and banned in Turkey from 1938 to 1965, two years beyond his death in exile. Despite this, his poems were passed from hand to hand and became immensely popular. His work also won the praise of major world poets, including Vladimir Mayakovsky and Pablo Neruda. Today, Hikmet’s work is available in more than fifty languages, and he is recognized worldwide as a major twentieth-century poet.
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