Nazim Hikmet – The Optimistic Man

As schools close and our friends and colleagues take their summer break we would like to thank you for the work you have done this year. Good teaching is central to the health of countries, societies, communities all around the world, in the age of technology just as much as ever before. And language teaching gives our students the essential tools to understand and survive in the world we live in – words.

The great Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet lived through times of great change at the birth of the Republic of Turkey and was driven to communicate. In her new biography of Hikmet, Mutlu Konuk Blasing tells us he set out “to publish newspapers and journals, arrange conferences, open theatres, make films, establish organizations”. This desire led to conflict with the authorities and to prison, where in the words of Pablo Neruda “His voice became the voice of the world”.

At this time the Latin script had been recently adopted in Turkey, replacing the Ottoman mixture of Arabic and Persian, in order to facilitate wider literacy among the people of the new republic. Nazim Hikmet embraced this change and spent part of his time in prison teaching the new script to his fellow inmates.

We would like to recommend the new biography and share with you a poem that touches on childhood, language, technology, and on hope – The Optimistic Man.

as a child he never plucked the wings off flies
he didn’t tie tin cans to cats’ tails
or lock beetles in matchboxes
or stomp anthills
he grew up
and all those things were done to him
I was at his bedside when he died
he said read me a poem
about the sun and the sea
about nuclear reactors and satellites
about the greatness of humanity

from Poems of Nazim Hikmet (Persea Books, 1994), translated from the Turkish by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk Blasing

And, especially for Gökhan, here’s the original Turkish text:


Çocukken sineklerin kanadını koparmadı
teneke bağlamadı kedilerin kuyruğuna
kibrit kutularına hapsetmedi hamamböceklerini
karınca yuvalarını bozmadı
bütün bu işleri ona ettiler
ölürken başucundaydım
bir şiir oku dedi
güneş üstüne deniz üstüne
atom kazanlarıyla yapma aylar üstüne
yüceliği üstüne insanlığın

                                                                    Bakü, 6 Aralık 1958


About The Henry Brothers

We are English teachers involved in ELT publishing in Turkey, and also touring the country giving workshops and presentations to English teachers, mainly on the use of poetry, storytelling and other lively activities in the classroom. We can be contacted by e-mail to or
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3 Responses to Nazim Hikmet – The Optimistic Man

  1. Gökhan says:

    Though I’ve read many poems by Hikmet I couldn’t remember this one, but it sounds great in English as well, a successful translation indeed. I’ve always strongly believed that poems lose some flavour when translated, but now that I’ve read this translation, I’m a bit less tough against translation of the poetry.

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