Nâzim Hikmet was born on January 15, 1902 in Salonika, Ottoman Empire (now Thessaloníki, Greece), where his father served in the Foreign Service. He was exposed to poetry at an early age through his artist mother and poet grandfather, and had his first poems published when he was seventeen.
Raised in Istanbul, Hikmet left Allied-occupied Turkey after the First World War and ended up in Moscow, where he attended university and met writers and artists from all over the world. After the Turkish Independence in 1924, he returned to Turkey but was soon arrested for working on a leftist magazine. He managed to escape to Russia, where he continued to write plays and poems.
In 1928, a general amnesty allowed Hikmet to return to Turkey, and during the next ten years he published nine books of poetry—five collections and four long poems—while working as a proofreader, journalist, scriptwriter, and translator. He left Turkey for the last time in 1951, after serving a lengthy jail sentence for his radical acts, and lived in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, where he continued to work for the ideals of world Communism. After receiving early recognition for his patriotic poems in syllabic meter, Hikmet came under the influence of the Russian Futurists in Moscow, and abandoned traditional forms while attempting to “depoetize” poetry.
Many of Hikmet’s works have been translated into English, including Human Landscapes from My Country: An Epic Novel in Verse (Persea Books, 2009); Things I Didn’t Know I Loved (Persea Books, 1975); The Day Before Tomorrow (Carcanet Press, 1972); The Moscow Symphony (Rapp & Whiting, 1970); and Selected Poems (Cape Editions, 1967). In 1936, he published Seyh Bedreddin destani (“The Epic of Shaykh Bedreddin”) and Memleketimden insan manzaralari (“Portraits of People from My Land”).
Hikmet died of a heart attack in Moscow in 1963. The first modern Turkish poet, he is recognized around the world as one of the great international poets of the twentieth century.