The Art of Marxism: poetry

Gioconda and Si-Ya-U (*)

by Nāzım Hikmet Ran

    to the memory of my friend SI-YA-U,

    whose head was cut of in Shanghai.


Renowned Leonardo's


"La Gioconda"

has disappeared.

And in the space

vacated by the fugitive

a copy has been placed.

The poet inscribing

the present treatise

knows more than a little

about the fate

of the real Gioconda.

She fell in love

with a seductive

graceful youth;

a honey-tongued

almond-eyed Chinese

named Si-Ya-U.

Gioconda ran off

after her lover;

Gioconda was burned

in a Chinese city.

I, Nazim Hikmet,


on this matter,

thumbing my nose at friend and foe

five times a day,



I can prove it;

if I can't,

I'll be ruined and banished

forever from the realm of poesy.



Part One
Excerpts from Gioconda's Diary

"15 March 1924; Pairs, Louvre Museum"

At last I am bored with the Louvre Museum.

You can get fed up with boredom very fast.

I am fed up with my boredom.

And from the devastation inside me

I drew this lesson;

  to visit

  a museum is fine,

to be in a museum piece is terrible!

In this place that imprisons the past

I am placed under such a heavy sentence

that as the paint on my face cracks out of boredom

I'm forced to keep grinning without letting up.


I am the Gioconda from Florence

whose smile is more famous than Florence.

I am bored with the Louvre Museum.

And since you get sick soon enough

  of conversing with the past,

I decided

from now on

to keep a diary.

Writing of today may be of some help

  in forgetting yesterday...

However, the Louvre is a strange place.

Here you might find

Alexander the Great's

Longines watch complete with chronometer,


not a single sheet of clean notebook paper

or a pencil worth a piaster.

Damn your Louvre, your Paris.

I'll write these entries

  on the back of my canvas.

And so

when I picked a pen from the pocket

of a nearsighted American

sticking his red nose into my skirts

-his hair stinking of wine-

      I started my memoirs.

I'm writing on my back

the sorrow of having a famous smile...

"18 March: Night"

The Louvre has fallen asleep.

In the dark, the armless Venus

    looks like a veteran of the Great War.

The gold helmet of a knight gleams

as the light from the night watchman's lantern

      strikes a dark picture.


in the Louvre

  my days are all the same

  like the six sides of a wood cube.

My head is full of sharp smells

  like the shelf of a medicine cabinet.

"20 March"

I admire those Flemish painters:

is it easy to give the air of a naked goddess

        to the plump ladies

of milk and sausage merchants?


even if you wear silk panties,

cow + silk panties = cow.

Last night

a window

  was left open.

The naked Flemish goddesses caught cold.

All day


  turning their bare

mountain-like pink behinds to the public,

they coughed and sneezed...

I caught cold, too.

So as not to look silly smiling with a cold,

I tried to hide my sniffles

      from the visitors.

"1 April"

Today I saw a Chinese:

he was nothing like those Chinese with their topknots.

How long

he gazed at me!

I'm well aware

the favor of Chinese

    who work ivory like silk

      is not to be taken lightly...

"11 April"

I caught the name of the Chinese who comes every day:


"16 April"

Today we spoke

in the language of eyes.

He works as a weaver days

and studies nights.

Now it's a long time since the night

came on like a pack of black-shirted Fascists.

The cry of a man out of work

who jumped into the Seine

rose from the dark water.

And ah! you on whose fist-size head

  mountain-like winds descend,

at this very minute you're probably busy

building towers of thick, leather-bound books

to get answers to the questions you asked of the stars.




And when your eyes find in the lines what they desire

        when your eyes tire,

rest your tired head

    like a black-and-yellow Japanese chrysanthemum

          on the books..




"18 April"

I've begun to forget

the names of those Renaissance masters.

I want to see

the black bird-and-flower


that slant-eyed Chinese painters


from their long thin bamboo brushes.









Voices race through the air

    like the fiery greyhounds.

The wireless in the Eiffel Tower calls out:







"I, TOO, am Oriental - this voice is for me.

My ears are receivers, too.

I, too, must listen to Eiffel."

News from China

  News from China

      News from China:

The dragon that came down from the Kaf mountains

      has spread his wings

across the golden skies of the Chinese homelands.


in this business it's not only the British lord's

gullet shaved

  like the thick neck

        of a plucked hen

that will be cut

but also

  the long


    beard of Confucius!


"21 April"

Today my Chinese

    looked my straight in the eye

and asked:

"Those who crush our rice fields

with the caterpillar treads of their tanks

and who swagger through our cities

like emperors of hell,

are they of YOUR race,

the race of him who CREATED you?"

I almost raised my hand

and cried "No!"

"27 April"

Tonight at the blare of an American trumpet

-the horn of a 12-horsepower Ford-

      I awoke from a dream,

and what I glimpsed for an instant

      instantly vanished.

What I'd seen was a still blue lake.

In this lake the slant-eyed light of my life

had wrapped his fingers around the neck of a gilded fish.

I tried to reach him,

my boat a Chinese teacup

and my sail

  the embroidered silk

    of a Japanese

      bamboo umbrella...








The radio station signs off.

Once more

  blue-shirted Parisians

    fill Paris with red voices

    and red colors...


"2 May"

Today my Chinese failed to show up.

"5 May"

Still no sign of him...

"8 May"

My days

  are like the waiting room

        of a station:

eyes glued

  to the tracks...

"10 May"

Sculptors of Greece,

painters of Seljuk china,

weavers of fiery rugs in Persia,

chanters of hymns to dromedaries in deserts,

dancer whose body undulates like a breeze,

craftsman who cuts thirty-six facets from a one-carat stone,

and YOU

  who have five talents on your five fingers,

    master MICHELANGELO!

Call out and announce to both friends and foe:

because he made too much noise in Paris,

because he smashed in the window

    of the Mandarin ambassador,

Gioconda's lover

    has been thrown out

        of France...

My lover from China has gone back to China...

And now I'd like to know

who's Romeo and Juliet!

If he isn't Juliet in pants

      and I'm not Romeo in skirts...

Ah,if I could cry-

    if only I could cry...

"12 May"


  when I caught a glimpse of myself

    in the mirror of some mother's daughter

touching up the paint

    on her bloody mouth

in front of me,

the tin crown of my fame shattered on my head.

While the desire to cry writhes inside me

        I smile demurely;

like a stuffed pig's head

      my ugly face grins on...

Leonardo da Vinci,

  may your bones

    become the brush of a Cubist painter

for grabbing me by the throat - your hands dripping with paint -

and sticking in my mouth like a gold-plated tooth

this cursed smile...

Part Two
The Flight

Ah, friends, Gioconda is in a bad way...

Take it from me,

  if she didn't have hopes

  of getting word from afar,

she'd steal a guard's pistol,

  and aiming to give the color of death

to her lips' cursed smile,

  she'd empty it into her canvas breast...


O that Leonardo da Vinci's brush

had conceived me

    under the gilded sun of China!

That the painted mountain behind me

had been a sugar-loaf Chinese mountain,

that the pink-white color of my long face

could fade,

that my eyes were almond-shaped!

And if only my smile

  could show what I feel in my heart!

Then in the arms of him who is far away

  I could have roamed through China...


I had a heart-to-heart talk with Gioconda today.

The hours flew by

    one after another

like the pages of a spell-binding book.

And the decision we reached

will cut like a knife

Gioconda's life

        in two.

Tomorrow night you'll see us carry it out...


The clock of Notre Dame

      strikes midnight.



Who knows at this very moment

  which drunk is killing his wife?

Who know at this very moment

  which ghost

    is haunting the halls

        of a castle?

Who knows at this very moment

  which thief

    is surmounting

      the most unsurmountable wall?

Midnight... Midnight...

Who knows at this very moment...

I know very well that in every novel

      this is the darkest hour.


  strikes fear into the heart of every reader...

But what could I do?

When my monoplane landed

    on the roof of the Louvre,

the clock of Notre Dame

struck midnight.

And, strangely enough, I wasn't afraid

as I patted the aluminum rump of my plane

      and stepped down on the roof...

Uncoiling the fifty-fathom-long rope wound around my waist,

I lowered it outside Gioconda's window

like a vertical bridge between heaven and hell.

I blew my shrill whistle three times.

And I got an immediate response

to those three shrill whistles.

Gioconda threw open her window.

This poor farmer's daughter

    done up as the Virgin Mary

chucked her gilded frame

and, grabbing hold of the rope, pulled herself up...

SI-YA-U, my friend,

  you were truly lucky to fall

to a lion-hearted woman like her...


This thing called an airplane

    is a winged iron horse.

Below us is Paris

with its Eiffel Tower-

  a sharp-nosed, pock-marked, moon-like face.

We're climbing,

  climbing higher.

Like an arrow of fire

  we pierce

      the darkness.

The heavens rise overhead,

      looming closer;

the sky is like a meadow full of flowers.

    we're climbing,

        climbing higher.




I must have dozed off -

  I opened my eyes.

Dawn's moment of glory.

The sky a calm ocean,

our plane a ship.

I call this smooth sailing, smooth as butter.

Behind us a wake of smoke floats.

Our eyes survey blue vacancies

full of glittering discs...

Below us the earth looks

  like a Jaffa orange

    turning gold in the sun...

By what magic have I

  climbed off the ground

    hundreds of minarets high,

and yet to gaze down at the earth

  my mouth still waters...


Now our plane swims

  within the hot winds

    swarming over Africa.

Seen from above,

  Africa looks like a huge violin.

I swear

they're playing Tchaikovsky on a cello

    on the angry dark island

        of Africa.

And waiving his long hairy arms,

    a gorilla is sobbing...


We're crossing the Indian Ocean.

We're drinking in the air

  like a heavy, faint-smelling syrup.

An keeping our eyes on the yellow beacon of Singapore

- leaving Australia on the right,

  Madagascar on the left -

and putting our faith in the fuel in the tank,

  we're heading for the China Sea...

"from the journal of a deckhand named John aboard a

British vessel in the China Sea"

One night

a typhoon blows up out of the blue.


what a hurricane!

Mounted on the back of yellow devil, the Mother of God

  whirls around and around, churning up the air.

And as luck would have it,

  I've got the watch on the foretop.

The huge ship under me

  looks about this big!

The wind is roaring


  after blast,


      after blast...

The mast quivers like a strung bow.(*)

*[What business do you have being way up there?

  Christ, man, what do you think you are-a stork? N.H.]

Oops, now we're shooting sky-high --

    my head splits the clouds.

Oops, now we're sinking to the bottom --

    my fingers comb the ocean floor.

We're learning to the left, we're leaning to the right --

that is, we're leaning larboard and starboard.

My God, we just sank!

  Oh no! This time we're sure to go under!

The waves

leap over my head

    like Bengal tigers.


leads me on

  like a coffee-colored Javanese whore.

This is no joke - this is the China Sea... (*)

*[The deckhand has every right to be afraid.

    The rage of the China Sea is not to be taken lightly. N.H.]

Okay, let's keep it short.


What's that?

A rectangular piece of canvas dropped from the air

        into the crows nest.

The canvas

  was some kind of woman!

It struck me this madame who came from the sky

would never understand

    our seamen's talk and ways.

I got right down and kissed her hand,

and making like a poet, I cried:

"O you canvas woman who fell from the sky!

Tell me, which goddess should I compare you to?

Why did you descend here? What is your large purpose?"

She replied:

"I fell

  from a 550-horsepower plane.

My name is Gioconda,

  I come from Florence.

I must get to Shanghai

    as soon as possible.'


The wind died down,

  the sea calmed down.

The ship makes strides toward Shanghai.

The sailors dream,

  rocking in their sailcloth hammocks.

A song of the Indian Ocean plays

    on their thick fleshy lips:

"The fire of the Indochina sun

warms the blood

  like Malacca wine.

They lure sailors to gilded stars,

      those Indochina nights,

        those Indochina nights.

Slant-eyed yellow Bornese cabin boys

knifed in Sigapore bars

paint the iron-belted barrels blood-red.

Those Indochina nights, those Indochina nights.

A ship plunges on

to Canton,

55,000 tons.

Those Indochina nights...

As the moon swims in the heavens

like the corpse of a blue-eyed sailor

    tossed overboard,

Bombay watches, leaning on its elbow...

      Bombay moon,

        Arabian Sea.

The fire of the Indochina sun

warms the blood

  lie Malacca wine.

They lure sailors to gilded stars,

    those Indochina nights,

      those Indochina nights..."

Part Three

Gioconda's End


Shanghai is a big port,

an excellent port,

It's ships are taller than

horned mandarin mansions.

My, my!

What a strange place, this Shanghai...

In the blue river boats

with straw sails float.

In the straw-sailed boats

naked coolies sort rice,

    raving of rice...

My, my!

What a strange place, this Shanghai...

Shanghai is a big port,

The whites' ships are tall,

the yellows' boats are small.

Shanghai is pregnant with a red-headed child.

My, my!


Last night

when the ship entered the harbor

Gioconda's foot kissed the land.

Shanghai the soup, she the ladle,

she searched high and low for her SI-YA-U.


"Chinese work! Japanese work!

Only two people make this -

a man and a woman.

Chinese work! Japanese work!

Just look at the art

in this latest work of LI-LI-FU."

Screaming at the tip of his voice,

the Chinese magician


His shriveled yellow spider of a hand

tossed long thin knives into the air:


one more


  one more


      one more.

Tracing lightning-like circles in the air,

his knives flew up in a steady stream.

Gioconda looked,

she kept looking,

    she'd still be looking

but, like a large-colored Chinese lantern,

  the crowd swayed and became confused:

"Stand back! Gang way!

Chiang Kai-shek's executioner

  is hunting down a new head.

Stand back! Gang way!"

One in front and one close behind,

two Chinese shot around the corner.

The one in front ran toward Gioconda.

The one racing toward her, it was him, it was him - yes, him!

Her SI-YA-U,

  her dove,


A dull hollow stadium sound surrounded them.

And in the cruel English language

  stained red with the blood

    of yellow Asia

    the crown yelled:

"He's catching up,

he's catching up,

    he caught-

      catch him!"

Just, three steps away from Gioconda's arms

Chiang Kai-shek's executioner caught up.

His sword


Thud of cut flesh and bone.

Like a yellow sun drenched in blood

SI-YA-U's head

  rolled at her feet...

And this on a death day

Gioconda of Florence lost in Shanghai

her smile more famous than Florence.


A Chinese bamboo frame.

In the frame is a painting.

Under the painting, a name:

      "La Gioconda"...

In the frame is a painting:

the eyes of the painting are burning, burning.

In the frame is painting:

the painting in the frame comes alive, alive.

And suddenly

the painting jumped out of the frame

  as if from a window;

  her feet hit the ground.

And just as I shouted her name

she stood up straight before me:

the giant woman of a colossal struggle.

She walked ahead.

I trailed behind.

From the blazing red Tibetan sun

to the China Sea

  we went and came,

  we came and went.

I saw


  sneak out under the cover of darkness

through the gates of a city in enemy hands;

I saw her

in a skirmish of drawn bayonets

  strangle a British officer;

I saw her

t the head of a blue stream swimming with stars

wash the lice from her dirty shirt...

Huffling and puffling, a wood-burning engine

dragged behind it

forty red cars seating forty people each.

The cars passed one by one.

In the last car I saw her

standing watch:

  a frayed lambskin hat on her head,

      boots on her feet,

a leather jacket on her back...


Ah, my patient reader!

Now we find ourselves in the French

military court in Shanghai.

The bench:

four generals, fourteen colonels,

and an armed black Congolese regiment.

The accused:


The attorney for the defense:

an overly razed

-that is, overly artistic-

    French painter.

The scene is set.

    We're starting.

"The defense attorney presents his case:"


this masterpiece

that stands in your presence as the accused

is the most accomplished daughter of a great artist.


this masterpiece...


my mind is on fire...




this masterpiece-

  twice this masterpiece...

Gentlemen, uniformed gentlemen..."



stop sputtering like a jammed machine gun!


read the verdict."

"The bailiff reads the verdict:"

"The laws of France

have been violated in China

by the above-named Gioconda, daughter of one Leonardo.


we sentence the accused

  to death

  by burning.

And tomorrow night at moonrise,

a Senegalese regiment

  will execute said decision

      of this military court..."


Shanghai is a big port.

The whites' ships are tall,

the yellows' boats small.

A thick whistle.

  A thin Chinese scream.

A ship steaming into the harbor

  capsized a straw-sailed boat...




  gioconda waits.

Blow, wind, blow...

A voice:

"All right, the lighter.

Burn, Gioconda, burn..."

A silhouette advances,

a flash...

They lit the lighter

and set Gioconda on fire.

The flames painted Gioconda red.

She laughed with a smile that came from her heart.

Gioconda burned laughing...

Art, Shmart, Masterpiece, Shmasterpiece, And so On,

And So Forth,

Immortality, Eternity-





      THE END


    Trans. by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk 1993


(*) GIOCONDA AND SI-YA-U: Si-Ya-U, Hsiao San (b. 1896), Chinese revolutionary and man of letters. Hikmet met him in Moscow in 1922 and believed he had been executed in the bloody 1927 crackdown on Shanghai radicals after returning to China via Paris in 1924, when the Mona Lisa did in fact disappear from the Louvre. The two friends were reunited in Vienna in 1951 and traveled to Peking together in 1952. Translated into Chinese, this poem was later burned-along with Hsiao's works- in the Cultural Revolution.