The Art of Marxism: poetry

Letters from a Man in Solitary

by Nāzım Hikmet Ran


I carved your name on my watchband

with my fingernail.

Where I am, you know,

I don't have a pearl-handled jackknife

(they won't give me anything sharp)

  or a plane tree with its head in the clouds.

Trees may grow in the yard,

but I'm not allowed

    to see the sky overhead.....

How many others are in this place?

I don't know.

I'm alone far from them,

they're all together far from me.

To talk anyone besides myself

    is forbidden.

So I talk to myself.

But I find my conversation so boring,

  my dear wife, that I sing songs.

And what do you know,

that awful, always off-key voice of mine

  touches me so

    that my heart breaks.

And just like the barefoot orphan

lost in the snow

in those old sad stories, my heart

- with moist blue eyes

and a little red runny rose-

  wants to snuggle up in your arms.

It doesn't make me blush

  that right now

    I'm this weak,

      this selfish,

      this human simply.

No doubt my state can be explained

physiologically, psychologically, etc.

Or maybe it's

  this barred window,

  this earthen jug,

    these four walls,

which for months have kept me from hearing

  another human voice.

It's five o'clock, my dear.


  with its dryness,

    eerie whispers,

        mud roof,

and lame, skinny horse

standing motionless in infinity

-I mean, it's enough to drive the man inside crazy with grief-

outside, with all its machinery and all its art,

a plains night comes down red on treeless space.

Again today, night will fall in no time.

A light will circle the lame, skinny horse.

And the treeless space, in this hopeless landscape

stretched out before me like the body of a hard man,

will suddenly be filled with stars.

We'll reach the inevitable end once more,

which is to say the stage is set

again today for an elaborate nostalgia.


the man inside,

once more I'll exhibit my customary talent,

and singing an old-fashioned lament

in the reedy voice of my childhood,

once more, by God, it will crush my unhappy heart

to hear you inside my head,

so far

away, as if I were watching you

      in a smoky, broken mirror...


It's spring outside, my dear wife, spring.

Outside on the plain, suddenly the smell

of fresh earth, birds singing, etc.

It's spring, my dear wife,

the plain outside sparkles...

And inside the bed comes alive with bugs,

    the water jug no longer freezes,

and in the morning sun floods the concrete...

The sun-

every day till noon now

it comes and goes

from me, flashing off

    and on...

And as the day turns to afternoon, shadows climb the walls,

the glass of the barred window catches fire,

      and it's night outside,

      a cloudless spring night...

And inside this is spring's darkest hour.

In short, the demon called freedom,

with its glittering scales and fiery eyes,

possesses the man inside

      especially in spring...

I know this from experience, my dear wife,

      from experience...


Sunday today.

Today they took me out in the sun for the first time.

And I just stood there, struck for the first time in my life

      by how far away the sky is,

        how blue

        and how wide.

Then I respectfully sat down on the earth.

I leaned back against the wall.

For a moment no trap to fall into,

no struggle, no freedom, no wife.

Only earth, sun, and me...

I am happy.