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This review is taken from PN Review 147, Volume 29 Number 1, September - October 2002.

FROM RANTING TO REGRET NÂZIM HIKMET, Beyond the Walls: Selected Poems, translated by Ruth Christie, Richard McKane and & Talât Sait Halman. (Anvil Press)

Fifteen poems - variously translated (some mildly tortured for rhyme, some awkwardly English, others powerful and direct) - in the 1978 Penguin Book of Turkish Verse was all I knew of Nâzlm Hikmet before the arrival of this book. From these fifteen poems the impression was, if there could be a general one, of a poet doggedly treading the personal/political line, sometimes carelessly, sometimes with a more balanced and tightened power in poems such as 'Perhaps', 'Four Men', 'Four Bottles' and 'Today is Sunday'. His styles were the translators'.

So what should Nâzím Hikmet sound like? In Beyond the Walls we have a hundred or so poems out of 'long friendly hours of translation' done by Ruth Christie and Richard McKane, and thus a consistent voice. And if we prefer

The water flowed,
it showed
willow trees in its mirror,
weeping willows washing their hair in the stream.
Red riders raced towards the sinking sun,
their flaming swords drawn to strike the willows.

to

Flowing
Was the water, showing
In its mirror the willow trees.
The weeping willows in the water washed their hair.
Striking the willows with swords burning, bare,
Ran the red horsemen to where
          The sun sets.

- which we do (the new translation's word order, relative directness and lower cases being more sympathetically modern) - then we can be more ...


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