Last Will, translated by Doga Acikgun

Comrades, if I am not fated to see that day,
I mean, if I should die before our liberation,
take me
and bury me in a village cemetery in Anadolu.

Let the farmhand Osman,
ordered shot by Master Hasan, lie next to me on one side
and the martyr Ayşe, who bore a child to the land near the rye field
and died within 40 days, lie on the other.

Let tractors and folk songs pass by the cemetery,
refreshed men under the light of dawn, the smell of burnt petrol,
land belonging to all, water in the canals,
no fear of drought, nor the gendarmerie.

Of course, we won’t hear these folk songs,
the dead, spread out beneath the earth,
rot like dark branches,
deaf, blind, mute, beneath the earth.

But I realise I had sung these folk songs
before they were arranged
and smelt the scent of burnt petrol,
before pictures of tractors were even drawn.

When it comes to my silent neighbours,
the martyr Ayşe and the farmhand Osman,
they felt the great longing while they were healthy,
Perhaps without even realising it.

Thus, comrades, if I die before that day,
– which seems very likely –
bury me in a village cemetery in Anadolu,
and if it is possible
to have a sycamore tree above me
well then, I wouldn’t even want a gravestone…

1963, 27 April
Barvikha Sanitorium

Word order in Turkish is often very different to that in English and in the case of the poem Vasiyet, Nazim Hikmet takes poetic license and at times inverts the traditional Turkish word order, making translation doubly challenging. For example, I struggled with the fourth verse of the poem as I wasn’t sure with which verb or verbs to take “ölüler” (the dead), but I decided to translate it as the subject of both verbs despite its irregular placement within the sentence. Hikmet’s use of colloquial language was an additional challenge, such as in the final line of the poem. “Taş maş” (even a gravestone) is difficult to translate as repeating a word and replacing its first letter with ‘m’ as shown in the example implies something along the lines of “and so on and so forth”. I thought that something so literal would disrupt the flow of the poem and so I opted for the less accurate translation of “even”, though I felt that it still conveyed Hikmet’s dismissive tone regarding the gravestone. I found verse five particularly complicated to translate due to the presence of the reported past tense with the verbs “söylemişim” (I realised I had sung) and “duymuşum” (I [realised I] had heard). These types of verbs are difficult to translate succinctly into English as this tense is used when there is a lack of evidence for a piece of information or when something is realised or discovered after the fact. Since the subject of the verb is the poet describing his own actions, I translated the verbs in the latter sense.


Original poem by Nâzım Hikmet