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I Come and Stand at Every Door -- Nazim Hikmet

On seeing yesterday's tull poem, Amit Chakrabarti
chimed in with a guest theme - rock lyrics:
(Poem #742) I Come and Stand at Every Door
 I come and stand at every door
 But no one hears my silent tread
 I knock and yet remain unseen
 For I am dead, for I am dead.

 I'm only seven although I died
 In Hiroshima long ago
 I'm seven now as I was then
 When children die they do not grow.

 My hair was scorched by swirling flame
 My eyes grew dim, my eyes grew blind
 Death came and turned my bones to dust
 And that was scattered by the wind.

 I need no fruit, I need no rice
 I need no sweet, nor even bread
 I ask for nothing for myself
 For I am dead, for I am dead.

 All that I ask is that for peace
 You fight today, you fight today
 So that the children of this world
 May live and grow and laugh and play.
-- Nazim Hikmet

I first learned of this poem listening casually to the album "Fifth
Dimension" by the Byrds. Somewhere in the middle of the poem the lyrics
grabbed my attention and jerked me alert from my state of casual listening.
I remember rewinding and re-listening to the song another couple of times
till I'd got all the lyrics and was seriously impressed.

As it turns out, these words were penned by Nazim Hikmet, one of the
foremost modern Turkish poets. Several artists have turned this poem to song
(the other notable being Pete Seeger), and as far as I could find out all of
them use the same words. It is not clear to me whose English translation the
above is. I would love to know.

Turning to the poem itself: it's the stark imagery in the third stanza that
I find the most moving. The only fellow Byrds enthusiast I know finds the
quote "When children die they do not grow" memorable. I think the conceit of
a little ghost from an alien land wandering around with his desperate plea
is beautiful; contrast this with other conceits seen in antiwar poems.

I'm somewhat puzzled by the choice of the word "fight" in the child's plea
in the final stanza; "work" sounds more right to me. Could any Turkish
reader familiar with the original please comment upon this?

[The Byrds and this song]

It is unfortunate that all but a few ardent classic rock fans know the Byrds
only as "those pleasant 1960's popsters who gave us those feel good tunes
like 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' and did several Bob Dylan covers". Certainly, their
first couple of albums didn't stray too far from this image. The third album
"Fifth Dimension" which was by turns psychedelic, dark, jazzy and sombre
must, therefore, have come as something of a shock in 1966. The Nazim Hikmet
poem is given a slow, dirge-like reading and set to a simple minor key
melody clearly designed to not interfere with the words.

Unfortunately though they were maturing musically by leaps and bounds, the
bandmembers of the Byrds soon broke apart. As a result the Byrds got to
produce only two more albums (after "Fifth Dimension") of superb material
before sinking into relative mediocrity.


[Nazim Hikmet]

        b. 1902, Salonika, Ottoman Empire [now Thessaloníki, Greece]
        d. June 2, 1963, Moscow of the most important and influential figures in 20th-century Turkish

...Nazim Hikmet grew up in Anatolia; after briefly attending the Turkish
naval academy, he studied economics and political science at the University
of Moscow.  Returning home as a Marxist in 1924 after the advent of the new
Turkish Republic, he began to work for a number of journals and started
Communist propaganda activities. In 1951 he left Turkey forever after
serving a lengthy jail sentence for his radical and subversive activities.
From then on he lived in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, where he
continued to work for the ideals of world Communism.

His mastery of language and introduction of free verse and a wide range of
poetic themes strongly influenced Turkish literature in the late 1930s.
After early recognition with his patriotic poems in syllabic metre, in
Moscow he came under the influence of the Russian Futurists, and by
abandoning traditional poetic forms, indulging in exaggerated imagery, and
using unexpected associations, he attempted to "depoetize" poetry. Later his
style became quieter...

...Although previously censored, after his death in 1963 all his works were
published and widely read, and he became a poet of the people and a
revolutionary hero of the Turkish left. Many of his works have been
translated into English, including Selected Poems (1967), The Moscow
Symphony (1970), The Day Before Tomorrow (1972), and Things I Didn't Know I
Loved (1975).

...the figure of Nazim Hikmet (died 1963) looms large in Turkish poetry.
Expressing his progressive social attitude in truly poetical form, he used
free rhythmical patterns quite brilliantly to enrapture his readers; his
style, as well as his powerful, unforgettable images, has deeply influenced
not only Turkish but also progressive Urdu and Persian poetry from the 1930s

        -- EB

[Minstrels Links]

(Anti-)War poems:
Poem #132, "Dulce Et Decorum Est", Wilfred Owen
Poem #232, "Insensibility", Wilfred Owen
Poem #288, "Futility", Wilfred Owen
Poem #321, "Strange Meeting",   Wilfred Owen
Poem #385, "Base Details", Siegfried Sassoon
Poem #535, "The Working Party", Siegfried Sassoon
Poem #395, "Naming of Parts", Henry Reed

50 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Gillian said...

I love this guest theme. In response to this theme you will probably recieve commentary refrencing Iron Maiden. Please post it.

Gillian Rocks

Julian Tepper said...

A wonderful poem, "I Come and Stand." Re your "I'm somewhat puzzled by the
choice of the word "fight" in the child's plea in the final stanza; "work"
sounds more right to me. Could any Turkish reader familiar with the original
please comment upon this?": I am not Turkish, and, therefor, cannot vouch
for translation accuracy. However, I do think that "fight" is not only
right, but perfect, for at least four reasons. First, the death came from a
fight (and the poet's implication is that it was not a fight for peace). The
dead child is imploring the world, if it is going to fight for anything, to
fight for peace. Second, most large mass efforts of reform have been
characterized as a "War" on something (e.g., the War on Poverty), and a war
comprises fights. Third, the events that lead to war at not totally random;
there are forces at work that welcome war. To get peace or to keep peace,
those forces must be neutralized. They will not accede without a (and thus
the need for a) fight. And, finally, substitute the word "work" and then
read the entire poem. The word just doesn't work. It is not apt. It does not
sound like the ghost anymore.


Engin Gunduz said...

You said: "I'm somewhat puzzled by the choice of the word "fight" in the child's
plea in the final stanza; "work" sounds more right to me. Could any Turkish
reader familiar with the original please comment upon this?"

The translator seems to have translated the poem in a quite
free manner. The original poem and my (as close to literal as possible)
translation are here (also making use of the above translation):

Kiz Cocugu Little Girl

Kapilari calan benim It's me who knocks
kapilari birer birer. the doors one by one.
Gozunuze gorunemem You can't see me
goze gorunmez oluler. --the deads are invisible.

Hirosima'da oleli It has been around ten years
oluyor bir on yil kadar. since I've dead in Hiroshima.
Yedi yasinda bir kizim, I'm seven years old
buyumez olu cocuklar. --dead children do not grow.

Saclarim tutustu once, First my hair caught fire,
gozlerim yandi kavruldu. my eyes burnt.
Bir avuc kul oluverdim, I've turned into a handful of ash,
kulum havaya savruldu. and that was scattered into the air.

Benim sizden kendim icin I don't ask you for anything
hicbir sey istedigim yok. for myself.
Seker bile yiyemez ki A child who burns like a piece of paper
kagit gibi yanan cocuk. cannot eat even candy, anyway.

Caliyorum kapinizi I knock your door,
teyze, amca, bir imza ver. dear lady, dear sir, give me your signature
Cocuklar oldurulmesin so that children won't get killed,
seker de yiyebilsinler. so that they can eat candy.

So, I did not quite understand why the translator used "fight"
in his/her translation.

Whenever I listen to the song of the original, by Livaneli,
I hardly keep myself from crying.


John Shaw said...

Thank you, Mr. or Ms. Gunduz, for your translation of the original. I've
always loved the song, and have read Hikmet (in translation) for some years,
and only recently learned that the song was adapted from a poem of his.
"Live and grow and laugh and play" sounded a little mawkish -- it works in
the song, but it didn't sound like Hikmet. "Eat candy" is what a 7 year old
would ask for, speaking from memory of myself at that age. Hikmet got it
right. And play baseball, maybe. "Growing" was not on the agenda. Still,
it's a beautiful song.

John Shaw


bytie said...

This Mortal Coil, a side project from the 4AD label including many of their artists, made a cover of this song on the album "Blood". Not as psychedelic as Byrds' own version of course, but very
cold and haunting, and to my more contemporarily inclined ears it suits the lyrics just fine.


EReddy said...

The first English version of the song I found was in Masses and Mainstream,
monthly, New York, June 1955. It printed three songs of Nazim Hikmet, under
the title "Poems for Peace," with the following note:

"These three songs of peace were written for the World Assembly of Peace by
the famous Turkish poet, Nazim Hikmet. They were set to music by Czech
composers, and the music as well as literal translations of the Turkish
original was sent to Paul Robeson and Howard Fast in New York.

"What follows are the texts which Howard Fast wrote to the Czech music,
basing himself as nearly as possible within the musical framework upon Nazim
Hikmet's original version. They will be recorded by Paul Robeson, whose voice
will be heard in Helsinki by the men women of the world assembly."

The song, as rendered by Howard Fast, in the following:


A little girl is at your door,
At every door, at every door,
A little girl you cannot see
Is at your door, is at your door

And for me, there will never be
The love and laughter you have known.
At Hiroshima, do you see,
My flesh was seared from every bone.

My hair was first to feel the flame,
Hot were my eyes and hot my hands,
Only a little ash remained,
Where I had played upon the sands.

Stranger, what can you do for me,
A little ash, a little girl?
A human child like paper burned,
An ash for the cooling wind to swirl.

A little dead child, burned by strife,
Oh, stranger please do this for me,
Your name on the scroll, peace and life,
And peace and life for all like me.

The World Peace Council was at that time trying to get hundreds of
millions of signatures for an "appeal for peace." That why the reference to
the "scroll" towards the end.

I do not know how the song was redone since then. Nazim Hikmet himself
might have revised the song and there might have been a new translation.

The other two "songs for peace" were: "The Japanese Fishermen" and "The
Clouds." Here they are in case you are interested.


Man from Japan, Oh, fisherman, poor young man,
At work out at sea, and death dropped our of the sky,
And here is the song that your comrades sing
A song of death, of those whose faze is to die.

Who eats of the fish, will perish,
Who touches our hands, will perish,
Our boar is a scow of anguish,
Who comes on our boat, will perish.

Who eats of our fish, will perish,
And not at once, but, oh, so slowly,
For slow is the rot that eats their flesh,
Who eats of our fish will perish.

Who touches our hands, will perish,
These hands that worked 'till work was done,
Made dry by salt and burned by sun-
Who touches our hands, will perish,
And not at once, but, oh, so slowly,
For slow is the rot that eats their flesh.
Who touches our hands will perish.

Man from Japan, Oh, fisherman, poor young man,
At work our at sea, and death dropped out of the sky,
And here is the song that our comrades sing
A song of death, of those whose fate is to die.

Forget me, oh, love, forget me,
This boat is but death to float me,
Who comes on this boat will perish,
For death in a cloud caressed me.

Forger me, oh, love, forget me,
My darling you must not kiss me,
Now only dark death may kiss me,
Forget me, oh, love, forget me.

Our boat is a scow of sorrow,
For us, oh, my love, no morrow.
No child of our love, my darling,
No flesh of our flesh, my darling,
Our hope is a boat of sorrow-
My people, where are you, oh, where?
Oh, don't forsake me, not now, good comrades, the fate
of man you must share.


Our mothers rustle us in the pain of labor,
My mother, mother, light the night with your love-
Oh, men of death, you, too, once knew a mother,
And have you no memory of her sweet love?
Stop the dark cloud of atomic death!

Enuga S. Reddy

TheCoodies said...

When i was young, around 7 or so myself, my sister sang this song to me. I
will never forget how sad I felt and how much I cried. I could not hold back
the tears. It touched me so deeply then and now.

I am so grateful to find the words again! It is the most beautiful, heart
opening, raw emotional, tear jerking, core touching, brilliant, effective
anti-war poem/song i have ever heard. What a perspective from the child! It
completely opens every cell in my being.

Steve Edge said...

Simply the best anti-war poem ever - it still makes me cry after all these years...


Nancy Schimmel said...

According to the songbook Rise Up Singing, the translation of I Come
and Stand at Every Door at the top of the page is by J. Turner.

I'm glad to have the original and a more literal translation.


Sébastien BOUCHE said...


You will find this mortal coil’s version perfectly fitting the needs of your

It’s sung by a woman (Is it Liz Frazer?) a capella, then her haunting voice
is joined by cellos.

It’s very powerful and moving. Brilliant, really.


Sinan Erdem said...

There was that bombing of Hiroshima then... One of our poets (probably
one of the greatest) wrote a poem feeling the pain from thousands of
kilometers away. Now, everything is same. There are bombings in Lebanon.
We can do nothing. So we write poems, songs. A human is a human if
he/she feels others' pain.

Zeljko Cipris said...

Another excellent musical version of Nazim Hikmet's poem 'I Come and
Stand at Every Door' was recorded in the 1960s by Odetta, the great
Afro-American singer (born 1930). Various musicians have performed it
since then, including Sakamoto Ryuichi (b. 1952).


Francis GAYTE said...

The person who translated Hikmet's poem from turkish to english is
Jeanette Turner, a friend of Pete Seeger's.

She did the job at Pete Seegr's request. She might have been a
teacher of English literature during the sixries or so.

Here's my tranlation in French, which I sang thousands of times around :

Je passe devant chaque porte
Mais nul n'entend mon pas feutré
On n'ouvre pas j'ai beau frapper
Car je suis mort car je suis mort

Hiroshima j'avais sept ans
En plein mois d'août il y a longtemps
J'aurai jamais un an de plus
Quand on est mort on grandit plus

Le feu a tordu mes cheveux
Les flammes m'ont crevé les yeux
La mort m'a réduit en poussière
Et dispersé dans l'univers

Je n'ai besoin d'aucun sorte
De riz d'oranges ni de pain
Pour moi je ne demande rien
Car je suis mort car je suis mort

Je veux seulement que pour la paix
Les hommes se décident à lutter
Et que les enfants de la Terre
Grandissent et jouent dans la lumière

It is a little difficult for French people to understand what the
narrative setting of this song is about,
as it refers to a specific anglo-saxon tradition : kids visiting
neighbors on Halloween Day
and asking for "trick or treat". It has become a little clearer
today though, since Halloween
witches and pumpkins have been adopted in France, mainly to serve
commercial purposes.


Rev. Dudley E. & Elizabeth H. Sarfaty said...

I am not sure from this posting of how to gain access to the music with
this song -

can you be more explicit for me?

Elizabeth Sarfaty

Fran Claggett said...

I'm looking for information on how to obtain permission to use some material
from your website, specifically the information from EReddy@ regarding
Hikmet's poem about the dead child. This is the most information I have
found, but I want to credit it properly. It will be published in a textbook
(Houghton/Mifflin, Great Source) called Daybook of Critical Reading and
Writing, focusing on contemporary world authors.

Any help you can provide will be much appreciated.

Fran Claggett (author of above text)

ismail keskin said...

Dear F. Gayte,

If you check the literal translation above, you can see exactly poem narrated just as french people could understand...that child is knocking everydoor not for gathering sweet like halloween but having signatures for pettition, so halloween link with candies...not at all, actually there is very harsh and precise criticism, saying "you are giving your children chance to knock every door and gather candies, but you are killing me and now for me candies are meaningless..all I want now is gather some more signatures for a petition which demands, children should not be get killed and they can eat that child, even death, has to do the work of grown ups, something which grown ups need to think and do...gather petitions to stop killing children on wars...
So I can say, translations are even on good intention, damages the real narrative setting of the poem. In Turkish, it is very simple and easy to understand, on purpose, since it is poem reflecting 7 years english translation could be that simple, you can find literal translation above, which summarizes all we are talking...since poem itself is very powerfull...
Best wishes...on the day of "little boy"s drop into Hiroshima...curse on all murderers...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Nazim Hikmet's original poem "Kiz Cocugu" is composed by pianist Fazil Say. I hope you like this version as much as I do.

viagra said...

So I can say, translations are even on good intention, damages the real narrative setting of the poem. In Turkish, it is very simple and easy to understand, on purpose, since it is poem reflecting 7 years english translation could be that simple, you can find literal translation above, which summarizes all we are talking...since poem itself is very powerfull...
Best wishes...on the day of "little boy"s drop into Hiroshima...curse on all murderers...

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HeyTherJosie said...

I would appreciate it if someone could find for me the poem he wrote " The Real Woman".
from Nazim Hikmet: “The most magnificent poem is the one yet to be written. The most beautiful song is the one yet to be sung. The most glorious days are the days we have yet to live.”

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