Nazim Hikmet

Here you will find the Long Poem Gioconda And Si-Ya-U of poet Nazim Hikmet

Gioconda And Si-Ya-U

to the memory of my friend SI-YA-U,
 whose head was cut off 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: Paris, 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 a museum piece is terrible!
In this palace 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 m