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Gioconda And Si-Ya-U Analysis



Author: poem of Nazim Hikmet Type: poem Views: 12

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            to the memory of my friend SI-YA-U,

            whose head was cut off in Shanghai




A CLAIM



Renowned Leonardo's

world-famous

"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,

authority

on this matter,

thumbing my nose at friend and foe

five times a day,

undaunted,

claim

I can prove it;

if I can't,

I'll be ruined and banished

forever from the realm of poesy.



                      1928





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.

Because

     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,

    

but

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.

                              

Here

    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?

But

    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

today,

        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:

                                             SI-YA-U.





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.

READ

SI-YA-U

     READ...

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..

                                              SLEEP

                                                   SI-YA-U

                                                       SLEEP...





18 April



I've begun to forget

the names of those Renaissance masters.

I want to see

      the black bird-and-flower

      

                                 watercolors

                that slant-eyed Chinese painters

                                                  

                                                  drip

                     from their long thin bamboo brushes.





NEWS FROM THE PARIS WIRELESS



      HALLO

            HALLO

                  HALLO

                  

      PARIS

            PARIS

                  PARIS...

                  

Voices race through the air

                     like the fiery greyhounds.

The wireless in the Eiffel Tower calls out:

      HALLO

            HALLO

                  HALLO

                  

      PARIS

            PARIS

                  PARIS...

                  

"I, TOO, am Oriental -- this voice is for me.

My ears are receivers, too.

I, too, must listen to Eiffel."

News from China

                 News from China

                                  News from China:

The dragon that came down from the Kaf mountains

                           has spread his wings

across the golden skies of the Chinese homeland.

But

in this business it's not only the British lord's

gullet shaved

              like the thick neck

                                   of a plucked hen

that will be cut

but also

        the long

                 thin

                      beard of Confucius!





FROM GIOCONDA'S DIARY





21 April



Today my Chinese

                 looked my straight

                                    in the eye

and asked:

"Those who crush our rice fields

      with the caterpillar treads of their tanks

and who swagger through our cities

      like emperors of hell,

are they of YOUR race,

      the race of him who CREATED you?"

I almost raised my hand

      and cried "No!"





27 April



      Tonight at the blare of an American trumpet

--the horn of a 12-horsepower Ford--

                             I awoke from a dream,

and what I glimpsed for an instant

                             instantly vanished.

What I'd seen was a still blue lake.

In this lake the slant-eyed light of my life

     had wrapped his fingers around the neck of a gilded fish.

I tried to reach him,

my boat a Chinese teacup

and my sail

            the embroidered silk

                      of a Japanese

                           bamboo umbrella...





NEWS FROM THE PARIS WIRELESS





      HALLO

            HALLO

                  HALLO

                  

      PARIS

            PARIS

                  PARIS

                  

The radio station signs off.

Once more

          blue-shirted Parisians

                   fill Paris with red voices

                     and red colors...





FROM GIOCONDA'S DIARY





2 May



Today my Chinese failed to show up.





5 May



Still no sign of him...





8 May



My days

        are like the waiting room

                                  of a station:

eyes glued

           to the tracks...





10 May



Sculptors of Greece,

painters of Seljuk china,

weavers of fiery rugs in Persia,

chanters of hymns to dromedaries in deserts,

dancer whose body undulates like a breeze,

craftsman who cuts thirty-six facets from a one-carat stone,

and YOU

         who have five talents on your five fingers,

                       master MICHELANGELO!

Call out and announce to both friends and foe:

because he made too much noise in Paris,

because he smashed in the window

                    of the Mandarin ambassador,

      Gioconda's lover

                    has been thrown out

                                     of France...

                                    

My lover from China has gone back to China...

And now I'd like to know

who's Romeo and Juliet!

If he isn't Juliet in pants

                        and I'm not Romeo in skirts...

Ah, if I could cry--

                        if only I could cry...





12 May



        Today

               when I caught a glimpse of myself

                    in the mirror of some mother's daughter

touching up the paint

                      on her bloody mouth

       in front of me,

       the tin crown of my fame shattered on my head.

While the desire to cry writhes inside me

                                    I smile demurely;

like a stuffed pig's head

                          my ugly face grins on...

       Leonardo da Vinci,

             may your bones

                  become the brush of a Cubist painter

for grabbing me by the throat -- your hands dripping with paint --

and sticking in my mouth like a gold-plated tooth

this cursed smile...





Part Two

The Flight






FROM THE AUTHOR'S NOTEBOOK





Ah, friends, Gioconda is in a bad way...

Take it from me,

         if she didn't have hopes

              of getting word from afar,

she'd steal a guard's pistol,

         and aiming to give the color of death

to her lips' cursed smile,

         she'd empty it into her canvas breast...





FROM GIOCONDA'S DIARY





O that Leonardo da Vinci's brush

had conceived me

                 under the gilded sun of China!

That the painted mountain behind me

had been a sugar-loaf Chinese mountain,

that the pink-white color of my long face

                                  could fade,

that my eyes were almond-shaped!

And if only my smile

             could show what I feel in my heart!

Then in the arms of him who is far away

        I could have roamed through China...





FROM THE AUTHOR'S NOTEBOOK





I had a heart-to-heart talk with Gioconda today.

The hours flew by

                 one after another

like the pages of a spell-binding book.

And the decision we reached

will cut like a knife

                      Gioconda's life

                                      in two.

Tomorrow night you'll see us carry it out...





FROM THE AUTHOR'S NOTEBOOK





The clock of Notre Dame

                        strikes midnight.

                        

Midnight

         midnight.

Who knows at this very moment

           which drunk is killing his wife?

Who know at this very moment

           which ghost

                   is haunting the halls

                                 of a castle?



Who knows at this very moment

           which thief

                    is surmounting

                         the most unsurmountable wall?

                        

Midnight... Midnight...

Who knows at this very moment...

I know very well that in every novel

                           this is the darkest hour.

                          

Midnight

            strikes fear into the heart of every reader...

But what could I do?

When my monoplane landed

                    on the roof of the Louvre,

the clock of Notre Dame

                     struck midnight.

And, strangely enough, I wasn't afraid

as I patted the aluminum rump of my plane

                           and stepped down on the roof...

Uncoiling the fifty-fathom-long rope wound around my waist,

I lowered it outside Gioconda's window

like a vertical bridge between heaven and hell.

I blew my shrill whistle three times.

And I got an immediate response

to those three shrill whistles.

Gioconda threw open her window.

This poor farmer's daughter

                      done up as the Virgin Mary

chucked her gilded frame

and, grabbing hold of the rope, pulled herself up...



SI-YA-U, my friend,

              you were truly lucky to fall

to a lion-hearted woman like her...





FROM GIOCONDA'S DIARY





This thing called an airplane

                       is a winged iron horse.

Below us is Paris

     with its Eiffel Tower--

          a sharp-nosed, pock-marked, moon-like face.

We're climbing,

               climbing higher.

Like an arrow of fire

               we pierce

                          the darkness.

The heavens rise overhead,

                           looming closer;

the sky is like a meadow full of flowers.

                      We're climbing,

                                      climbing higher.



...................................................

      ...................................................

...................................................





I must have dozed off --

               I opened my eyes.

Dawn's moment of glory.

The sky a calm ocean,

our plane a ship.

I call this smooth sailing, smooth as butter.

Behind us a wake of smoke floats.

Our eyes survey blue vacancies

               full of glittering discs...

Below us the earth looks

               like a Jaffa orange

                   turning gold in the sun...

By what magic have I

               climbed off the ground

                   hundreds of minarets high,

and yet to gaze down at the earth

               my mouth still waters...





FROM THE AUTHOR'S NOTEBOOK





Now our plane swims

              within the hot winds

                  swarming over Africa.

Seen from above,

              Africa looks like a huge violin.

I swear

they're playing Tchaikovsky on a cello

                    on the angry dark island

                                  of Africa.

And waiving his long hairy arms,

                    a gorilla is sobbing...





FROM THE AUTHOR'S NOTEBOOK





We're crossing the Indian Ocean.

We're drinking in the air

               like a heavy, faint-smelling syrup.

An keeping our eyes on the yellow beacon of Singapore

-- leaving Australia on the right,

            Madagascar on the left --

and putting our faith in the fuel in the tank,

            we're heading for the China Sea...





       From the journal of a deckhand named John aboard a

British vessel in the China Sea






One night

    a typhoon blows up out of the blue.

Man,

    what a hurricane!

Mounted on the back of yellow devil, the Mother of God

             whirls around and around, churning up the air.

And as luck would have it,

             I've got the watch on the foretop.

The huge ship under me

             looks about this big!

The wind is roaring

   blast

            after blast,

                        blast

                              after blast...

The mast quivers like a strung bow.(*)

         *[What business do you have being way up there?

               Christ, man, what do you think you are-a stork?

                                                N.H.]



Oops, now we're shooting sky-high --

                   my head splits the clouds.

Oops, now we're sinking to the bottom --

                   my fingers comb the ocean floor.

We're learning to the left, we're leaning to the right --

that is, we're leaning larboard and starboard.

My God, we just sank!

               Oh no! This time we're sure to go under!

The waves

leap over my head

                     like Bengal tigers.

Fear

   leads me on

             like a coffee-colored Javanese whore.

This is no joke -- this is the China Sea... (*)

           *[The deckhand has every right to be afraid.

                  The rage of the China Sea is not to be taken lightly.

                                                        N.H.]



Okay, let's keep it short.

PLOP...

What's that?

A rectangular piece of canvas dropped from the air

                                into the crows nest.

The canvas

           was some kind of woman!

It struck me this madame who came from the sky

             would never understand

                 our seamen's talk and ways.

I got right down and kissed her hand,

   and making like a poet, I cried:

"O you canvas woman who fell from the sky!

Tell me, which goddess should I compare you to?

Why did you descend here? What is your large purpose?"



She replied:

"I fell

         from a 550-horsepower plane.

My name is Gioconda,

         I come from Florence.

I must get to Shanghai

                   as soon as possible."





FROM GIOCONDA'S DIARY





       The wind died down,

             the sea calmed down.

The ship makes strides toward Shanghai.

The sailors dream,

               rocking in their sailcloth hammocks.

A song of the Indian Ocean plays

                       on their thick fleshy lips:

"The fire of the Indochina sun

warms the blood

             like Malacca wine.

They lure sailors to gilded stars,

                           those Indochina nights,

                                those Indochina nights.



Slant-eyed yellow Bornese cabin boys

knifed in Sigapore bars

paint the iron-belted barrels blood-red.

Those Indochina nights, those Indochina nights.



A ship plunges on

to Canton,

55,000 tons.

Those Indochina nights...

As the moon swims in the heavens

      like the corpse of a blue-eyed sailor

                tossed overboard,

Bombay watches, leaning on its elbow...

                              Bombay moon,

                                   Arabian Sea.

The fire of the Indochina sun

warms the blood

           lie Malacca wine.

They lure sailors to gilded stars,

                       those Indochina nights,

                              those Indochina nights..."





Part Three

Gioconda's End






THE CITY OF SHANGHAI





Shanghai is a big port,

an excellent port,

It's ships are taller than

horned mandarin mansions.

My, my!

What a strange place, this Shanghai...



In the blue river boats

with straw sails float.

In the straw-sailed boats

naked coolies sort rice,

                   raving of rice...

My, my!

What a strange place, this Shanghai...



Shanghai is a big port,

The whites' ships are tall,

the yellows' boats are small.

Shanghai is pregnant with a red-headed child.

My, my!





FROM THE AUTHOR'S NOTEBOOK





Last night

when the ship entered the harbor

Gioconda's foot kissed the land.

Shanghai the soup, she the ladle,

she searched high and low for her SI-YA-U.





FROM THE AUTHOR'S NOTEBOOK





"Chinese work! Japanese work!

Only two people make this --

a man and a woman.



Chinese work! Japanese work!

Just look at the art

in this latest work of LI-LI-FU."



Screaming at the tip of his voice,

the Chinese magician

                  LI.

His shriveled yellow spider of a hand

tossed long thin knives into the air:

one

   one more

           one

              one more

                       five

                           one more.

Tracing lightning-like circles in the air,

his knives flew up in a steady stream.

Gioconda looked,

           she kept looking,

                she'd still be looking

but, like a large-colored Chinese lantern,

           the crowd swayed and became confused:

"Stand back! Gang way!

Chiang Kai-shek's executioner

              is hunting down a new head.

Stand back! Make way!"



One in front and one close behind,

two Chinese shot around the corner.

The one in front ran toward Gioconda.

The one racing toward her, it was him, it was him -- yes, him!

Her SI-YA-U,

          her dove,

               SI-YA-U...

A dull hollow stadium sound surrounded them.

And in the cruel English language

           stained red with the blood

                of yellow Asia

                    the crown yelled:

"He's catching up,

he's catching up,

                  he caught-

                             catch him!"



Just three steps away from Gioconda's arms

Chiang Kai-shek's executioner caught up.

His sword

          flashed...

Thud of cut flesh and bone.

Like a yellow sun drenched in blood

SI-YA-U's head

              rolled at her feet...

And this on a death day

Gioconda of Florence lost in Shanghai

her smile more famous than Florence.





FROM THE AUTHOR'S NOTEBOOK





A Chinese bamboo frame.

In the frame is a painting.

Under the painting, a name:

                           "La Gioconda"...

In the frame is a painting:

     the eyes of the painting are burning, burning.

In the frame is painting:

     the painting in the frame comes alive, alive.

And suddenly

     the painting jumped out of the frame

          as if from a window;

               her feet hit the ground.

And just as I shouted her name

she stood up straight before me:

      the giant woman of a colossal struggle.



She walked ahead.

      I trailed behind.

From the blazing red Tibetan sun

to the China Sea

          we went and came,

          we came and went.

I saw

      Gioconda

         sneak out under the cover of darkness

through the gates of a city in enemy hands;

I saw her

in a skirmish of drawn bayonets

         strangle a British officer;

I saw her

at the head of a blue stream swimming with stars

wash the lice from her dirty shirt...



Huffling and puffling, a wood-burning engine

dragged behind it

forty red cars seating forty people each.

The cars passed one by one.

In the last car I saw her

standing watch:

          a frayed lambskin hat on her head,

                        boots on her feet,

                   a leather jacket on her back...





FROM THE AUTHOR'S NOTEBOOK





Ah, my patient reader!

Now we find ourselves in the French

military court in Shanghai.

The bench:

four generals, fourteen colonels,

and an armed black Congolese regiment.

The accused:

Gioconda.

The attorney for the defense:

an overly razed

--that is, overly artistic--

                   French painter.

The scene is set.

                 We're starting.





The defense attorney presents his case:





"Gentlemen,

this masterpiece

     that stands in your presence as the accused

is the most accomplished daughter of a great artist.

Gentlemen,

    this masterpiece...

Gentlemen...

my mind is on fire...

Gentlemen...

     Renaissance...

Gentlemen,

     this masterpiece--

           twice this masterpiece...

Gentlemen, uniformed gentlemen..."



"C-U-U-U-T!

        Enough.

stop sputtering like a jammed machine gun!

Bailiff,

   read the verdict."





The bailiff reads the verdict:





"The laws of France

    have been violated in China

by the above-named Gioconda, daughter of one Leonardo.

Accordingly,

   we sentence the accused

           to death

               by burning.

And tomorrow night at moonrise,

a Senegalese regiment

               will execute said decision

                        of this military court..."





THE BURNING





Shanghai is a big port.

The whites have tall ships,

the yellows' boats are small.

A thick whistle.

               A thin Chinese scream.

A ship steaming into the harbor

               capsized a straw-sailed boat...

Moonlight.

Night.

Handcuffed,

         Gioconda waits.

Blow, wind, blow...

A voice:

"All right, the lighter.

Burn, Gioconda, burn..."

A silhouette advances,

a flash...

They lit the lighter

and set Gioconda on fire.

The flames painted Gioconda red.

She laughed with a smile that came from her heart.

Gioconda burned laughing...



Art, Shmart, Masterpiece, Shmasterpiece, And So On,

  And So Forth,

    Immortality, Eternity-

                          H-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-Y...





    "HERE ENDS MY TALE'S CONTENDING,

    THE REST IS LIES UNENDING..."

                            THE END





                        Nazim Hikmet - 1929

                        

                Trans. by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk 1993









FOOTNOTE:

GIOCONDA AND SI-YA-U:  Si-Ya-U, Hsiao San (b. 1896), Chinese

revolutionary and man of letters. Hikmet met him in Moscow in 1922

and believed he had been executed in the bloody 1927 crackdown on

Shanghai radicals after returning to China via Paris in 1924, when the

Mona Lisa did in fact disappear from the Louvre. The two friends were

reunited in Vienna in 1951 and traveled to Peking together in 1952.

Translated into Chinese, this poem was later burned-along with Hsiao's

works- in the Cultural Revolution.






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