On Living

Nazim Hikmet

Translated by Mutlu Konuk and Randy Blasing
 

I

Living is no laughing matter:
you must live with great seriousness
like a squirrel, for example--
   I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
you must take it seriously,
so much so and to such a degree
   that, for example, your hands tied behind your back,
                                            your back to the wall,
   or else in a laboratory
in your white coat and safety glasses,
you can die for people--
   even for people whose faces you've never seen,
   even though you know living
is the most real, the most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
   that even at seventy, for example, you'll plant olive trees--
   and not for your children, either,
   but because although you fear death you don't believe it,
   because living, I mean, weighs heavier.

II

Let's say we're seriously ill, need surgery--
which is to say we might not get up
from the white table.
Even though it's impossible not to feel sad
about going a little too soon,
we'll still laugh at the jokes being told,
we'll look out the window to see if it's raining,
or still wait anxiously
for the latest newscast. . .
Let's say we're at the front--
for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
we might fall on our face, dead.
We'll know this with a curious anger,
        but we'll still worry ourselves to death
        about the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let's say we're in prison
and close to fifty,
and we have eighteen more years, say,
                        before the iron doors will open.
We'll still live with the outside,
with its people and animals, struggle and wind--
                                I  mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
        we must live as if we will never die.

III

This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
               and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet--
  I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
  in pitch-black space . . .
You must grieve for this right now
--you have to feel this sorrow now--
for the world must be loved this much
                               if you're going to say "I lived". . .
 
From Poems of Nazim Hikmet, translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk, published by Persea Books. Copyright © 1994 by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk. Used with the permission of Persea Books. All rights reserved.

Poems by This Author

Some Advice to Those Who Will Serve Time in Prison by Nazim Hikmet
If instead of being hanged by the neck
Things I Didn't Know I Loved by Nazim Hikmet
it's 1962 March 28th


Further Reading

Poems about Living
"I'm afraid of death"
by Kathleen Ossip
A Toast
by Ilya Kaminsky
Another Elegy
by Jericho Brown
Ashes of Life
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
August, 1953
by David Wojahn
bonne chance de lycee
by Buck Downs
C'est La Guerre
by Danniel Schoonebeek
Characteristics of Life
by Camille T. Dungy
Corpse Flower, Luna Moth
by Daniel Tobin
Costumes Exchanging Glances
by Mary Jo Bang
Daily Life
by Susan Wood
Difficult Body
by Mark Wunderlich
Elegy in Joy [excerpt]
by Muriel Rukeyser
En Route
by Darcie Dennigan
far memory
by Lucille Clifton
First Things to Hand
by Robert Pinsky
Flowers of Rad
by Sampson Starkweather
Forth Into View, Random Warriors
by Pattiann Rogers
from Oracles for Youth
by Caroline Gilman
from Two Inch Fables
by Marilyn Chin
Frozen
by Natasha Head
How to Uproot a Tree
by Jennifer K. Sweeney
I could suffice for Him, I knew (643)
by Emily Dickinson
I Have a Rendezvous With Life
by Countee Cullen
I Know A Few Things
by Stuart Dischell
In a Landscape: IV
by John Gallaher
In Betweenness
by Pierre Joris
Insomnia
by Alicia Suskin Ostriker
Life
by Joe Brainard
Life is Fine
by Langston Hughes
Little Night Prayer
by Péter Kántor
Living in Numbers
by Claire Lee
Lost and Found
by Ron Padgett
Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus [excerpt]
by Denise Levertov
Meaning
by Carl Dennis
Meditation 29
by Philip Pain
Montparnasse
by Ernest Hemingway
My Teacup
by Alli Warren
On Disappearing
by Major Jackson
On the Gallows Once
by Kofi Awoonor
One Train May Hide Another
by Kenneth Koch
Past Inclemency & Present Warmth
by Eryn Green
Poem Excluding Fiction
by Noah Falck
Preparation
by Effie Waller Smith
Primitive State [excerpt]
by Anselm Berrigan
Roar Shack
by Alice Fulton
Samurai Song
by Robert Pinsky
Song for Future Books
by Joanna Fuhrman
Songs of a Girl
by Mary Carolyn Davies
Sonnet
by Bill Knott
Spent
by Mark Doty
sugar is smoking
by Jason Schneiderman
Summer in Winter in Summer
by Noah Eli Gordon
Tear It Down
by Jack Gilbert
The Clouded Morning
by Jones Very
The Layers
by Stanley Kunitz
The Life So Short...
by Eamon Grennan
The Old Stoic
by Emily Brontė
The Pain
by Laura Kasischke
The Secret
by Denise Levertov
This is My Life
by William Stanley Braithwaite
Thoughts
by Walt Whitman
Thrown as if Fierce & Wild
by Dean Young
Variation on a Theme
by W. S. Merwin
Virgil's Hand
by Francesc Parcerisas
What the Living Do
by Marie Howe
What Wild-Eyed Murderer
by Peter Meinke
What's Left (Al-Mutanabbi Street)
by Katrina Roberts
Where I Live
by Maxine Kumin
won't you celebrate with me
by Lucille Clifton
Yellow Beak
by Stephen Dobyns
[I'm not with my]
by Joshua Beckman