POETRY IS LIKE TAKING A DEEP BREATH

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

ON LIVING

Earth Observatory NASA


1

Living is no joke. You must live with great seriousness
like a squirrel, for example,
I mean, expecting nothing above and beyond living,
I mean your entire purpose should be living.
You must take living seriously,
I mean so much so, so terribly
that, for example, your hands tied behind your back, your back to the wall,
or in your fat goggles
and white laboratory coat
you can die for people,
even for people whose faces you have not seen,
without anyone forcing you,
even though you know the most beautiful, the most real thing is living.

I mean, you must take living so seriously
that, even when you're seventy, for example, you'll plant olive seeds,
and not so the trees will remain for the children,
but because though you fear death you don't believe in it,
I mean because living is more important.


2

Let's say we're due for serious surgery,
I mean there's a chance
we might not get up from the white table.
Even if it's impossible not to feel sorrow at leaving a little too early
we'll still laugh at the Bektashi joke,
We'll look out the window to see if it's raining,
or impatiently await
the latest news.

Let's say we're on the front,
for something worth fighting for, let's say.
At the very first assault, on that very day
we could keel over and die.
We'll know this with a strange resentment,
but we'll still wonder madly
about how this war, which could last years, will end.

Let's say we're in prison
and nearly 50,
and let's imagine we have 18 more years before the opening of the iron doors.
We'll still live with the outside,
with its people, its animals, its toil and wind,
I mean with the outside beyond the wall.

I mean, however and wherever we are
we must live as if we will never die.


3

This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars,
and one of the smallest too,
a gilded granule in blue velvet, I mean,
I mean this tremendous world of ours.

This earth will grow cold one day,
and not like a chunk of ice
or a dead cloud -
it'll roll like an empty walnut shell
endlessly in the pitch black.

One must lament this now,
must feel this pain now.
This is how you must love this earth
so you can say "I've lived" . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Nâzim Hikmet
1902-1963


translated from the Turkish by Deniz Perin




Nazim Hikmet was he first modern Turkish poet, as well as a playwright, novelist and memoirist. He was born in Salonika in the Ottoman Empire (now Thessalonika, Greece) and died in Moscow.



6 comments:

  1. Lovely and ohhhhhhhhhh soooooo true!

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  2. For me living this particular life is not so imperative. It is as if this little tiny thing I do in this very moment of now has no great meaning within the universe. My little speck of doing is rather irrelevant.
    The picture however if profoundly beautiful.

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  3. My memory is very squirrel like these days. Do you think that will help?

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  4. Friko ... thank you for this. enjoyed the poem and knew that it was by one whose view of life and whose perspective was different than mine. I was tickled pink when I saw that the author was from Turkey. And that he is modern gave me even more of a lift ... for I felt the similarity and yet the differences of this poem from other great middle eastern poets like Rumi and Hafiz. Thank s so much.

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  5. "I mean, you must take living so seriously/that, even when you're seventy, for example, you'll plant olive seeds,"

    I was particularly taken with the line I quote. I don't know why.

    And I see that Hikmet (yet another poet to whom you've introduced me) has a fascinating life story, and captured the imagination of folksingers here, including Pete Seeger and Joan Baez.

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  6. I came back for another read. Glad I did: it was quite an experience this time around. Amazing poem. Don't know why it didn't register in the same way on the previous occasion.

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