poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

About this poet

Nazim Hikmet was born on January 15, 1902 in Salonika, Ottoman Empire (now Thessaloníki, Greece), where his father served in the Foreign Service. He was exposed to poetry at an early age through his artist mother and poet grandfather, and had his first poems published when he was seventeen.

Raised in Istanbul, Hikmet left Allied-occupied Turkey after the First World War and ended up in Moscow, where he attended the university and met writers and artists from all over the world. After the Turkish Independence in 1924 he returned to Turkey, but was soon arrested for working on a leftist magazine. He managed to escape to Russia, where he continued to write plays and poems.

In 1928 a general amnesty allowed Hikmet to return to Turkey, and during the next ten years he published nine books of poetry—five collections and four long poems—while working as a proofreader, journalist, scriptwriter, and translator. He left Turkey for the last time in 1951, after serving a lengthy jail sentence for his radical acts, and lived in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, where he continued to work for the ideals of world Communism.

After receiving early recognition for his patriotic poems in syllabic meter, he came under the influence of the Russian Futurists in Moscow, and abandoned traditional forms while attempting to "depoetize" poetry.

Many of his works have been translated into English, including Human Landscapes from My Country: An Epic Novel in Verse (2009), Things I Didn't Know I Loved (1975), The Day Before Tomorrow (1972), The Moscow Symphony (1970), and Selected Poems (1967). In 1936 he published Seyh Bedreddin destani ("The Epic of Shaykh Bedreddin") and Memleketimden insan manzaralari ("Portraits of People from My Land").

Hikmet died of a heart attack in Moscow in 1963. The first modern Turkish poet, he is recognized around the world as one of the great international poets of the twentieth century.

On Living

Nazim Hikmet, 1902 - 1963

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.

 

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.

 

Nazim Hikmet

Nazim Hikmet

Nazim Hikmet was born in 1902 in Salonika, Ottoman Empire (now Thessaloníki, Greece),

by this poet

poem
it's 1962 March 28th
I'm sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train 
night is falling
I never knew I liked
night descending like a tired bird on a smoky wet plain 
I don't like
comparing nightfall to a tired bird

I didn't know I loved the earth
can someone who hasn't worked the earth love it 
I've never
poem
If instead of being hanged by the neck
	you're thrown inside
	for not giving up hope
in the world, your country, and people,
	if you do ten or fifteen years
	apart from the time you have left,
you won't say,
		"Better I had swung from the end of a rope
						like a flag"--
you'll put your foot down and live.
It