‘On Living’ a poem by Nazim Hikmet



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.


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.


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”. . .

-Poem by Nazim Hikmet


Bibliographic Information:

‘The Poems of Nazim Hikmet’

written by Nazim Hikmet,

translated by Randy Blasing, Mutlu Konak Blasing, and Mutlu Konak

Publisher: Persea Books

Publication Date: Second Edition, 2002

288 pages

ISBN: 978-0892552740

Nazim Hikmet 2

Nazim Hikmet is known as Turkey’s foremost poet of the twentieth century. His poems have been translated into fifty languages. He was born in 1902 in Salonica, Ottoman Empire (now Thessaloníki, Greece). He attended the Naval Academy and then went to university in Moscow where he was attracted to Marxist ideology. In 1951, he left Turkey forever after a long jail sentence for radical activity. In total, he spent over 17 years of his life in prison. Other famous works include ‘Human Landscapes From My Country,’ ‘The Epic of Shaykh Bedreddin,’ and ‘Hiroshima’s Child.’

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