On Living


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 walls.

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" . . .


                                           Turkish; trans. Deniz Perin


Nazim Hikmet, Turkish, trans. Deniz Perin.