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poetry On Living

This extract from Nâzım Hikmet’s poetry speaks to the real crisis in these times of trouble.

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On Living

By Nâzım Hikmet

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….

Nâzım Hikmet (1902-63), born in Turkey, a political prisoner there for 18 years, is perhaps its most celebrated author of the last century.

See, Poems of Nazim Hikmet, translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk, published by Persea Books.