October 22nd, 2012 / 12:04 pm
Massive People

“I know you can’t wash in the same river even once / I know the river will bring new lights you’ll never see”

Thanks to Amy King for posting on her Facebook a link to the poem “On Living” by Nazim Hikmet, which I read, which made me read all of his poems I could find online, and later I am going to go to Amherst Books to buy a copy of his collected poems before someone else does. Probably you’re so smart and ride such a brakeless bicycle that you already knew about this guy, because even Joan Baez knows about him, and he has his own festival and portrait of himself writing in prison and is Turkey’s most famous poet, so probably you already knew all that, but I didn’t, and if like me you woke up today not having read “On Living” and “Things I Didn’t Know I Loved,” you should go ahead and do that. And even if you have read them, seems like a good idea to kiss your knuckles for good luck before you get on your brakeless bike and read them again.

fromOn Living
Nazim Hikmet
(translated by Mutlu Konuk and Randy Blasing)


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.

from “Things I Didn’t Now I Loved
Nazim Hikmet
(translated by Mutlu Konuk and Randy Blasing)

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 worked the earth
it must be my only Platonic love

and here I've loved rivers all this time
whether motionless like this they curl skirting the hills
European hills crowned with chateaus
or whether stretched out flat as far as the eye can see
I know you can't wash in the same river even once
I know the river will bring new lights you'll never see
I know we live slightly longer than a horse but not nearly as long as a crow
I know this has troubled people before
                         and will trouble those after me
I know all this has been said a thousand times before 
                         and will be said after me

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  1. JosephYoung

      this is the second time i’ve seen mike young siting on an ottoman and talking about poetry.

      what good stuff.

  2. davidpeak

      please post more often

  3. Mike Young

      thank you, david! i’ll try! i’m often of an inclination where i take everything under all the heating lamps at the buffet and then i take my plate(s) out in the parking lot and sit down in the parking lot reading about uncontacted tribes on islands off the coast of india while the food gets cold and my heart turns grey. email me on monday mornings at mikeayoung AT gmail DOT com with what you’ve been feeling and/or eating and i will use this data to motivate me to make more posts.

  4. deadgod

      Hikmet is a great poet, though perhaps uneven in his copiousness.

      A Greek who’s almost an exact contemporary is George Seferis. Here’s his Mythistorima, to my mind a great 20th c. epyllion to set alongside the best of Hikmet’s poems: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/181958 . (Among the parts most well-known in Greece today (in my small experience) is section 17; I find section 18 especially piercing.)

  5. Peter Markus

      Hikmet is a giant. These poems live and breathe beneath the skin.