The Art of Marxism: poetry

On Living

by Nāzım Hikmet Ran


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 you're seriously ill, need surgery -

which is to say we might not get

    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 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" ...

February, 1948