Poem by Nazim Hikmet (1902-1963)

If instead of being hanged by the neck
          you’re thrown inside
          for not giving up hope
in the world, your country, and people
          if you do ten or fifteen years
          apart from the time you have left,

you won’t say,
         “Better I had swung from the end of a rope
                                        like a flag–“
you’ll put your foot down and live.
It may not be a pleasure exactly,
but it’s your solemn duty
          to live one more day
                   to spite the enemy.
Part of you may live alone inside,
              like a stone at the bottom of a well.
But the other part
          must be so caught up
          in the flurry of the world
          that you shiver there inside
     when outside, at forty days’ distance, a leaf moves.
To wait for letters inside,
to sing sad songs,
or to lie awake all night staring at the ceiling
                   is sweet but dangerous.
Look at your face from shave to shave,
watch out for lice
          and for spring nights
     and always remember
          to eat every last piece of bread–
also, don’t forget to laugh heartily.
And who knows,
the woman you love may stop loving you,
but don’t say it’s no big thing:
it’s like the snapping of a green branch
                 to the man inside.
To think of roses and gardens inside is bad
to think of seas and mountains is good.
Read and write without rest,
and I also advise weaving
and making mirrors.
I mean, it’s not that you can’t pass
      ten or fifteen years inside
                    and more–
       you can
       as long as the jewel
 on the left side of your chest doesn’t lose its luster!

(May 1949)

trans. Mutlu Konuk and Randy Blasing
The Poems of Nazim Hikmet
Persea Books, 1994