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Poem of the Day--Nazim Hikmet

By John Published: April 12, 2011

Hikmet is considered Turkey's first modern poets and one of the great international poets of the 20th Century.  In this poem, he writes from experience, having served a long prison sentence for his Communist beliefs. This poem about  maintaining a split consciousness under duress reminds me of the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska's poem, Autonomy, which we featured during last year's National Poetry Month. Click on the poem title to see the line breaks at I tried to get them as close as possible.

Some Advice To Those Who Will Serve Time in Prison
(translated by Mutlu Konuk and Randy Blasing)

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,
forget your age,
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.
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!

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