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 I didn’t know I loved the sky cloudy or clear the blue vault Andrei studied on his back at Borodino in prison I translated both volumes of War and Peace into Turkish I hear voices not from the blue vault but from the yard the guards are beating someone again I didn’t know I loved trees bare beeches near Moscow in Peredelkino they come upon me in winter noble and modest beeches are Russian the way poplars are Turkish “the poplars of Izmir losing their leaves . . . they call me The Knife . . . lover like a young tree . . . I blow stately mansions sky-high” in the Ilgaz woods in 1920 I tied an embroidered linen handkerchief to a pine bough for luck I never knew I loved roads even the asphalt kind Vera’s behind the wheel we’re driving from Moscow to the Crimea Koktebele formerly “Goktepé ili” in Turkish the two of us inside a closed box the world flows past on both sides distant and mute I was never so close to anyone in my life bandits stopped me on the red road between Bolu and Geredé when I was eighteen apart from my life I didn’t have anything in the wagon they could take and at eighteen our lives are what we value least I’ve written this somewhere before wading through a dark muddy street I’m going to the shadow play Ramazan night a paper lantern leading the way maybe nothing like this ever happened maybe I read it somewhere an eight-year-old boy going to the shadow play Ramazan night in Istanbul holding his grandfather’s hand his grandfather has on a fez and is wearing the fur coat with a sable collar over his robe and there’s a lantern in the servant’s hand and I can’t contain myself for joy flowers come to mind for some reason poppies cactuses jonquils in the jonquil garden in Kadikoy Istanbul I kissed Marika fresh almonds on her breath I was seventeen my heart on a swing touched the sky I didn’t know I loved flowers friends sent me three red carnations in prison I just remembered the stars I love them too whether I’m floored watching them from below or whether I’m flying at their side I have some questions for the cosmonauts were the stars much bigger did they look like huge jewels on black velvet or apricots on orange did you feel proud to get closer to the stars I saw color photos of the cosmos in Ogonek magazine now don’t be upset comrades but nonfigurative shall we say or abstract well some of them looked just like such paintings which is to say they were terribly figurative and concrete my heart was in my mouth looking at them they are our endless desire to grasp things seeing them I could even think of death and not feel at all sad I never knew I loved the cosmos snow flashes in front of my eyes both heavy wet steady snow and the dry whirling kind I didn’t know I liked snow I never knew I loved the sun even when setting cherry-red as now in Istanbul too it sometimes sets in postcard colors but you aren’t about to paint it that way I didn’t know I loved the sea except the Sea of Azov or how much I didn’t know I loved clouds whether I’m under or up above them whether they look like giants or shaggy white beasts moonlight the falsest the most languid the most petit-bourgeois strikes me I like it I didn’t know I liked rain whether it falls like a fine net or splatters against the glass my heart leaves me tangled up in a net or trapped inside a drop and takes off for uncharted countries I didn’t know I loved rain but why did I suddenly discover all these passions sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train is it because I lit my sixth cigarette one alone could kill me is it because I’m half dead from thinking about someone back in Moscow her hair straw-blond eyelashes blue the train plunges on through the pitch-black night I never knew I liked the night pitch-black sparks fly from the engine I didn’t know I loved sparks I didn’t know I loved so many things and I had to wait until sixty to find it out sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train watching the world disappear as if on a journey of no return
19 April 1962, Moscow
(Trans. by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk)
Turkish poet Nâzim Hikmet was a dedicated leftist and a member of the Communist Party of Turkey. He spent much of World War I in Russia. When he returned to Turkey in 1924, he was a regular contributor to the Communist magazine Aydinlik. His poems and articles earned him a fifteen-year prison sentence, but he fled to Moscow before he could be jailed. He returned to Turkey in 1928, but in 1932 was sentenced to four years in prison for his work on the magazine Resimli Ay (Illustrated Monthly), a cosmopolitan literary magazine. He was pardoned in 1933, but arrested again in 1938 and given a 28-year sentence. He was eventually moved to house arrest, out which he escaped to Moscow. His Turkish citizenship was revoked in 1951.
[Research note: Things I Didn’t Know I Loved comes from Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk, Trans., Selected Poetry (Persea Books, Inc., 1986)]