Things I Didn’t Know I Loved (a poem by Nazim Hikmet)

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
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

Trans. by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk (1993)



Filed under Poems, The music of what happened

4 responses to “Things I Didn’t Know I Loved (a poem by Nazim Hikmet)

  1. helpmaboab

    A bit dead, this weather.

  2. I think this is a fabulous poem about death. It sometimes occurs to me that at some point everything I know will be gone.

  3. Hello Brendan,

    Good poem. As Nazım Hikmet is not using rhymes his poems don’t lose that much.

    In Turkish there are two types of past tenses, one is “reportive” (?) past tense. It’s used for ancient times and for the events that the teller didn’t witness. Nazım uses this one when he say “I never knew I liked

    Nazım Hikmet is an outstanding figure for Turkish left. He is a symbol.

    His “counterpart” on the right is Necip Fazıl Kısakürek who doesn’t use a free style. I’m copying here one of his works but it seems lost lots with translating.

    The Ordeal (Suffering)

    A voice arose from the unseen: this man
    Let him carry the space on the base of his neck
    Suddenly over my head the roof collapsed
    And trickily the sky was overthrown

    I ran towards the window: a great tumult
    You came out right, old woman
    Eternity…a blue scarf in its hand
    The hunted pointed his arrows at me

    I tasted this arrow’s fiery poison
    It suddenly broke my life’s diamond
    It is as if I reached the non-existence
    I vomited my skull out of the mouth

    The world shook like a glass of water
    Direction was lost and so the space
    Take that truth, take that dream
    This is intelligence, this is inebriation!

    The horizon is a fox, cunning and running
    Roads are skein, long and entwined
    The magician writing my dream every night
    Sheds a blue light in front of me

    Magician, why do you hate me?
    What is that smoky haze in my cave?
    Your sword, sharper than glass, thinner than hair
    Dwells in my mind like a poisonous sliver

    Like falling into a pit in the dark
    I fell into the arms of the truth
    I feel as if I solved the complex puzzle
    Of both the past and the future

    Revelry, illumination and gaiety in atoms
    And circles of light upon circles of light
    Concentrical architecture, concentrical ego
    I know you’re my lord, unknown well known!

    Harmony, kidnap me! Unity! Take me away
    I can no longer dwell in a ghost image
    Give the dwarf, let him be a poet
    Now my aim is to reach the unreachable

  4. Thank you, Levent. Yes, the Kısakürek poem is very vivid but it does seem to have lost something in translation.

    I like the wistful mood of Hikmet’s poems. I first came across one called (I think) ‘Nostalgia’, and then the one that I posted here.

    Nostalgia never left my side throughout the journey
    it was right there by me even in the dark
    it wasn’t like my hands and feet
    for when one sleeps hands and feet are lost
    and I never lost nostalgia even when asleep

    Nostalgia never left my side throughout the journey
    it wasn’t hunger or thirst or the desire
    for something cool in the sultry heat or warmth in the freezing cold
    it was something that could never be slaked
    it was not joy or sadness it was not connected
    to the cities to the clouds to songs to memories
    it was in me and outside of me.

    Nostalgia never left my side throughout the journey
    and of the journey nothing remains with me but that nostalgia.

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