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Things I Didn't Know I Loved -- Nazim Hikmet

Guest poem sent in by Sashidhar Dandamudi
(Poem #1350) Things I Didn't Know I Loved
 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 "Goktepili" 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 Gered(&
 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
-- Nazim Hikmet
           19 April 1962, Moscow
           Trans. by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk (1993)


Justice's poem [Poem #1343] was triggered by, as William wrote, something on
the periphery; a light at a window. This brings to my mind a whole slew of
poems that triggered by visions and sightings like that. We have Pasternak's
Winter Night [Poem #45] and that super incantaion "and a candle burned on the
table". This is linked to one of the early scenes of the novel, Dr.  Zhivago,
where he watches a candle burning at a window. We also have Seth's Protocols,
where the narrator is walking past a house and writes "May the sun burn these
footprints on the lawn".

This brings us to this lyrical monolouge of Hikmet in which he lists all
those peripheral things that he had experienced (and which I suppose all
of us have or will experience) in his life and brings to each of those
recollections, a sweet ache of finally talking about them and acknowleding
those experiences. While Justice's poem deals with just a single incident
this poem is almost autobiographical in sweep, making it more "sumptous".

I first came upon a snippet of this poem in the New York Times Book Review
and just loved those lines:

"I didn't know I liked rain
whether it falls like a fine net or splatters against the glass "

And since it had been raining off and on, here in Atlanta, these lines
have been on my periphery in the recent days.


38 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Jerry Rao said...

Outstanding...thanks so much

Geneviève Letarte said...


I would like to know from which collection of poems by Nâzim Hikmet
that poem comes from.
I tried desperately to find a French version of it, bit I can't.
Maybe you can help me.

Thank you,

G. Letarte

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