You must live with great seriousness

Dear readers,

Thank you kindly for joining me on this month’s journey in verse. It’s always a delight to share the words that have moved me over the past year–and to seek out new poets to introduce to you all. I hope you’ve encountered something along the way that resonated with you, and I very much hope you will keep reading poetry throughout the year.

April’s final poem comes from the incredible Nazim Hikmet (1902-1963), who is considered the first modern Turkish poet. As I mentioned in this month’s introductory post, it is through reading poetry that I often rediscover what is worth celebrating and fighting for in this life, even on the darkest days. These stirring words from Hikmet speak not only to what is at stake in each of the poems I posted this month, but to what is at stake in every day of our lives. Here’s to learning to love this world, seriously and deeply and with every fiber of our beings.

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“On Living”

I

Living is no laughing matter:
    you must live with great seriousness
        like a squirrel, for example—
  I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
        I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
    you must take it seriously,
    so much so and to such a degree
  that, for example, your hands tied behind your back,
                                your back to the wall,
or else in a laboratory
    in your white coat and safety glasses,
    you can die for people—
even for people whose faces you’ve never seen,
even though you know living
    is the most real, the most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
  that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees—
  and not for your children, either,
  but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
  because living, I mean, weighs heavier.

II

Let’s say we’re seriously ill, need surgery—
which is to say we might not get up
                      from the white table.
Even though it’s impossible not to feel sad
                      about going a little too soon,
we’ll still laugh at the jokes being told,
we’ll look out the window to see if it’s raining,
or still wait anxiously
                      for the latest newscast. . .
Let’s say we’re at the front—
                  for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
                  we might fall on our face, dead.
We’ll know this with a curious anger,
            but we’ll still worry ourselves to death
            about the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let’s say we’re in prison
and close to fifty,
and we have eighteen more years, say,
                      before the iron doors will open.
We’ll still live with the outside,
with its people and animals, struggle and wind—
                          I mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
            we must live as if we will never die.

III

This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
              and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet—
              I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
              in pitch-black space . . .
You must grieve for this right now
—you have to feel this sorrow now—
for the world must be loved this much
                              if you’re going to say “I lived”. .

translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk

I am much too small in this world, yet not small enough

I can’t let National Poetry Month pass without sharing some devastating verse from brilliant, dear Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926).

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“I Am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone”

I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone
    enough
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small
    enough
to be to you just object and thing,
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions,
where something is up,
to be among those in the know,
or else be alone.

I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.
I want to unfold.
Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;
for there I would be dishonest, untrue.
I want my conscience to be
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed
for a long time, one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everday jug,
like my mother’s face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.

translation by Annemarie S. Kidder

It’s how I discovered this kind of hunger.

There’s so much going on in this breathless, breathtaking prose poem from Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib‘s collection The Crown Ain’t Worth MuchGive yourself time to read it slowly, and then once more.

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“DUDES, WE DID NOT GO THROUGH
THE HASSLE OF GETTING THESE
FAKE IDS FOR THIS JUKEBOX TO
NOT HAVE ANY SPRINGSTEEN”

& and it is the end of another summer where I have slept on my couch
for days only allowing another body to interrupt long enough for
our limbs to tangle like weeds up the side of a brick house,
reaching for something impossible. I promise there have always
been dishes spilling out of the sink, love. It’s how I discovered this
kind of hunger. Last week, Rick lit a cigarette & yelled across the
bar that the only difference between smoking & kissing someone
who smokes is the way mouths collide before death sits in your
lungs like an abandoned city & everyone laughed while I tried to
wipe another’s lip gloss from my cheek. Most people I know
cannot sleep until they crawl though someone else’s hollow.
There are nights when I wish we were all still children, but then
again, I suppose we may be or at least there is no other way to
explain how we make every doorway our own. The way we stain
ourselves & anything else that moves. The way we scream into
the dark like a siren & the weeping, yet another thing we never
mention in the morning. I think I am starting to vanish slowly
from head to toe. There are ten different ways to say sunset. The
bartender says my face is wearing all of them.