Nazim Hikmet: Autobiography

Nazim Hikmet (15 Jan 1902-3 June 1963) penned this poem titled ‘Autobiography’ in East Berlin on 11 September 1961. This is translated  by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk (1993) and is being republished from poemhunter.com.

I was born in 1902

Nazim Hikmet

Nazim Hikmet

I never once went back to my birthplace
I don’t like to turn back
at three I served as a pasha’s grandson in Aleppo
at nineteen as a student at Moscow Communist University
at forty-nine I was back in Moscow as the Tcheka Party’s guest
and I’ve been a poet since I was fourteen
some people know all about plants some about fish

I know separation
some people know the names of the stars by heart
I recite absences
I’ve slept in prisons and in grand hotels
I’ve known hunger even a hunger strike and there’s almost no food
I haven’t tasted
at thirty they wanted to hang me
at forty-eight to give me the Peace Prize
which they did
at thirty-six I covered four square meters of concrete in half a year
at fifty-nine I flew from Prague to Havana in eighteen hours

I never saw Lenin I stood watch at his coffin in ’24
in ’61 the tomb I visit is his books
they tried to tear me away from my party
it didn’t work
nor was I crushed under the falling idols
in ’51 I sailed with a young friend into the teeth of death
in ’52 I spent four months flat on my back with a broken heart
waiting to die

Nâzım Hikmet’s gravestone at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow

I was jealous of the women I loved
I didn’t envy Charlie Chaplin one bit
I deceived my women
I never talked my friends’ backs
I drank but not every day
I earned my bread money honestly what happiness
out of embarrassment for others I lied
I lied so as not to hurt someone else
but I also lied for no reason at all
I’ve ridden in trains planes and cars
most people don’t get the chance

I went to opera
most people haven’t even heard of the opera
and since ’21 I haven’t gone to the places most people visit
mosques churches temples synagogues sorcerers
but I’ve had my coffee grounds read
my writings are published in thirty or forty languages
in my Turkey in my Turkish they’re banned
cancer hasn’t caught up with me yet
and nothing says it will

I’ll never be a prime minister or anything like that
and I wouldn’t want such a life
nor did I go to war
or burrow in bomb shelters in the bottom of the night
and I never had to take to the road under diving planes
but I fell in love at almost sixty
in short comrades
even if today in Berlin I’m croaking of grief

I can say I’ve lived like a human being
and who knows
how much longer I’ll live
what else will happen to me

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