Poetry Dispatch No.157 | February 22, 2007
TWO POEMS from PABLO NERUDA
And it was at that age…Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know
where it came from, from winter or from a river.
I don’t know how or when, no,
they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence, but from a street
I was summoned, from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others, among violent fires
or returning alone, there I was without a face
and it touched me.
‘What we talk abut when we talk about poetry’—very often Pablo Neruda. He is long gone but he is everywhere. (A good measure of poetry’s place in our every day lives.)
Who was it who said: “Poetry doesn’t belong to those who write it; it belongs to those who need it.”
In the past month alone, Pablo Neruda has come up in personal conversation (face to face, e-mail, snail mail, phone) at least a half dozen times. Maybe it was his politics and poetry (decidedly left); maybe it was his energy— poetry poured out of him; maybe it was one of the best autobiographies of a poet ever written: MEMOIRS by Pablo Neruda; maybe it was the great Italian movie, “Il Postino,” which beautifully captured a passionate life lived (and loved) through poetry.
It still comes as a surprise to some that “Pablo Neruda” was a pen name he borrowed in memory of a beloved Czech poet, Jan Neruda. His real name was Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto.
You hear the name Neruda and you think of the sea and South America. Of odes to lemons and artichokes, elephants and socks…nothing escaped his rapturous attention. Of the love of women…there was no end. Night, earth, stars, rain, sun…you can feel the heat in your hand, coming off the pages.
Here are two poems: an early one, “XVII Thinking, Tangling Shadows,” from Viente Poemas de Amor y Una Cancion Desesperado (Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair… 1923). The last three stanzas of this poem are printed—first in Spanish, then English. [My choice…because the language is so delicious.]
And a poem which came later in his life “To My Duties. ”A good poem for writers to know. Norbert Blei
XVII Thinking, Tangling Shadows
Thinking, tangling shadows in the deep solitude. You are far away too, oh farther than anyone. Thinking, freeing birds, dissolving images, burying lamps.
Belfry of fogs, how far away, up there!
Stifling laments, milling shadowy hopes,
night falls on you face downward, far from the city.
Your presence is foreign, as strange to me as a thing.
I think, I explore great tracts of my life before you.
My life before anyone, my harsh life.
The shout facing the sea, among the rocks,
running free, mad, in the sea-spray.
The sad rage, the shout, the solitude of the sea.
Headlong, violent, stretched towards the sky.
You, woman, what were you there, what ray, what vane
of that immense fan ? You were as far as you are now.
Fire in the forest! Burn in blue crosses.
Burn, burn, flame up, sparkle in trees of light.
It collapses, crackling. Fire. Fire.
And my soul dances, seared with curls of fire.
Who calls? What silence peopled with echoes?
Hour of nostalgia, hour of happiness, hour of solitude,
hour that is mine from among them all!
Hunting horn through which the wind passes singing.
Such a passion of weeping tied to my body.
Sacudida de todas las raίces,
asalto de todas las olas!
Rodaba, alegre, triste interminable, mi alma.
Pensando, enterrando lámparas en la profunda soledad.
Quién eres tύ quién eres?
Shaking of all the roots,
attack of all the waves!
My soul wandered, happy, sad, unending.
Thinking, burying lamps in the deep solitude.
Who are you, who are you?
from: Twenty Love Poems And a Song of Despair, (1924); Penguin reprints,1969, etc.
To My Duties
While I’ve been doing my job
stone by stone, quill by quill,
winter has passed, leaving
and dead rooms.
I work on all the same.
I really should replace
all those things I’ve forgotten,
fill the darkness with bread,
inspire hope again.
The dust of the season,
its harsh rain, are all I deserve:
for myself I claim nothing more than all space
and the right to work there, bearing witness to spring.
I must have something for everybody
day by day and week by week, gifts of the blue variety
or cool blossoms from the woods.
First thing in the morning, I’m going strong
while others have sunk
into sloth or lovemaking.
I’m sweeping out my bell tower,
polishing my tools and my heart.
I have enough dew to go around.
from: ODES TO OPPOSITES, fifth printing, 1999, Bullfinch Press/Little, Brown & Co.