pablo neruda | two poems

2 12 2007


Poetry Dispatch No.157 | February 22, 2007


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.

from Poetry

‘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,
taciturn miller,
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
empty places
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.

pablo neruda | we are many

24 10 2007


Poetry Dispatch No. 103 | September 18, 2006

We Are Many by Pablo Neruda

Of so many men that I am, that we are,
I can’t find a single one:
I lose them under my clothing,
they’ve moved to another town.

When everything seems to be set
to show off my erudition,
the fool I always keep hidden
takes over all that I say.

I am paralyzed and silenced
among those who are distinguished
but when I seek the fearless within me
a coward I do not know
rushes to cover my skeleton
with a thousand fine precautions.

When a home I care for burns
I call forth the firelighter
but the arsonist breaks through
and he is I. There is no fixing me.
What must I do to select me?
How can become myself?

All the books I read
celebrate dazzling heroes
always certain of themselves:
how I envy them.
In cowboy films
I am jealous of the cowboy,
and even admire the horse.

But when I seek the daredevil
I find the lazy old man,
and so I do not know who I am,
or how many I am or we are.
I would like to ring a bell
and summon the real me
because if I need myself
I should not be disappearing.

While I write I am absent
and when I return I’ve gone:
One day I will see if these things
also happen to other people,
if they are as many as I am,
if they resemble themselves,
and when I find out
I will know all things so well
that to explain all my problems
I will speak about geography.

translated by F. Pajares