Life After Neruda: Finding the Poet Thirty Five Years Later

Pablo Neruda, possibly one of the most distinct and important poetic voices of the 20th Century, died in 1979. It is now thirty five years later and recently thirty post-humous poems were discovered hidden among Neruda’s belongings. To celebrate this discovery, I want to relate some of his poetry from his life in anticipation of the new poems.

Neruda, a Chilean ambassador to many countries and rebel in the Spanish Civil War, was a poet of deep passion and youth. He considered poetry to be his calling very early in life. His first manuscript was published when he was only twenty-two. The following poem is one I relate to in some new way everytime I read it. As a man, Neruda felt impassioned to be completely honest, something I am still mustering up the courage to be:

Walking Around (translated by Robert Bly)

It so happens I am sick of being a man.
And it happens that I walk into tailorshops and movie
houses
dried up, waterproof, like a swan made of felt
steering my way in a water of wombs and ashes.

The smell of barbershops makes me break into hoarse
sobs.
The only thing I want is to lie still like stones or wool.
The only thing I want is to see no more stores, no gardens,
no more goods, no spectacles, no elevators.

It so happens that I am sick of my feet and my nails
and my hair and my shadow.
It so happens I am sick of being a man.

Still it would be marvelous
to terrify a law clerk with a cut lily,
or kill a nun with a blow on the ear.
It would be great
to go through the streets with a green knife
letting out yells until I died of the cold.

I don’t want to go on being a root in the dark,
insecure, stretched out, shivering with sleep,
going on down, into the moist guts of the earth,
taking in and thinking, eating every day.

I don’t want so much misery.
I don’t want to go on as a root and a tomb,
alone under the ground, a warehouse with corpses,
half frozen, dying of grief.

That’s why Monday, when it sees me coming
with my convict face, blazes up like gasoline,
and it howls on its way like a wounded wheel,
and leaves tracks full of warm blood leading toward the
night.

And it pushes me into certain corners, into some moist
houses,
into hospitals where the bones fly out the window,
into shoeshops that smell like vinegar,
and certain streets hideous as cracks in the skin.

There are sulphur-colored birds, and hideous intestines
hanging over the doors of houses that I hate,
and there are false teeth forgotten in a coffeepot,
there are mirrors
that ought to have wept from shame and terror,
there are umbrellas everywhere, and venoms, and umbilical
cords.

I stroll along serenely, with my eyes, my shoes,
my rage, forgetting everything,
I walk by, going through office buildings and orthopedic
shops,
and courtyards with washing hanging from the line:
underwear, towels and shirts from which slow
dirty tears are falling.

 

Also, Neruda was known as a romantic poet, one of great stature and vivid imagery. Here is his famous poem with his most excusite final line he is most known for penning:

 

Every Day You Play

Every day you play with the light of the universe.
Subtle visitor, you arrive in the flower and the water.
You are more than this white head that I hold tightly
as a cluster of fruit, every day, between my hands.

You are like nobody since I love you.
Let me spread you out among yellow garlands.
Who writes your name in letters of smoke among the stars of the south?
Oh let me remember you as you were before you existed.

Suddenly the wind howls and bangs at my shut window.
The sky is a net crammed with shadowy fish.
Here all the winds let go sooner or later, all of them.
The rain takes off her clothes.

The birds go by, fleeing.
The wind. The wind.
I can contend only against the power of men.
The storm whirls dark leaves
and turns loose all the boats that were moored last night to the sky.

You are here. Oh, you do not run away.
You will answer me to the last cry.
Cling to me as though you were frightened.
Even so, at one time a strange shadow ran through your eyes.

Now, now too, little one, you bring me honeysuckle,
and even your breasts smell of it.
While the sad wind goes slaughtering butterflies
I love you, and my happiness bites the plum of your mouth.

How you must have suffered getting accustomed to me,
my savage, solitary soul, my name that sends them all running.
So many times we have seen the morning star burn, kissing our eyes,
and over our heads the gray light unwind in turning fans.

My words rained over you, stroking you.
A long time I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your body.
I go so far as to think that you own the universe.
I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, bluebells,
dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses.
I want
to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.

 

In celebration for his life, I have often read his poems in Spanish. I cannot convey how beautiful it is in that language, only that English translations will never do them justice. His rhythm and rhyme in his own language is masterful and very methodical. I leave you now with a few lines in Spanish with their English equivelant as translated by Alastair Reid. It is the final few lines from a poem of his, about poetry, titled The Obligation (or Deber Del Poeta):

 

Y yo transmitiré sin decir nada

los ecos estrellados del la ola,

un quebranto de espuma y arenales,

un susurro de sal que se retira,

el grito gris del ave de la costa.

Y asi, por mi, la libertad y el mar

responderán al corozón oscuro.

 

And I shall broadcast, saying nothing,

the stary echos of the wave,

a breaking up of foam and of quicksand,

a rusting of salt withdrawing,

the grey cry of sea-birds on the coast.

So, through me, freedom and the sea

will make their answer to the shuttered heart.

 

Pablo Neruda
Pablo Neruda
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