Friday, November 13, 2009

Pablo Neruda

I suspect most educated Americans have heard of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, which makes him rare among foreign authors.  His most popular poems are the effusive love poems found in Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. I think all of us are, on some level, suckers for good love poetry, and why not?

The fact that he was a Chilean writing in Spanish seems to provide cover for his emotional excesses. I really like Neruda, but I suspect that his poetry would be dismissed as over-sentimental and too desperately impassioned if it had it been composed in English.

When I was in college, I decided – correctly, I think – that Neruda was a poet whose works should be included in my personal library. Unable to find a used edition of his works, I spent a long time hunkered on the floor of my local Barnes and Noble trying to decide between two translations.

This is the poem I first read in the translation that I bought. Except for this poem, it turned out to be the wrong choice. Nonetheless, it’s a fine poem, and a fine rendering of a poem, even if I do have some quibbles about the phrasing midway through. What is a marrowy morsel of sex? If you know, feel free to enlighten me.  I like the rest of the translation well enough to forgive this rather opaque phrasing.

It’s possible that I’m feeling sentimental and impassioned myself. I hope you enjoy the poem.

From: The Woes and the Furies
… In my heart are the woes and the furies … ~Quevedo

You, my antagonist, in the splintering dream
like the bristling glass of gardens, like a menace
of ruinous bells, volleys
of blackening ivy at the perfume’s center,
enemy of the great hipbones that have touched my skin
with a harrowing dew, with a tongue of water –
whatever the mute winter of your teeth or the hate of your eyes,
whatever the warfare of perishing beasts who guard our oblivion
in some dominion of the summer, we are one,
ambushed with lips, in a cannonade of thirst …

A day never meant for me,
maybe, stays in my memory: one
whose beginning was nowhere
and endless. A Thursday.
I was that man whom hazard had joined
with a woman in uncertain encounter.
We stripped to the skin, as if
to prepare for a death or a swim, or grow old,
and forced ourselves into ourselves, one through the other.
She circled me there like a pitfall
while I stove through her flesh as a
man beats a bell;
yet she was the sound that broke open my body,
the obdurate cupola that willed its vibration.

A blind kind of science, full of caverns and hair;
I pounded the marrowy morsels and sugars
and ringed the great wreaths of her sex
between stones and surrenders.

This is a tale of seaports
where chance brings the traveler: he clambers a hillside
and such things come to pass.

Our whole lives were like that:
run into the leaves, a black
autumn descends,
run in your apron of leaves and a belt of gold metal
while the mist of the station house gnaws at the stones.
Fly in your stockings and shoes
through the graying divisions, on the void of your feet, with hands that savage tobacco might hallow,
batter the stairs and demolish
the seals that defend all the doors with black paper;
enter the pith of the sun, the rage of a day full of daggers,
and hurl yourself into your grief like a dove, like snow on the dead …

(translated by Ben Belitt)

Pablo Neruda on Wikipedia

Pablo Neruda on

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