Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

First, I apologize for the lateness of my post.

Yesterday, I got to have adventures that only parents of small children really get to have. Ones involving a sore throat that vanishes, so no doctor visit needed, to a scalp getting cut open on the corner of a stool, so doctor visit needed, to a “just in case” throat swab turning into an antibiotic for strep throat. Yeah, one of those days yesterday.

Anyway, I read Treasure Island this week. This is probably one of those books that I -should- have read as a child but didn’t. I don’t know if it was never pointed my way because I was a girl. Or if it was pointed my way but I was more interested in pioneer girls, twins with identical descriptions right down to the necklace they wore always on page 6 of each book, or money making clubs involving 4 very different girls with 4 very different clothing and personality styles than with pirates and treasure. ***If you can name all 3 book series I just alluded to, I will send you a book from my bookshelves. I won’t tell you which one, but it will be one that I’ve reviewed for this blog.*** (Dave, you’re exempt from this as you probably have all the books I would consider sending already)

Anyway, I never read it. And now I wish I had. It would have been a fun re-read. As it was, as an adult, I still really was absorbed in the story.

The copy of the book that I checked out from the library has a quote from J.M. Barrie on it:
“Over Treasure Island I let my fire die in winter without knowing that I was freezing”.

I never got quite as bad as Mr. Barrie (also, the advent of electric heat really helped), I was pretty into it. I even managed to read a chapter while waiting for the doctor to come staple my daughter’s head. (She was fine by this point and was opening drawers in the exam room. And Greg was there. Before you think I was some inattentive mom who doesn’t care).

Thomas Keneally listed Treasure Island in his top ten.

If you’ve seen Pirates of the Caribbean, Peter Pan, or any other variety of pirate movies, you have watched bits and pieces of Treasure Island already. Stevenson’s work influenced portrayals of pirates in literature and cinema almost from the beginning. J.M. Barrie, after rebuilding his fire and flexing his frozen fingers, proceeded to use Stevenson as an influence for Smee and Capt Hook and all things pirates in Peter Pan.

Treasure Island is told mainly by the view point of a young man, Mr. Hawkins. The antagonist in the story is Long John Silver. Thinking on it, he does resemble the fast food restaurant he is named after. He can seem very, very nice on the surface, making you think you’re getting a true gentleman. But, after, after he’s wormed his way into your life, well then he turns nasty. He keeps you up at night, he makes you fear for your life. But yet, after all of that, he can sit down and charm you all over again. Kudos to the namer of Long John Silver’s!

There’s a pirate’s buried treasure on an island. There’s a ship full of pirates who are disguised as honest men who mutiny. There’s treachery (on both the “good” and “bad” sides), courage, slyness, honor (on both the “good” and the “bad” side), murder (on both sides), stranded marooned pirates, and riches beyond all imaginings that are as drenched in blood as Indiana Jones movies’ treasures.

Just read it. If you haven’t already. If you have kids, read it to them. (Right now, Amelia is more into Princess Palace Pets, but one day I will get this read to her, ONE DAY!).

Trust me. Read it.

Norwood by Charles Portis

I got another surprise (readers of my personal blog will know what I mean by ‘another’) when I picked up Norwood by Charles Portis. I don’t know Portis, but I know he wrote True Grit. I haven’t read it, or seen any of the versions of the movie, (or realized that Kim was coincidentally going to review it the week before I posted this already written review) but I know enough about it to know cowboys are involved. For some reason, I imagined Norwood would somehow be related.

It isn’t.

(For those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 3rd for Walter Kirn)

Well, perhaps just the tiniest bit. The main character wears a cowboy hat and wants to be a country singer, but that’s about it. It’s set around the Korean war. No ranches. That was a good thing for me, though. I didn’t really want to read about cowboys.

Norwood Pratt comes home from the Korean War to take care of his adult sister in Ralph, Texas after his father dies. His sister recovers herself shortly, and Norwood begins to feel trapped:

The job worked out too well. Money and position went to Vernell’s head. She stopped crying. Her health and posture improved. She even became something of a flirt. She grew daily more confident and assertive and at home she would drop the names of prominent Lions and Kiwanians. Norwood listened in cold silence as she brought home choice downtown gossip and made familiar references to undertakers and lawyers and Ford dealers. Norwood had nothing to counter with. No one you could quote traded at the Nipper station. Customers were local Negroes and high school kids, and out-of-state felons in flight from prosecution and other economy-minded transients, most of whom carried their own strange motor oil in the back seats, oil that was stranger and cheaper than anything even in the Nipper inventory. Some weeks, with her tips, Vernell made more money than Norwood. It was a terrible state of affairs and Norwood would not have believed that things were to become worse almost overnight.

Then with absolutely no warning Vernell married a disabled veteran named Bill Bird and brought him home to live in the little house on the highway. Bill Bird was an older man. He had drifted into Ralph for no very clear reason after being discharged from the VA hospital in Dallas. He took a room at the New Ralph Hotel, monthly rate, and passed his time in the coffee shop, at the corner table under the an, reading Pageant and Grit and pondering the graphs in U.S. News & World Report. Vernell took to Bill Bird at once. She liked his quiet, thoughtful air and his scholarship. She kept his cup filled with coffee and during lulls she would sit at this table and enjoy him. Bill Bird was at the same time attentive to Vernell in many little ways.

Norwood ends up taking off on an adventure when a questionable businessman hires him to drive a car to New York City, where Norwood hopes to get some money owed him by an old military buddy. Norwood jettisons the car when he finds out its stolen, and the adventures only increase from there…though at a leisurely pace.

Getting engaged to a woman on a bus, meeting the world’s second shortest midget, rescuing a college educated chicken, Norwood has an interesting journey around the country. It’s certainly a hell of a lot more engaging than my regular drives between Omaha and Denver.

Norwood was refreshingly different from what I expected. I found it unforced and plainspoken, but still interestingly odd. The reason for the drive behind the book seems a little elusive, but it’s still a pleasure to read anyway. Norwood certainly presents an interesting and vivid picture of a particular era in America.

True Grit by Charles Portis

George Pelacanos listed True Grit in his Top Ten.

I’ve seen the remake of True Grit that came out a few years ago. I loved it. Which means, I was actually a little leery of reading the book, since usually one will differ strongly from the other.

That’s not the case here. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more faithful book to movie in my life. It was gratifying to read a book that translated so well to the big screen.

The story’s first person narrator is a 14 year old girl named Mattie. It takes place in the “Wild West” after the Civil War. Mattie’s father is shot dead while visiting a town to buy horses by his hired help who was drunk and wanting a fight. He then steals all of her father’s money and two sentimental gold pieces he has, as well as the horse.

Mattie comes to town, the impression given of her mother is of a woman not strong enough to deal with. Mattie is definitely painted (by herself, but also by the fact that she is the one in town to deal with sending her father back home) as a very capable 14 year old.

“Lawyer Daggett had gone to Helena to try one of his steamboat suits and so Yarnell and I rode the train to Fort Smith to see about Papa’s body. I took around one hundred dollars expense money and wrote myself out a letter of identification and signed Lawyer Daggett’s name to it and had Mama sign it as well. She was in bed.”

That’s the first paragraph of the book.

Later:

“Perhaps you can imagine how painful it was for us to go directly from that appalling scene to the undertaker’s where my father lay dead. Nevertheless it had to be done. I have never been one to flinch or crawfish when faced with an unpleasant task.”

Mattie is a faithful narrator, giving us all the small details as well as the large ones.

“I got to the Monarch in time to eat. Mrs. Floyd said she had no vacant room because of the big crowd in town but that she would put me up somehow. The daily rate was seventy-five cents a night with two meals and a dollar with three meals. She did not have a rate for one meal so I was obliged to give her seventy-five cents even though I had planned to buy some cheese and crackers the next morning for my daytime eats. I don’t know what her weekly rate was.”

She decides to hire a U.S. Marshall to help her go into Indian Territory to find her dad’s murderer. She asks the sheriff for help as to hire.

“The sheriff thought on it for a minute. He said, “I would have to weigh that propostion. There is near about two hundred of them. I reckon William Waters is the best tracker. He is a half-breed Comanche and it is something to see, watching him cut for sign. The meanest one is Rooster Cogburn. He is a pitiless man, double-tough and fear don’t enter into his thinking. He loves to pull a cork. Now L.T. Quinn, he brings his prisoners in alive. He may let one get by now and then but he believes even the worst of men is entitled to a fair shake.”

She picks Rooster Cogburn. An older man, who definitely shoots first and asks questions later, as Mattie shows by providing the transcript for a trial she watches that Rooster was the US Marshall for. He gets raked over the coals by the defense attorney for this character trait. Later, Mattie goes and finds Rooster and has dinner with him and his Chinese landlord. And we find out that Rooster is also a drinker.

“He was drunk and he was fooling around with Papa’s pistol. He pointed out something on the floor over by the curtain that opened into the store. I looked and it was a big long barn rat. HE sat there hunkered on the floor, his tail flat, and he was eating meal that was spilling out of a hole in the sack. I gave a start but Rooster put his tobacco-smelling hand over my mouth and gripped my cheeks and held me down.
He said, “Be right still.” I looked around for Lee but figured he must have gone to bed. Rooster said, “I will try this the new way. Now watch.” He leaned forward and spoke at the rat in a low voice, saying, “I have a writ here that says for you to stop eating Chen Lee’s corn meal forthwith. IT is a rat writ. It is a writ for a rat and this is lawful service of said writ.” Then he looked over at me and said, “Has he stopped?” I gave no reply. I have never wasted any time encouraging drunkards or show-offs. He said, “It don’t look like to me he has stopped.” He was holding Papa’s revolver down at his left side and he fired twice without aiming. The noise filled up that little room and made the curtains jump. My ears rang. There was a good deal of smoke.”

Rooster agrees finally to go after Tom Chaney. Mattie insists upon going with him. Prior to their leaving, she meets with a Texas Ranger at the boarding house she is staying at.

“Toward the end of the meal a stranger came in wearing two revolvers and made known that he was seeking room and board. He was a nice-looking man around thirty years of age with a “cowlick” at the crown of his head. He needed a bath and a shave but you could tell that was not his usual condition. He looked to be a man of good family. He had pale-blue eyes and auburn hair. He was wearing a long corduroy coat. His manner was stuck-up and he had a smug grin that made you nervous when he turned it on you”.

Later:
“”What is your name?” said he.
“Pudding and tame,” said I.
He said, “I will take a guess and say it is Mattie Ross.”
“How do you know that?”
“My name is LaBoeuf,” he said. He called it LaBeef but spelled it something like LaBoeuf. “I saw your mother just two days ago. She is worried about you.”
“What was your business with her, Mr. LaBoeuf?”
“I will disclose that after I eat. I would like to have a confidential conversation with you.”

Later:

“LaBoeuf showed me a letter that identified him as a Sergeant of Texas Rangers, working out of a place called Ysleta near El Paso. He said, “I am on a detached service just now. I am working for the family of Senator Bibbs in Waco.”

Mattie informs him she needs no help as she has hired Cogburn. Later, LaBoeuf finds Cogburn and talks him into helping. Mattie attempts to keep LaBoeuf out of it, telling Cogburn they do not need his help and she is paying him. But LaBoeuf promises a good amount of reward money for catching Chaney, as he is wanted in Texas for killing a senator.

“I was so mad I could have bitten my tongue off.”

They proposed to leave her behind, but Mattie forces them into taking her, by leaping her horse into the water after they have paid the ferry operator to take her back to the other side, and having her horse swim the water. LaBoeuf is so mad that he actually takes a switch to Mattie’s rear. Finally Cogburn makes him stop and lets Mattie come.

They go in search of Chaney. And run into quite a few outlaws along the way. They find him. One of the fascinating things of this story was seeing these three very different personalities starting out on one foot, but by the end working as a unit and a team, and not in a corporate hoorah meeting’s meaning of the word team, but in the true sense.

The narrative by Mattie is simple, straightforward and very forthright. You always hear of someone being described as forthright, but I don’t think I have ever seen a character or person more forthright than Mattie. She hires Cogburn because he has “true grit”. But the story shows that Mattie herself has the most true grit of all of them. She never stops, even when completely terrified and in danger of her life.

The story ends with Mattie looking back and 25 years later attempting to contact Rooster Cogburn. She never talked to LaBeouf again after the adventure.

It’s a coming of age tale, but one done so masterfully that it doesn’t seem that way at first. It was only as I sat down to write this blog that I came to that realization. I think it’s also because most coming of age stories about girls/women do not involve this type of adventure. If Mattie had been a boy, it would have been glaringly obvious.

This was a great book and it is one that I could see myself re-reading at some point. It’s a shorter book and easy to get absorbed in.

Hope everyone has a great weekend! I am going to be spending the next day attempting to find the phantom bad odor that is haunting my kitchen and living room (and trust me, Greg and I both have spent a lot of time sniffing at everything with our face up to it. It’s coming from nowhere we can find). I’d describe the smell but my description isn’t really fit for this blog haha.

F250 by Bud Smith

Kim suggested recently that we take a brief break from the list in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books and talk about some of the other books we’ve been reading recently that we think people should know about. Kim did that last week and discussed a few, and now it’s my turn. The moment she suggested it, I knew I was going to be talking about F250 by Bud Smith.

Right before the kid with the bloody face appears, a glass smashes in the kitchen. Someone shouts. I do nothing. I barely live here. My things are still in the pickup. Seth is trashed. I’m still horribly sober.

This is my first day back. There’s a purple Post-it note lying dusty on Seth’s coffee table. The note is dated months earlier, when I was probably in Idaho or Utah or Arizona or on the moon. It says, simply, “Call Natalie.”

Sure. That’s exactly what I want to do with my life, call Natalie. But here I am, on the back deck, alone, in-between calling her and not calling her—a state of telephone limbo. I should be getting trashed with everyone else at the party at this dilapidated house.

Lee Casey is at a stuck point in his life. He’s back at home after cruising the countryside aimlessly, doing small stonework jobs that do at least make him happy, off the track of those around him who’d started to grow up and go to college. He’s among friends similarly shipwrecked in a house that was supposed to be torn down months ago. It’s cool though, because they’re going to take their band to L.A. They’re going to really get going…except Lee knows they aren’t. He knows it isn’t going to happen, and it doesn’t.

He’s grounded and honest, taking pleasure in the solid things he has, but there aren’t really enough of those. His truck is the best metaphor for his life, a beat up monster he uses for hauling stone and cement with a tremendous amount of force…but little to no brakes:

There were a lot of crashes—into people, places, things, whatever was around. The truck was too heavy, I was weighed down, springs sagged, hills were too steep, roads were too slick—I couldn’t control it.

Too heavy, weighed down, couldn’t be controlled. Not the best idea, but not really one about which there was a whole lot of choice. You could just as accurately say these things about Lee’s life as his truck.

Still, though there is a lot Lee cannot control (a girl who cheats on him, a friend OD’ing, the trajectory of the band, and so on), there are some things that Lee simply does not control. He gets hung up on the big picture and doesn’t always take what control he can. You can’t really blame that; many people’s lives go that way.

When I think of Lee Casey after reading, I’m reminded of that ‘beaten yet blessed’ thing Kerouac supposedly said to describe the beat generation. I don’t know whether Kerouac really said what I think he did, but it fits the main character of F250 so well that I’m going with it. Beaten yet blessed, that’s Lee Casey in a nutshell. He’s had some pretty bad things happen for him, but some pretty good things too. He’s a good guy and doesn’t have a whole lot, but he can appreciate what he has and a certain kind of light seems to shine on him. It’s cool, and it’s delivered in some wonderful prose.

F250 often comes across quiet, though there is plenty of noise, but it moves with the relentless force of that F-250 with bad brakes. To some extent, we’re just fooling ourselves that there is any control…but we still need to take what control we can without sweating the rest. Lee Casey has a lot to say that you need to hear, but it’s not something he can say direct. You got to read the book; then you’ll get it.

In Which Promises Are Broken

I know, I told you here, that I would be talking more about Pablo Neruda today.

But, finding a book of his that -isn’t- his love poetry has proven to be near impossible.  I finally had my library look and see if they could get it inter library loan and luckily they can.  But that means I will not have it in my hands for at least a few more days.

So, today, we are going to talk about other things I have read recently that I feel are definitely worth checking out.

I counted today (I write down everything I read in a tiny notebook, for curiosity’s sake) and I have read about 65 books this year (more if you count all of the Walking Dead graphic novels separately, which I did not since it felt like cheating.  Some of those have been re-reads, some audio books, some fairly fun and easy books to read.  Some have been more “literary”.  I’m just going to list the ones that I definitely want to recommend on.

The most recent one I read is Confessions by Kanae Minato.  It is a novel originally written in Japanese, for Japan readers.  It was a really engaging book, about a teacher whose four year old daughter dies.  On her last day of teaching at the school, she informs the class that it wasn’t an accident, that two students murdered her daughter.  She then informs them of the revenge she exacted.  The novel is about the domino effect of all of that.  It explores the idea of revenge and retribution.  What the possible outcome can be of knowing a murderer.  The minds of the killers.  And the teacher’s final revenge.  Parts of the book felt slightly awkward, but I think that’s more due to translation.  My only random negative thought was that the teacher has a couple of parts where she is talking to someone (not her class, that monologue is written beautifully) and seems to be able to go on for minutes without interruption.  If you’re looking for something different to read, check Confessions out.

I also have read quite a few YA novels.  The one I loved the most was Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. Ms. Rowell comes from the Omaha area and her books all reflect that.  The geographic area of all of her novels that I have read, center on Omaha and Lincoln.  Eleanor and Park is a tale that takes place in the mid 80s, about two very young teenagers (Eleanor and Park).  Eleanor comes from a very poor house, with a crap step father.  Park comes from a very loving home, but is half Korean (I think Korean, it’s been a few months since I’ve read it).  Quite unwillingly at first on Park’s part, they become friends. Then they become more.  This book really beautifully showed the powerlessness that kids have.  And how that powerlessness can conflict so strongly against their desire to take action, to fix things, to rescue people and things.  It also deals with how people can fit in the weirdest places, sometimes without even knowing.  There is a sense of melancholy to Eleanor and Park that appealed to me.

I listened to Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver as well.  This is a YA novel.  It’s about a girl who dies in a car accident after a day with her popular friends and the people that they make fun of, and the insensitivity they have.  She wakes up on the day of her death.
And relives it.  Making different choices that show how each action sparks another action.  It has a Groundhog Day vibe.  It deals with who you really are underneath it all and what ends up really mattering in the end.

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes.  I resisted reading this book for the longest time, as when I had started it in the past it had seemed like just another “chick lit” book set in England and I had exhausted my craving for those years ago.  But, then I really sat down and read it.  And it’s definitely not your normal book.  The ending is both expected and unexpected.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.  This memoir is stunning in how much Ms. Walls really brings to life both a childhood lived in extreme poverty, but also a childhood lived with eccentric and most likely mentally ill parents.  I know this book was in vogue a few years ago with everyone around raving about it.  I just didn’t read it then.

Enjoy!

I, Claudius by Robert Graves

Rome!

I hardly think anyone would find it odd if I admitted to a certain fascination with ancient Rome. Greece too, but definitely Rome. It’s hardly uncommon. Western civilization has long, long had on obsession with Rome…pretty much back to the time of Rome, or close thereafter.

I, Claudius by Robert Graves has that going for it right off the bat. It’s set up as a fictional autobiography of Claudius, the weakling stutterer and assumed idiot who ends up somehow becoming emperor. It’s amazing enough that he manages to survive at all, much less that he manages to survive through all of the poisonings, betrayals, and frantic infighting that accompany the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula.

(For those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 1st for Arthur Golden)

Claudius suffers much throughout the book, picked on and pushed around by almost everybody, but it’s certainly clear that he isn’t an idiot. He’s highly intelligent, honest, and fiercely committed to the ideals of the Republic. Unfortunately, he has to mostly keep to keeping his head down and trying not to die. He just doesn’t have a whole lot to work with, and this is Rome at a very bloody time.

I have mentioned Briseis, my mother’s old freedwoman. When I told her that I was leaving Rome and settling at Capua she said how much she would miss me, but that I was wise to go. “I had a funny dream about you last night, Master Claudius, if you’ll forgive me. You were a little lame boy; and thieves broke into his father’s house and murdered his father and a whole lot of relations and friends; but he squeezed through a pantry-window and went hobbling into the neighborhood wood. He climbed up a tree and waited. The thieves came out of the house and sat down under the tree where he was hiding, to divide the plunder. Soon they began to quarrel about who should have what, and one of the thieves got killed, and then two more, and then the rest began drinking wine and pretending to be great friends; but the wine had been poisoned by one of the murdered thieves, so they all died in agony. The lame boy climbed down the tree and collected the valuables and found a lot of gold and jewels among them that had been stolen from other families: but he took it all home with him and became quite rich.”

I smiled. “That’s a funny dream, Briseis. But he was still as lame as ever and all that wealth could not buy his father and family back to life again, could it?”

“No, my dear, but perhaps he married and had a family of his own. So choose a good tree, Master Claudius, and don’t come down till the last of the thieves are dead. That’s what my dream said.”

Frankly, if you wanted to distill I, Claudius down to a couple, simple paragraphs, that would be it. That’s the book in a nutshell.

Course, we all know that Claudius is going to die sooner or later…whether or not in this book. We all know Claudius has been dead for almost two thousand years. We know at least one of the thieves wasn’t dead when he came down from his tree. Still, the above is pretty much the story of Claudius.

I’ve got to love I, Claudius for the historical period Graves manages to convey. I still go both ways on some of the more modern language elements Graves uses, though. A lot comes off as if Claudius was from the current era. It’s more readable than if it was more period accurate language-wise, but it does make it seem a little less Roman. Let’s not forget that my fascination with Rome is one of the reasons I was in I, Claudius to begin with.

Regardless, I did enjoy I, Claudius. I’m just not sure I’m going to read the other volume (Claudius the God). I, Claudius was kind of enough.

The Poems of Pablo Neruda

Today, (and in two weeks time), I’m going to be talking about Pablo Neruda and his poetry. Chitra Divakaruni listed Neruda as a Top Ten.

Neruda was born as Ricardo Eliezer Neftali Reyes y Basoalto. He adopted Neruda as a pseudonym from a Czech poet. He was born in the early 1900s in Chile. His mother died shortly after his birth from tuberculosis. His father remarried and Neruda grew up with his step mother and half siblings. At 19, while at school studying to be a French teacher, he published a book of poetry that when translated into English became 20 Love Poems and a Song of Despair. Neruda also wrote 100 Love Sonnets. It’s these two collections I’m going to be talking about today.

As he grew older, Neruda discovered politics, and became a Communist. His poetry changed through that time, as all poets evolve with their poetry (much as novelists, short story authors and painters do). His “non-love” poems are what I’m going to try to talk about in two weeks.

Neruda was many things in his life, including a Nobel Prize winner in 1971. He was actively involved in Chilean politics, as a diplomat, a senator, a political outcast (when Communism was outlawed in 1948, there was a warrant for his arrest, he hid with friends and escaped to Argentina, later returning to Chile.) and an adviser to subsequent Chilean governments.

Neruda isn’t as well known in America as he is the rest of the world. Many disagreed with his politics, and anyone with a grasp of history knows how a Communist poet would have been regarded during certain time frames of our history here in the United States. However, in the last few years, he is becoming more widely known.

His writing is…stunning. I don’t have many other words for it. His love poetry (and his other poems, I’m sure) entangle a lot of nature into them. He has had the term Whitmanesque applied to him. Neruda died in 1973. Here are a couple of websites I liked for biographical information on him (and yes, one is Wikipedia). Go here for the non Wikipedia site.

I will offer a word of advice before reading Neruda’s work. Parcel them out. I tried to read too many in too short of a period of time so the nature imagery began to run together a bit for me. But even with that happening, there were so many stunning uses of imagery, language and message that Neruda had that I wanted to throw it all down and write poetry myself. But as that part of my brain has atrophied and I know that anything I could manage to get onto paper after reading one of the masters would cause me sobbing grief, I didn’t.

Here are some bits from his poems. Please, do yourself a favor and read some of his poetry. Even if you rarely read poetry or never do, his are worth the time to at least read a few.

Poem VII from Twenty Love Poems and a 1 Song of Despair:

“Leaning into the afternoons I cast my sad nets
towards your oceanic eyes.

There in the highest blaze my solitude lengthens and flames,
its arms turning like a drowning man’s.

I send out red signals across your absent eyes
that move like the sea near a lighthouse.

You keep only darkness, my distant female,
from your regard sometimes the coast of dread emerges.

Leaning into the afternoons I fling my sad nets
to that sea that beats on your marine eyes.

The birds of night peck at the first stars
that flash my soul when I love you.

The night gallops on its shadowy mare
shedding blue tassels over the land.”

The following is from Sonnet II from 100 Love Sonnets

“But you and I, love, we are together
from our clothes down to our roots:
together in the autumn, in water, in hip, until
we can be alone together–only you, only me.

To think of the effort, that the current carried
so many stones, the delta of Boroa water;
to think that you and I, divided by trains and nations”

From Sonnet V:

“I did not hold your night, or your air, or the dawn:
only the earth, the truth of the fruit in clusters,
the apples that swell as they drink the sweet water,
the clay and the resins of your sweet-smelling land.

From Quinchamali where your eyes began
to the Frontera where your feet were made for me,
you are my dark familiar clay:
holding your hips, I hold the wheat in its fields again.

Woman from Arauco, maybe you didn’t know
how before I loved you I forgot your kisses.
But my heart went on, remembering your mouth–and I
went on

and on through the streets like a man wounded,
until I understood, Love: I had found
my place, a land of kisses and volcanoes.”

From Sonnet VII:

“That is why, when I heard your voice repeat
Come with me, it was as if you had let loose
the grief, the love, the fury of a cork-trapped wine

that geysers flooding from deep in its vault:
in my mouth I felt the taste of fire again,
of blood and carnations, of rock and scald.”

From Sonnet XI:

“I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body,
the soevereign nose of your arrogant face,
I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes,”

From Sonnet XVI:

“Your hips were that much of the moon for me;
your deep mouth and its delights, that much sun;
your heart, fiery with its long red rays,”

From Sonnet XXIX:

“You come from poverty, from the houses of the South,
from the rugged landscapes of cold and of earthquake
that offered us–after those gods had tumbled
to their deaths–the lesson of life, shaped in the clay.

You are a little horse of black clay, a kiss
of dark mud, my love, a clay poppy,
dove of the twilight that flew along the roads,
piggy bank of tears from our poor childhood.

Little one, you’ve kept the heart of poverty in you,
your feet used to sharp rocks,
your mouth that didn’t always have bread, or sweets.

You come from the poor South, where my soul began;
in that high sky your mother is still washing clothes
with my mother. That’s why I chose you, companera.”

From Sonnet XXXVI:

“You with your sickle that lifts the perfumes,
you with the bossy soapsuds,
you climbing my crazy ladders and stairs,”

From Sonnet L:

“Because you are small as you are, let it
rip: let the meteor of your laughter
fly: electrify the natural names of things!”

From Sonnet LXXXIX:

“When I die, I want your hands on my eyes
I want the light and wheat of your beloved hands
to pass their freshness over me once more:
I want to feel the softness that changed my destiny.”

As you can see, most of the Sonnets I did not quote in their fullness, I just wanted to give some examples of why Neruda is a master. A sense of what has made him endure on 42 years beyond his death, and how his poetry is still relevant today to those that love, even the poems that are almost a 100 years old.

Let me know what you think! Next time we’ll talk about Neruda’s “other” stuff.