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
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.