Thursday, January 13, 2011

Poetry, by Pablo Neruda


Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) has been one of my top five or so poets for inspiration since I discovered poetry and began writing in college classes in the early 1990s. He had an illustrious career, and is considered by some to be the greatest poet in the Spanish language. He is famous for being a very active Communist politician with a turbulent history in his country, Chile. Near the end of his life he won the Nobel prize for literature, in 1971. (He deserves much more than I am summarizing here, and you can read more at the Poetry Foundation.) I know him best for his odes to ordinary things (which inspired me to write an ode to quinoa here and garlic here) and his sensual love poems. There is a sweet film called "Il Postino" in which an exiled Neruda and his love poems help a humble Postman woo the lovely Beatrice. One of my favorites of his love poems is Body of a Woman.

In the poem I post here, Neruda describes not his love for a woman, but for Poetry, when she arrived. For me it felt just like this when I began that first poetry class, and started to write. The universe opened, and the poet began the first faint line, / faint, without substance, pure / nonsense, / pure wisdom / of someone who knows nothing . . .

by Pablo Neruda

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 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.

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
that fire,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
and open,
palpitating plantations,
shadow perforated,
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.
(translated by Alistair Reid)

La poesía
de Pablo Neruda

Y FUE a esa edad... Llegó la poesía
a buscarme. No sé, no sé de dónde
salió, de invierno o río.
No sé cómo ni cuándo,
no, no eran voces, no eran
palabras, ni silencio,
pero desde una calle me llamaba,
desde las ramas de la noche,
de pronto entre los otros,
entre fuegos violentos
o regresando solo,
allí estaba sin rostro
y me tocaba.

Yo no sabía qué decir, mi boca
no sabía
mis ojos eran ciegos,
y algo golpeaba en mi alma,
fiebre o alas perdidas,
y me fui haciendo solo,
aquella quemadura,
y escribí la primera línea vaga,
vaga, sin cuerpo, pura
pura sabiduría
del que no sabe nada,
y vi de pronto
el cielo
y abierto,
plantaciones palpitantes,
la sombra perforada,
por flechas, fuego y flores,
la noche arrolladora, el universo.

Y yo, mínimo ser,
ebrio del gran vacío
a semejanza, a imagen
del misterio,
me sentí parte pura
del abismo,
rodé con las estrellas,
mi corazón se desató en el viento.


Neruda was much loved in Peru, and to keep you warm after snuggling with Pablo, I give you Afro-Peruvian singer Susana Baca singing De Los Amores (About Love); lyrics here, and no, the lyrics were not written by Neruda, but by Javier Lazo (who wrote the music too, I think).



Friko said...

Thank you so much for this post.

I have a difficult day ahead, Neruda's words and Baca singing will accompany me and it won't be half as hard because at the end of it there will again be poetry and music.

Poetry (and music) arrived in search of me. . . . . .

What else could I possibly need.

Woman in a Window said...

It is a great irony, i think, to love, feed and be fed by poetry, for it exists beyond language.

Beyond these few words, is only an ache that is sometimes answered.


Woman in a Window said...

oh, i feel it here, the ache and i open it like a velcro door, a trap, it has been trapped inside of me. i pull. i open. and there it spills from me, the tiny box of my shoulder, from bone and sinew, a slight gauze of blood. i cup my hand to catch its escape so that i might drink it, hold it once again. words, words. nothing. my hands hold nothing. and yet i am flurry to catch the flow.

(this from you just now)


Marion said...

When I found this poem, "Poetry", by Neruda, I was knocked off my feet by it. I typed it from the library book (it was that long ago), and still have the copy hanging on my closet door. I memorized it and often speak it like a prayer or the rosary...I now own all of Neruda's books that I could find and oh, how he feeds me!...but none of his poems are as powerful as that first find. Thank you for sharing this. Your photos are beautiful!!


Maureen said...

A gorgeous post, Ruth. I began reading Neruda when I was in middle school so many, many years ago and have never stopped. I wrote a multi-part poem called "Neruda's Memoirs" which is the title of my forthcoming debut collection.

Your odes are lovely.

Oliag said...

Other than children's books, one of the first poetry books I bought for myself was one of Neruda's Odes. I truely love a poet who can make poems of lemons and onions. (or quinoa and garlic:) ... Thank you for making me think of him today...and for getting me to get out that book I bought so long ago and enjoy it once again...

Oh and how much I loved "Il Postino" too! That is one I should revisit soon too!

Helena said...

I have to confess that I haven't read Pablo Neruda yet. Of course I know him. Maybe I will look for some Finnish translations now.

Beautiful photos again.

neighbor said...

The Neruda-admiration-society! Among friends, indeed. One of the volumes I don't have is Ode to Common Things, and maybe it's time! I love the Rumi-ness of this one (or the Pablo-ness, after all):

If each day falls
inside each night,
there exists a well
where clarity is imprisoned.

We need to sit on the rim
of the well of darkness
and fish for fallen light
with patience.
ah, he *knows* doesn't he?! Love, love the poem you posted today. What book is it from?

George said...

A wonderful posting, Ruth. So much of this poem resonates with me, though, unlike many of you, I do not write poetry on a regular basis. I absolutely love the last two lines: "I wheeled with the stars, my heart broke loose on the wind." Also loved the interesting music of Susana Baca. Thanks.

Patricia said...

This poem bathes us with the beauty of sensation and your photographs give us an edited view of our world at its most glamorous. The voice and the music go straight to the soul. Thank you for this balm.

Ron Bennett said...

Ruth - thank you for this beautiful post - Just this past weekend I pickup "Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon" Neruda's poems translated by Stephen Mitchell. As I write this and listen to Susan Baca's music I feel much inspired to delve into his poetry. Thanks for setting the mood.

Barb said...

Hello Ruth, My favorite lines are: "I wheeled with the stars, my heart broke loose on the wind." Those tiny cones of rebirth on the evergreen are a wonderful metaphor for Neruda's poetry. I see you are blanketed in white.

Ruth said...

Dear Friko, I'm sorry you had a difficult day, though I hope it wasn't as hard as you anticipated. What a gift, a circle, to know that you took from this poem and music some hope and lightness going into your day.

It's all here, all the beauty, arriving in search of us. The question is, Will it find us?

Ruth said...

Erin, and so, you return the ironic gift to me.

The true gift is always inside, from bone and sinew. Words, music, art, they are all nothing, I guess. But they tell the story of what feeds us. Along with eyes, if we are fortunate enough to look into them.

Ruth said...

Hello and welcome, Marion. It's great to see you here and at Rilke and Rumi too!

I'm amazed by this poem. I'm amazed that you, too, were so inspired by it. I'm amazed that you and I keep writing poems because in part of this inspiration. I'm amazed that we now meet. The human exchange (starting with Sappho?) through this thing called poetry makes me wheel with the stars!

Ruth said...

Hello and welcome, Maureen, it's great to see you here, and at the Rilke blog!

As I just said to Marion, it is thrilling to find connections with new friends and old through poetry, through Neruda, Rilke, and all the stars. Congratulations on yuor upcoming debut collection! I wish you a deep and wide audience, and an abundant muse.

Ruth said...

Oliag, I treasure you and that intelligent, insightful past of yours. Imagine, pulling out Neruda, like pulling down a star from the sky. How fortunate we are!

Ruth said...

Helena, I hope you can find Neruda in Finnish, and that he will keep you warm in Helsinki.

Thank you for your kind words.

Ruth said...

Hi, Neighbor!

Wow, I have never read those lines. It really is so Rumi-esque! I'm stunned into stillness. I'll take this with me into the day . . . . . . fish for fallen light / with patience.

Thank you so so much for this.

Ruth said...

Hello, George. Haven't we spoken before, about turning with the stars? I think so. You may not often write poetry (I didn't know you did write it! but I'm not surprised), but your heart breaks loose on the wind on a regular basis, from what I can tell. Besides that, your photographs, paintings, writings and sharings poetically open the heavens for me and your other friends. Have a wonderful weekend, George! Looks like it's a bit warmer in SC than in MD, but still chilly! Enjoy the sun anyway.

Ruth said...

Patricia, truly, I'm glad you feel those connections here, as I do.

Ruth said...

Ron, I like this synchronicity, and that hot title! I wish you a warm, rich weekend with his sensuous words.

Ruth said...

Hello, Barb. There is a freedom dance in Neruda, an embrace of sensual experience, and the freest heart.

Like you, we have a white landscape. I know how much you enjoy yours, I do ours. Happy weekend!

More Than Meets the I said...

'There I was without a face
and it touched me'
These lines always bring tears to my eyes... One can instantly fall in love with poetry by reading this poem. I have recently discovered this poem by Neruda. Hope you and your friends enjoy it, Ruth.
The Stroke

by Pablo Neruda

Ink that entrances me
drop by drop
and goes guarding the trail
of my reason and unreason
like a large scar that’s barely
seen when the body’s asleep
in its discourse of dissolution.

Better perhaps if
all your essence
were to have emptied in one drop
and thrown itself on a single page
stained it with a single green star
and that only that stain
were to have been all
I had written in the whole of my life,
without alphabet or interpretations:
a single dark stroke
without words.

from Las Manos del Dia

Marcie said...

I'm not all that familiar with am enjoying reading his words thru you. Such beauty in them...such pure poetry. Thank-you for sharing!

Terresa said...

Neruda is a master, this is one of my favorite poems, rings with beauty even through translation (although I prefer it in Spanish, thanks for including it).

Hoping you have a wonderful weekend!

J.G. said...

"Body of a Woman" is one of my favorites, too. I have just enough high school Spanish left that I can get most of the words, with help from the English translation on the facing page in my copy. With his rich sound and sense combination, Neruda communications the fullness of emptiness better than anyone. Thank you for reminding me it's time to re-read.

Vagabonde said...

I thought I had commented on your post So What with les Jardins du Luxembourg – a great post and lovely pictures. We went there in November 2009 and the fall colors were gorgeous. I like your picture of the dog Ara. I checked your snow, and it looks very soft. I have checked the snow here this week – not soft at all. I have not read Neruda’s poetry. From the poem you publish I can see that he is a master. When reading a poem in English from a foreign writer I think it is important to have a good translation, or know the language. I have read several translations of some French poems. Some translators had done “literal” translations which made the poems very flat. It is not easy to translate poetry with the right touch or the meaningful word. This poem is truly beautiful.

Julie said...

Hello, Ruth! I hate that I have been away for so long, but I'm having a great time catching up. This is wonderful. I love Pablo Neruda, and your pictures, as always, are so beautiful.

When people ask me if I can recommend a poem "about" poetry, Pablo Neruda springs to mind. I only know English translations and not the original language (or very little of it), but the rhythm is so perfect, and I love the voice. "Poetry" is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing all this beauty!

Julie said...

P.S. - I had to come back to tell you that I LOVE your poems, "Ode to Quinoa" and "Ode to Garlic." My stupid old computer wouldn't let me hear the podcast, but maybe the computer at the library will support it. But just reading the words was awesome! I didn't know what Quinoa is, so I also appreciate the explanation (and recipes...yum). Beautiful work, Ruth!

cathyswatercolors said...

Hi Ruth, Beautiful photos! As i write this i am enjoying the music of susana. Thank you. We should all be so lucky to discover our passions in life.

I have been working like a fool, and have missed commenting lately. MlK day this weekend leaves me feeling inspired. Time....:)

Jeanie said...

Ruth, your knowledge of poetry is ever so much greater than mine, and I always learn when I visit you. I'm always dazzled, too, by the perfect eye candy you share with us in the form of your photographs. Thank you.

Loring Wirbel said...

Yay! I always associate grasping of poetry with adolescence, since it seemed to be about 13 or 14 I really got it. T.S. Eliot, I think. And I LOVES me some Neruda.

Ruth said...

Hello, and welcome, More Than Meets the I. On your first comment-visit, you bring tears and a poem. What grace! I did not know "The Stroke" and it's tremendous, especially the second stanza. Ahhh, we struggle to express essence, we feel it, and sometimes we get a glimpse. Often that is beyond words. Sometimes words like these transport us there.

Thank you.

Ruth said...

Terresa, I enjoy reading the Spanish. I wish I understood it. I am gaining much appreciation for good translations, from conversations with Lorenzo, Friko, and others at the Rilke blog.

Thank you, the weekend is beautiful, with a gentle snow now, and the sky darkening to gray. Night soon.

Ruth said...

J.G., I love finding out that you too love Neruda, and that poem "Body of a Woman." His poems feel more organic to me than any other poet's that I've read.

Ruth said...

Vagabonde, thank you for reflecting on my posts.

We have been having interesting discussions about translating poems at the Rilke blog (link on my sidebar). My German friend Inge and I really got into it and continue discussing the difficulties and challenges. If you are interested, there is a terrific article linked on the sidebar of the Rilke blog about translation of poetry (specifically Rilke's, but it "translates" to any language), where he addresses the many issues, such as what to do when there is no word equivalent, whether to maintain a rhyme scheme, etc.

Yes, this poem rises from the humble, to the stars.

Ruth said...

Cathy, how did you know I was thinking about you? Seriously, like within hours, you commented. I'm glad you are fine, though busy, and I wish you a happy MLK-day-off. There is much to be thankful to him for, in spite of the tragedy of his death. Our university doesn't close, though finally they decided to cancel classes a few years ago.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Jeanie. I must be truthful that I had to do research before this post, so don't think too highly of me. It's one thing I love about blogging, having to learn more before posts. :)

Love your photos of Tennessee and the pansies in the snow.

Ruth said...

Ah, Loring, that's cool. No wonder you're so smart. You discovered poetry young.

Pat said...

Neruda is my daughter's favorite poet. I am just starting to appreciate poetry. I like Neruda's work.

Ruth said...

Pat, you have a beautiful road before you. Enjoy your newfound appreciation of poetry. It's great to have your daughter who can guide you to her loves.

Susan said...

I don't think I have seen a more beautiful explanation of how becoming a poet must feel, how you must have felt. So beautiful.

Those last two photos are just lovely. The spots of yellow on the ends of the spruce needles...yes.

Ginnie said...

Susana Baca is singing in the background as I comment, Ruth. What a soulful voice. She makes a good pairing with your post on Neruda. And your images are just WONderful. All those all the stars and sands of time.

deb said...


The song is glorious on it's own. I just had a small sweet hello/good-bye kiss from my husband , we truly are ships passing in the night so much, so it feels good to sit here with you, your photos, Neruda, and hope.

Thank you for being here for me to aspire to and dream about and long for .

And become. I am always becoming , as are you?
It is an unexpected and glorious song to become together.

Montag said...

Hooray for Neruda!

and hooray for African music in winter!