Sunday, 18 October 2009

PABLO NERUDA -July 12, 1904-September 23 1973) Poet of love

I discovered Pablo Neruda's work whilst recovering from a sickness,in a kind of melancholic disconnected drift.I'd been listening to lots of sad songs, not a particular good thing to do everyday,every moment. A while ago now, but around this time of the year.Autumnal breezes failed me, the long nights haunted me, and then a good friend gave me a copy of Neruda's book " The Captains Verses " and I got hooked.I have always been quite lucky ,because just in time Poets arrive and rescue me,their words offering more pain relief than bloody valium, or other so called quick instant fixes.It was years later ,I realised I had been temporarily healed by one of the greatest and most influential poets of the 20th century.

Pablo was born in 1904 in Parral, Chile, the son of a railway worker who later moved hhis family to Temuco in the south of Chile.His first poem was published when he was 14. His original intention was to be a teacher, but he did not complete the course.By the time he was 21 he had published a collection of poems which became a best seller (" Twenty Love poems and a song of despair ",1924) noted for a charged erotism and marked him as a fine purveyor of love poems.With his success in the literary field came the opportunity to travel and earn more money with the Chilean consular service.This at first ,took him to the Far East. Later he was transferred to Beunos Aires, and in 1934 to Barcelona.It was in Madrid University the same year that he gave his first large-scale poetry reading.Shortly afterwards he was posted to Madrid, at that time the centre of a great poetic renaissance.

He was formed ,politically, by his marriage to his second wife,Delia del Carril, a veteran activist, and his experiences of the Spanish Civil War.The effect it had on him was to force him to re-think his approach to content and style.He claimed that from then on his poetry would change with the changed world to become more easily understood by the masses.In Spain he teamed up again with Federico Garcia Lorca whom he had first met and partied with in 1933 in Beunos Aires.It is hard to overestimate the influence of Lorca on Neruda both in regard to poetry and politics.Lorca once said that Neruda was incapable of irony or hatred.The latter is open to question , though a master of words, he often seemed a man of contradiction. Their were periods in his life where he seems very anti-humanist, then he discovers an evagelical proselytising, humanist viewpoint.An enigma really the sheer diversity of his poetic styles truly amazing, from love poems to surrealism, political manifestos to historical epics.An avid reader himself Rimbaud and Baudelaire were also strong influences,but his own unique style rang clear.

Back in his homeland Neruda became furiously active in raising support for the Spanish Republicans, and where he had considered himself an Anarchist became a Communist.One of his proudest achievements was helping to organise political asylum in Chile for refugees after the fallof the Spanish Republic.During the Second World War Neruda travelled extensvelly throughout Latin America.In 1945 he was elected to the Senate and awarded the top literary prize in Chile. As a communist he helped to campaign for the presidency Of Gonzalea Videla who, once he assumed power, turned against the communists. Neruda took a brave stand against Videla in public, and as a result had to take flight. For over a year he lived in hiding, moving from safe house to safe house until he was able to cross the Andes on horseback and escape to Argentina. In 1952 with a change of government Neruda returned to Santiago in triumph. In 1958 and 1964 Neruda took part unsuccessfully, in the presidential elections.In !970 and in poor health, he campaigned vigorously for his friend Allende who became President. In 1971 Neruda travelled to Paris as ambassador for his country, and to Stockholm to recieve the Nobel Prize for literature.On September 11,1973, Allende was killed during the assault on the presidential palace, and 12 days later Neruda Neruda died of heart failure in Santiago.His funeral took place amidst a massive police presence, and mourners took advantage of the occasion to protest against Pinochet's new fascist regime.

In his lifetime he produced an astonishing amount of work, much of it of love and politics, he appreciated without fear of loss, the shared love and sensuality that joins him to the earth and gives meaning to the world.Perhaps their are dark sides to him that I have missed out,his alleged misogony , stalinist tendencies but he taught me about love and many other things, and for that I am gratefull, and of course to the friend who gave me his book.

In a Famous piece,"Concerning Impure Poetry ", he wrote -

"At certain times of the day or night, it is good to look at objects at rest :wheels that have crossed vast, dusty spaces, with their great loads of vegetables or minerals, sacks from coalyards, barrels and baskets,handles and hafts of carpenter's tools. Man's contact with the earth flows flows from them as an example to the poet in torment. Worn surfaces, the marks left on things by hands, the aura of these objects, tragic at times, pitiful at others, brings to reality a kind of fascination that should not be underestimated.

In then can be seen the blurred confusion of human life, the welter of things, material used and abandoned, the imprints made by feet and fingers, humanity's lasting mark carried inside and outside all objects.That is the sort of poetry we should be seeking - poetry worn away as though by acid, by the hand's work, smeared with sweat and smoke, smelling of lillies and urine,stained by the variety of our actions, within the law or outside it.

A poetry as impure as the clothes we wear, as the body, soiled with food and shame, with wrinkles, observations, dreams, wakefulness, prophecies, declaration of love and loathing, stupid behaviour, shocks, idylls, political creeds, denials,doubts affirmations, taxes. "

he also wrote,

"I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close."

Amen I say .What follows are some of my favourite pieces of Pablo's poetry, best  in original language Spanish, but I personally don't speak it so I offer only translations, hope you enjoy.


under the trees light
has dropped from the top of the sky,
like a green
latticework of branches,
on every leaf, drifting down like clean
white sand

A cicada sends
its sawing song
high into the empty air

The world is a glass overflowing
with water


I crave your mouth,your voice, your hair.
Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.
Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day
I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps.

I hunger for your sleek laugh,
your hands the color of a savage harvest
hunger for the pale stones of your fingernails
I want to eat your skin like a whole almond.

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

and I pace around hungry, sniffing the twilight,
hunting for you, for your hot heart,
like a puma in the barrens of Quitrature.


Facing you
I am not jealous.

Come with a man
at your back,
come with a hundred men in your hair,
come with a thousand men between your bosom and your feet,
come like a river
filled with drowned men
that meets the furious sea,
the eternal foam, the weather.

Bring them all
where I wait for you:
we shall always be alone,
we shall always be, you and I,
alone upon the earth
to begin life


Do you see thes hands? They have measuresd
the earth, they have seperated
minerals and cereals,
they have made peace and war,
they have demolished the distances
of all the seas and rivers,
and yet,
when they move over you,
little one,
grain of wheat,swallow,
they can not encompass you,
they are weary seeking
the twin doves
that rest or fly in your breast,
they travel the distances of your legs,
they coil in the light of your waist.
For me you are a treasure more laden
with immensity than the sea and its branches
and you are white and blue and spacious like
the earth at vintage time.
In that territory,
from your feet to your brow,
walking, walking, walking,
I shall spend my life.

In the night we shall go in
to steal
a flowering branch.

We shall climb over the wall
in the darkness of the alien garden,
two shadows in the shadow.

Winter is not yet gone,
and the apple trees appears
suddenly changed
into a cascade of fragrant stars.

In the night we shall go in
up to its trembling firmament,
and your little hands and mine
will steal the stars.

And silently,
to our house,
in the night and the shadow,
with your steps will enter
perfume's silent step
and with starry feet
the clear body of spring


To whoever is not listening to the sea
this Friday morning,to whoever is cooped up
in house or office,factory or women
or street or mine or harsh prison cell:
to him I come,and, without speaking or looking,
I arrive and open the door of his prison,
and a vibration starts up,vaque and insistent,
a great fragment of thunder sets in motion
the rumble of the planet and the foam,
the raucous rivers of the ocean flood,
the star vibrates swiftly in its corona,
and the sea is beating, dying and continuing.

So,drawn on by my destiny,
I ceaselessly must listen to and keep
the sea's lamenting in my awareness,
I must feel the crash of the hard water
and gather it up in a perpetual cup
so that, whatever those in prison may be,
wherever they suffer the autumn's castigation,
I may be there with an errant wave,
I may move,passing through windows,
and hearing me, eyes will glance upward
saying "How can I reach the sea?"
And shall I broadcast, saying nothig,
the starry echoes of the wave,
a breking up of foam and of qucksand,
a rustling 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.

You've asked me what the lobster is weaving there with
his golden feet?
I reply, the ocean knows this.
You say, what is the ascidia waiting for in its transparent
bell? What is it waiting for?
I tell you it is waiting for time, like you.
You ask me whom the Macrocystis alga hugs in its arms?
Study, study, it at a certain hour, in a certain sea I know.
You question me about the wicked tusk of the narwhal,
and I reply by describing
how the sea unicorn with the harpoon in it dies.
You enquire about the Kingfisher's feathers,
which tremble in the pure sprigs of the southern tides?
Or you've found in the cards a new question touching on
the crystal achitecture
of the sea anemone, and you'll deal that to me now?
You want to understand the electric nature of the ocean
The armoured stalacite that breaks as it walks.
The hook of the angler fish, the music stretched out
in the deep places like a thread in the water?

I want to tell you the ocean knows this, that life in its
jewel boxes
is endless as the sand, impossible to count,pure,
and among the blood-colored grapes time has made the
hard and shiny, made the jellyfish full of light
and united its knot, letting its musical thrads fall
from a horn of plenty made of infinite mother-of-pearl.

I am nothing but the empty net which has gone on ahead
of human eyes, dead in those darknesses,
of fingers accustomed to the triangle, longtitudes
on the timid globe of an orange.

I walked around as you do, investigating
the endless star,
and in my net, during the night, I woke up naked,
the only thing caught, a fish trapped inside the wind.

Translated by Robert Bly

" As the first bullets ripped into the guitars of Spain, when blood instead of music gushed out of them, my poetry stopped dead like a ghost in the streets of human anguish and a rush of roots and blood surged up through it. From then on, my road meets everyman's road. And suddenly I see that from the south of solitude I have moved north, which is the people, the people whose sword, whose handkerchief my humble poetry wants to be, to dry the seat of its vast sorrows and give it a weapon in it's struggle."

-Pablo Neruda, Memoirs.


Pablo Neruda: a passion for Life, by Adam Feinstein. Bloomsbury,2005

The Essential Neruda :ed Mark Eisner. City Lights 2004

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