Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair – Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda – the name evokes romance and revolution in my consciousness, a riot of metaphors and action, a turbo charged celebration of love and beauty, the most original and compelling images, a flood of high emotion that assails my senses and dulls them so that the only thing I am receptive to when I have Neruda’s verse before my eyes is Neruda’s verse. Everything else blacks out and I’m transported to a world I have never seen before – and it’s beautiful!

When after long deliberation I made up my mind to read him I made it a point to start at the first collection Neruda had published in his life: Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair.

But I’m not a very big fan of the limited aesthetic of love poetry, which often rehashes done-to-death old metaphor and similes, stringing the most common emotions in the most common lines; which is rather subpar, of the throwaway variety, read once and never to be revisited. So I approached the collection under review with some reserve.

I was stumped, stunned, silenced. From the very first poem Neruda shamed me. From third poem onwards I was apologising to him. By the time I reached the end of the collection I became Neruda’s devotee. And so I am to this day and will remain forever!

There is no one who marries terrestrial or nature’s metaphors of earth, sea, fire, wind, trees, moon and stars so masterfully to the anatomy of their beloved.

Below I collect some of the beautiful images from the collection:

Take a look at the simple and stunning eroticism of these lines. From the opening poem:

Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs,
you look like a world, lying in surrender.
My rough peasant’s body digs in you
and makes the son leap from the depth of the earth.

And the transition of the beloved from white hills to weapon.

I was alone like a tunnel. The birds fled from me,
To survive myself I forged you like a weapon,…

In ‘Almost Out of the Sky’ we have the most innovative and unlikely metaphors for the beloved. One can only appreciate the beauty by reading and re-reading these lines which have since then become my signature favourites.

But you, cloudless girl, question of smoke, corn tassel.
You were what the wind was making with illuminated leaves.
Behind the nocturnal mountains, white lily of conflagration,
ah, I can say nothing! You were made of everything.

All elements fail the beloved. She is simply ‘made of everything!’

From ‘Every day you play’, Neruda finds the beloved in the most unlikely places. Holding a cluster of fruit is like holding the beloved’s head:

You are more than this white head that I hold tightly
as a cluster of fruit, every day, between my hands.

And further on:

You are like nobody since I love you.
Let me spread you out among yellow garlands.

Oh let me remember you as you were before you existed.

And if you go on:

You are here. Oh, you do not run away.
Cling to me as though you were frightened.

How you must have suffered getting accustomed to me,
my savage, solitary soul, my name that sends them all running.

Neruda ends the poem with a striking image:

I want
to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.

(First published in Spanish 1924; translated from the Spanish by W. S. Merwin)

Poem: Poverty – Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was a titan of Latin American poetry.  He commands great influence not only on the Spanish speaking countries but throughout the world of poetry. This poem comes from his collection titled “The Captain’s Verses”.

 

 

Translated from the Spanish by Donald D. Walsh.

Ah you don’t want to,
you’re scared
of poverty,
you don’t want
to go to the market with worn-out shoes
and come back with the same old dress.

My love, we are not fond,
as the rich would like us to be,
of misery.
We shall extract it like an evil tooth
that up to now has bitten the heart of man.

But I don’t want
you to fear it.
If through my fault it comes to your
dwelling,
if poverty drives away
your golden shoes,
let it not drive away your laughter which is
my life’s bread.
If you can’t pay the rent
go off to work with a proud step,
and remember, my love, that I am
watching you
and together we are the greatest wealth
that was ever gathered upon the earth.

Poem: In You The Earth – Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was a titan of Latin American poetry.  He commands great influence not only among the Spanish speaking countries but throughout the world of poetry. This poem is an example of the latter from his second collection titled “The Captain’s Verses”.

Translated from the Spanish by Donald D. Walsh.

 

Little
rose,
roselet,
at times,
tiny and naked,
it seems
as though you would fit
in one of my hands,
as though I’ll clasp you like this
and carry you to my mouth,
but
suddenly
my feet touch your feet and my mouth your lips:
you have grown,
your shoulders rise like two hills,
your breasts wander over my breast,
my arm scarcely manages to encircle the thin
new-moon line of your waist:
in love you have loosened yourself like sea water:
I can scarcely measure the sky’s most spacious eyes
and I lean down to your mouth to kiss the earth.

Poem: Every Day You Play – Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was a titan of Latin American poetry.  He commands great influence not only among the Spanish speaking countries but throughout the world of poetry. He is known for writing surrealist poems, poems about history and blissful love poems. This poem is an example of the latter from his second collection titled “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair”

Translated from the Spanish by W.S. Merwin.

Every day you play

Every day you play with the light of the universe.
Subtle visitor, you arrive in the flower and the water.
You are more than this white head that I hold tightly
as a cluster of fruit, every day, between my hands.

You are like nobody since I love you.
Let me spread you out among yellow garlands.
Who writes your name in letters of smoke among the stars
of the south?
Oh let me remember you as you were before you existed.

Suddenly the wind howls and bangs at my shut window.
The sky is a net crammed with shadowy fish.
Here all the winds let go sooner or later, all of them.
The rain takes off her clothes.

The birds go by, fleeing.
The wind. The wind.
I can contend only against the power of men.
The storm whirls dark leaves
and turns loose all the boats that were moored last night to
the sky.

You are here. Oh, you do not run away.
You will answer me to the last cry.
Cling to me as though you were frightened.
Even so, at one time a strange shadow ran through your eyes.

Now, now too, little one, you bring me honeysuckle,
and even your breasts smell of it.
While the sad wind goes slaughtering butterflies
I love you, and my happiness bites the plum of your mouth.

How you must have suffered getting accustomed to me,
my savage, solitary soul, my name that sends them’ all
running.
So many times we have seen the morning star burn, kissing
our eyes,
and over our heads the grey light unwind in turning fans.

My words rained over you, stroking you.
A long time I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your
body.
I go so far as to think that you own the universe.
I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, bluebells,
dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses.
I want
to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.

Poem: Body of a Woman – Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was a titan of Latin American poetry.  He commands great influence not only among the Spanish speaking countries but throughout the world of poetry. He is known for writing surrealist poems, poems about history and blissful love poems. This poem is an example of the latter from his second collection titled “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair”

Translated from the Spanish by W.S. Merwin

Body of a Woman

Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs,
you look like a world, lying in surrender.
My rough peasant’s body digs in you
and makes the son leap from the depth of the earth.

I was alone like a tunnel. The birds fled from me,
and night swamped me with its crushing invasion.
To survive myself I forged you like a weapon,
like an arrow in my bow, a stone in my sling.

But the hour of vengeance falls, and I love you.
Body of skin, of moss, of eager and firm milk.
Oh the goblets of the breast! Oh the eyes of absence!
Oh the roses of the pubis! Oh your voice, slow and sad!

Body of my woman, I will persist in your grace.
My thirst, my boundless desire, my shifting road!
Dark river-beds where the eternal thirst flows
and weariness follows, and the infinite ache.

Poem: Almost Out of the Sky – Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was a titan of Latin American poetry.  He commands great influence not only among the Spanish speaking countries but throughout the world of poetry. He is known for writing surrealist poems, poems about history and blissful love poems. This poem is an example of the latter from his second collection titled “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair”

Translated from the Spanish by W.S. Merwin

Almost out of the sky

Almost out of the sky, half of the moon
anchors between two mountains.
Turning, wandering night, the digger of eyes.
Let’s see how many stars are smashed in the pool.

It makes a cross of mourning between my eyes,
and runs away.
Forge of blue metals, nights of still combats,
my heart revolves like a crazy wheel.
Girl who have come from so far, been brought from so far,
sometimes your glance flashes out under the sky.
Rumbling, storm, cyclone of fury,
you cross above my heart without stopping.
Wind from the tombs carries off, wrecks, scatters your
sleepy root.

The big trees on the other side of her, uprooted.
But you, cloudless girl, question of smoke, corn tassel.
You were what the wind was making with illuminated leaves.
Behind the nocturnal mountains, white lily of conflagration,
ah, I can say nothing! You were made of everything.

Longing that sliced my breast into pieces,
it is time to take another road, on which she does not smile.

Storm that buried the bells, muddy swirl of torments,
why touch her now, why make her sad.

Oh to follow the road that leads away from everything,
without anguish, death, winter waiting along it
with their eyes open through the dew.