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For the original Spanish

For Brian's translations of Cattafi in this issue.

For a feature on Brindin Press in Fall 2001

For Brian's translations of Circe Maia in Fall 2001

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Translations from The Captain's Verses published by Anvil Press, London

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For more Poetry




Pablo Neruda

Translated and introduced by Brian Cole Brian Cole


Pablo Neruda is undoubtedly a major figure in the world's literature, as well as dominating twentieth-century South American culture. The award of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 must rank as one of the best deserved in the history of that foundation. He was born Ricardo Neftalí Reyes Basoalto in 1904 in southern Chile, the son of an engine-driver; only in 1945 did he legally take the name Pablo Neruda. From this humble beginning he built a colourful life as diplomat, communist, senator, freedom fighter, fugitive — but always a poet. His diplomatic duties took him to India and Indonesia, Mexico, Argentina, Spain and France, and he travelled widely in his private capacity in pursuit of his political and literary interests.

In his early life in the Far East he married his first wife, and had a daughter who died young; his journals make little mention of this his only child, or of her mother. Like Sherlock Holmes' 'dog that didn't bark', the absence of comment on his first wife and only child must be evidence of something — was it just that he knew all along that the relationship was a mistake, a young man's folly? Or was the psychic wound too deep for him to express his grief?

In the mid '30s he experienced the Spanish Civil War among Republican sympathisers — including Federico García Lorca, with whom he had become close friends in Argentina. Lorca was murdered by the Fascists in 1936, while Neruda was in Spain. At that time he was also greatly influenced by his second wife, Delia del Carril, and much of his work thereafter is politically committed and idealistic. It was at this time that he converted to communism. In the aftermath of the collapse of communist societies it is easy to dismiss this conversion as misguided, but we must remember Neruda's experience of Latin American poverty and the excessive gap between the very rich and the very poor, as well as the Spanish Civil War. It was natural for him to see the communist ideal as offering the possibility of a better society for his country, and as a way of giving dignity to all its citizens.

Neruda was recalled to Chile in 1938, and then spent three years as Consul-General in Mexico. On his return to Chile in 1943 he formally joined the Communist Party, and was elected to the Senate in 1945. Under the repressive regime of Gonzalez Videla in Chile, the Party was outlawed in 1948 and Neruda was forced to flee into exile with Delia, first to Argentina, thence to France. Only in 1954 was he allowed to return to his beloved Chile.

The last fifteen years of his life — apart from a short spell as Ambassador to France — were spent at Isla Negra (his house on the coast near Valparaiso, opposite an island of that name) with his third wife, Matilde Urrutia. His country was ruled by a regime that was considerably more humane than in much of his earlier life, and he no doubt felt he could devote his life to his writing. Indeed, he resigned his ambassadorship after less than two years, because of homesickness for Chile. He had returned for the celebration of his Nobel Prize, and on revisiting Isla Negra decided immediately not to leave it again. He telephoned his resignation to the President, who was then in New York.

In 1973, shortly after the murder of his friend President Salvador Allende and the return of repressive government to Chile, Pablo Neruda died. He had long suffered from cancer of the prostate, and had been ill when the collapse of the Allende regime was announced, but it is very likely that his death was hastened by his sadness at his country's relapse into authoritarianism.


Absence

Scarcely have I left you
than you are with me, crystalline
or trembling,
or anxious, wounded by myself,
or overflowing with love, as when your eyes
close upon the gift of life
which ceaselessly I give you.

My love,
we found each other
thirsting, and we drank up
all the water and the blood,
we met each other
hungering,
and we bit each other
as the fire bites,
leaving bleeding wounds.

But wait for me,
preserve for me your sweetness.
I shall also give you
a rose.


The Insect

From your hips down to your feet
I want to make a long journey.

I am smaller than an insect.

Over these hills I pass,
hills the colour of oats,
crossed with faint tracks
that only I know,
scorched centimetres,
pale perspectives.

Now here is a mountain.
I shall never leave this.
What a giant growth of moss!
And a crater, a rose
of moist fire!

Coming down your legs
I trace a spiral,
or sleep on the way,
and arrive at your knees,
round hardness
like the hard peaks
of a bright continent.

Sliding down to your feet
I reach the eight slits
of your pointed, slow,
peninsular toes,
and from them I fall down
to the white emptiness
of the sheet, seeking blindly
and hungrily the form
of your fiery crucible!


Always

I am not jealous
of what came before me.

Come with a man
on your shoulders,
come with a hundred men in your hair,
come with a thousand men between your breasts and your feet,
come like a river
full of drowned men
which flows down to the wild sea,
to the eternal surf, to Time!

Bring them all
to where I am waiting for you;
we shall always be alone,
we shall always be you and I
alone on earth,
to start our life!