Poetry and I are not the best of friends. I have tried to break down the strange mental barrier that seems to separate me from true appreciation of the art, but to no avail. I think it likely that I will never be the kind of person to wistfully leaf through poetry anthologies for leisure, however romantic the idea might sound. There is, however, one poet for whom I will always make an exception – Pablo Neruda. With this Friday marking what would have been his 109th birthday, I thought I would set aside a post to celebrate Neruda’s contribution to the world of literature.
After coming across his name in relation to my studies, it was discovering Isabel Allende’s allusion to him as ‘The Poet’ in The House of the Spirits that provoked me to take a look at his work. Pablo Neruda was born in Chile in 1904 and began producing recognised volumes of poetry in his teens. With such an early start and a talent that only grew with time, it is little surprise that he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. Sadly, Neruda is also well known for the circumstances of his demise. As an ally of President Salvador Allende, who was overthrown by General Augusto Pinochet in the military coup in 1973, Neruda was obviously one of the top targets of the new dictatorial regime. His death in hospital on 23 September 1973 – just a few days after the coup – was ascribed to heart failure. Questions remain regarding the accuracy of this conclusion, with strong indications that he may have died at the hands of the military junta. If Neruda’s life interests you at all, I would highly recommend reading Pablo Neruda: A Passion for Life by Adam Feinstein. It is a truly fantastic biography, painting a detailed picture of Neruda’s complexity and brilliance.
Neruda’s unfortunate and premature death only adds to the resonance of his legacy. He is, however, first and foremost remembered for his remarkable poetry. After spending a huge amount of time debating which poem I would like to reproduce here (an unenviable task), I decided that I should start at the beginning of my conversion – with the first of Neruda’s poems that I came across and, in my opinion, one of the best examples of his mastery.
And Because Love Battles
And because love battles
not only in its burning agricultures
but also in the mouth of men and women,
I will finish off by taking the path away
to those who between my chest and your fragrance
want to interpose their obscure plant.
About me, nothing worse
they will tell you, my love,
than what I told you.
I lived in the prairies
before I got to know you
and I did not wait love but I was
laying in wait for and I jumped on the rose.
What more can they tell you?
I am neither good nor bad but a man,
and they will then associate the danger
of my life, which you know
and which with your passion you shared.
And good, this danger
is danger of love, of complete love
for all life,
for all lives,
and if this love brings us
the death and the prisons,
I am sure that your big eyes,
as when I kiss them,
will then close with pride,
into double pride, love,
with your pride and my pride.
But to my ears they will come before
to wear down the tour
of the sweet and hard love which binds us,
and they will say: “The one
is not a woman for you,
Why do you love her? I think
you could find one more beautiful,
more serious, more deep,
more other, you understand me, look how she’s light,
and what a head she has,
and look at how she dresses,
and etcetera and etcetera”.
And I in these lines say:
Like this I want you, love,
love, Like this I love you,
as you dress
and how your hair lifts up
and how your mouth smiles,
light as the water
of spring upon the pure stones,
Like this I love you, beloved.
To bread I do not ask to teach me
but only not to lack during every day of life.
I don’t know anything about light, from where
it comes nor where it goes,
I only want the light to light up,
I do not ask to the night
I wait for it and it envelops me,
And so you, bread and light
And shadow are.
You came to my life
with what you were bringing,
of light and bread and shadow I expected you,
and Like this I need you,
Like this I love you,
and to those who want to hear tomorrow
that which I will not tell them, let them read it here,
and let them back off today because it is early
for these arguments.
Tomorrow we will only give them
a leaf of the tree of our love, a leaf
which will fall on the earth
like if it had been made by our lips
like a kiss which falls
from our invincible heights
to show the fire and the tenderness
of a true love.