Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Because One Good Pablo Deserves Another

Musing on the resignation of Fidel Castro, the lyrical litbrit cited a gorgeous poem by Pablo Neruda. "The Dictators." It's a roiling and steamy bit of work. Like most of Neruda. The thing about Neruda that has always intruiged me is how well he translates. Often, with poets, the musicality or the flow of sound and beauty is lost when things are moved from one language to another. More than any other poet I read, Neruda has managed to defy this. I wish I knew how. Usually when I read a good translation of a poem I try to find it in the original language. Poetry, especially works like that. With Neruda I am often left wondering which language he was thinking and dreaming in when that particular poem sprung forth.

Here's one of my favorite Neruda's. Primero, en Espanol:


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.

Here's the translation. Notice how well it still sings.


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
I felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.

That, my friends, is genius. Pure. Genius.



Blogger litbrit said...

Isn't it wonderful--and aren't we lucky--that on this night when political vitriol and pettiness fill the airwaves, we can instead throw these bright blossoms out into the darkness and know they'll land in many glad and outstretched hands?

I am a bit biased in that I love the Spanish version of this poem, but mainly because I can picture Neruda saying the words that way.

You're absolutely right: his genius transcends language.

*enormous sigh*

Thank you, S.

Con Mucho, pero Mucho Cariño,

5:19 PM  
Blogger Sherry said...

neruda has always been one of my favorites. he could write about lemons and make your soul soar.

when i was sick years ago, i chose one of his poems as my funeral poem. luckily, no one had to use it. : )

5:33 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Neruda is heartbreaking and magnificent, and reminds you there are some real lovers out there.

He is a man who can put words to what an inspired woman might feel.

11:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about Lurch.

5:06 AM  
Anonymous oddjob said...

That, my friends, is genius. Pure. Genius.

Damn! I can only say the Spanish aloud, and very, very badly (so can't evaluate it very well at all in its native language), yet in English it reads as though it was composed in English!

And yes, I know well what you mean about poetry usually losing serious value when translated. Even the Latin Mass (which is prose) loses something in translation to English. I only know the Psalms in English, and to me as lovely as they can be as devotional poems, mostly they always seem and feel very clunky. I wonder how they seem to someone who can read them in Hebrew?

7:08 AM  
Blogger Rez Dog said...

Being monolingual, despite Latin and French in my younger years, I can't appreciate the original. It is indeed pure genius in English, the words of a human being who can accept the abyss and his part in it.

8:37 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Hi OZ,

Funny to see you at this particular post. Lurch's death is a great loss. He was a romantic at heart, and had we spoken of it, I'm certain Neruda would've been a favorite.

11:26 AM  

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