Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Extravagaria

by Pablo Neruda, translated by Alastair Reid

This is a bilingual book of Neruda's poems, which I picked out of a box of books that was dumped on the sidewalk when visiting our dear friends in Brooklyn a few years ago. And now it will end up on the Central Line in London. What a life it has lead, this book!

I do like Neruda. He lived a full life and wrote passionate, funny, surreal poems about it all. He got the Nobel Prize for Literature the year I was born.

(My favourite poem of his is not in this book, sadly, and I can't seem to track down the excellent translation I once found online, so I leave you with a Google translation I tinkered with, which is slightly wonky, but serves its purpose. (It's all better in Spanish, of course.) This is one of those poems that I read thinking "this is about US, it's about MY FAMILY." How do they know, poets?)

Melancholy in the Families

I keep a blue bottle,
within it an ear and a portrait
when darkness forces
the feathers of the owl,
when the hoarse cherry tree
shatters its lips and with husks that sometimes the ocean breeze threatens to pierce,
I know that there are vast sunken depths
quartz ingots,

blue waters for a battle,
many silences, many
veins of retreat and camphor,
fallen things, medals, tenderness,
parachutes, kisses.

It is only the step of one day to another,
only one bottle
walking by the sea,
and a dining room where roses arrive,
an abandoned dining room
like a thorn, I refer to
a glass shattered, a curtain in the background
a deserted room through which a river flows
dragging the stones. It is a house
located in the foundations of rainfall,
a two storey house with obligatory windows
and strictly faithful vines.

I leave in the afternoon, I arrive
full of mud and death,
dragging the earth and its roots,
and its lazy belly, in which sleep
the bodies of wheat,
metals, collapsed elephants.

But above all there is a terrible,
a terrible abandoned dining room
with broken bottles of oil
and vinegar running underneath the seats,
a ray of the moon stopped,
something dark, and I look for

a comparison within me:
perhaps a tent surrounded by the sea
and broken panels dripping brine.

It's just a deserted dining room,

and around are extensions,
submerged plants, timber
I only know,
because I am sad and old,
and I know the earth, and am sad.

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