Thursday, June 02, 2005

Pablo Neruda

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.

-- Pablo Neruda

It was in a poetry workshop which I attended during my junior college days that I was introduced to Pablo Neruda. I had never heard of him prior to that, maybe because I believe most poetry once translated loses its essence. But P.N's poems weather translation remarkably well. And what you read manages to impress you inspite of the translation!

P.N. has this uncanny knack of writing unusual odes to the most commonplace things like a tomato (ode to a tomato!!!), salt, tuna (huh!!), wine, clothes... And some of these odes he wrote are uncommon beings, paying tribute to those ordinary things which we wouldn't stop to think of. His ode to a tomato manages to raise the ordinary red globe to a rare sublimity. Everytime I read this poem, I am tempted to bite into the obscenely luscious flesh of a tomato and somehow I feel that this time the tomato will taste like manna from heaven, that this simple action will trigger a thousand pleasure-filled explosions in my epicurean mind.

And then there is my favorite 'Ode to Clothes'. It starts like this...
(Every morning you wait,/clothes, over a chair,/to fill yourself with/my vanity, my love,/my hope, my body. )
It is a brilliant piece of poetry. P.N. has breathed life into clothes, animated them, granted them character even.
(In the wind/you billow and snap/as if you were my soul)
The clothes and the wearer are thus inextricably entwined, their lives, their identity, their life and their deaths.
(I greet you/with reverence and then/you embrace me and I forget you,/because we are one/and we will go on/facing the wind, in the night,/the streets or the fight,/a single body,/one day, one day, some day, still.)

P.N. has penned numerous love poems. Am not a huge fan of love poems per se. All of them tend to be along the lines of 'the sky is blue and I love you' or something like that. And as a rule I don't read love poems. They are for lovestruck teenagers and people who go all puppy-eyed over boy bands. Have always thought that if anybody ever did serenade or court me with a love poem I will hit him on the head to knock some sense into him. But among all those love poems that P.N. wrote I have always liked this one.

It is written by a guy who lost his lover. She has left him and now he is inconsolable. His love was immense and so is his pain. As you read the poet's agony speaks to you. You can fathom the depths of his love and you realise how great a love it was though the poet protests (or maybe tries to console himself falsely)...'I no longer love her, that's true, but maybe I do love her.'

He concludes that this is the last pain she will be causing him and these the last verses he writes to her. It is evident that his love is too great to end so abruptly (as P.N so aptly put it ... 'Love is so short and forgetting is so long.'). Hence this last couplet always makes me wonder whether the lover kills himself after writing the poem.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
Write, for example, 'The night is shattered
And blue stars shiver in the distance'.
The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.
Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
I kissed her over and over again under the endless sky.
She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great eyes.
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.
To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.
What does it matter if my love could not keep her.
The night is shattered and she is not with me.
This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied because it has lost her.
My sight searches for her as though to go to her.
My heart looks for her, and she is no longer with me.
The same night whitening the same trees.
We both of that time are no longer the same.
I no longer love her, that's true, but how much I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.
Another's. She will be another's. Like my kisses before.
Her voice, her bright body. Her infinite eyes.
I no longer love her, that's true, but maybe I do love her.
Love is so short and forgetting is so long.
Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
My soul is not satisfied because it has lost her.
Though this is the last pain that she makes me suffer
And these the last verses I write for her.