Pablo Neruda was without doubt one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century but his work is extremely uneven. There is a view that there are two Nerudas, an early Romantic visionary and a later Marxist populist, who denied his earlier poetic self. By focussing on the poet's apprenticeship, and by looking closely at how Neruda created his poetic persona within his poems, this Companion tries to establish what should survive of his massive output. By seeing his early work as self exploration through metaphor and sound, as well as through varieties of love and direct experience, the Companion outlines a unity behind all the work, based on voice and a public self. Neruda's debt to reading and books is studied in depth and the change in poetics re-examined by concentrating on the early work up to Residencia en la tierra I and II and why he wanted to become a poet. Debate about quality and representativity is grounded in his Romantic thinking, sensibility and sincerity. Unlike a Borges or a Paz who accompanied their creative work with analytical essays, Neruda distilled all his experiences into his poems, which remain his true biography. Jason Wilson is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Spanish and Latin American Studies, University College London.
Subjects: Language & Literature
I took advantage of an early rise to read another poem of love by Neruda. It’s his 9th and one of the most explicit in the description of love-making that I have read so far. Here it is, with my English translation.
Ebrio de trementina y largos besos, Drunk with turpentine and slow kisses,
estival, el velero de las rosas dirijo. summer, I steer the sailboat of roses,
torcido hacia la muerte del delgado día, turned towards the death of the delicate day,
cimentado en el sólido frenesi marino. cemented in the solid frenzy of the sea.
Pálido y amarrado a mi agua devorante Pale and tied to my devouring water,
cruzo en el agria olor del clima descubierto, I cross in the sour smell of stripped weather,
aún vestido de gris y sonidos amargos. still dressed in grey and bitter sounds,
y una cimera triste de abandonada espuma. and a sad summit of abandoned foam.
Voy, duro de pasiones, montado en mi ola unica I go, tough from passion, mounted on my unique wave
lunar, solar, ardiente y frio, repentino, lunar, solar, scorching and cold, sudden,
dormido en la garganta de las afortunadas asleep at the throat of fortunate islands,
islas blancas y dulces como caderas frescas. white and sweet like cool hips.
Tiembla en la noche húmeda mi vestido de besos Trembling in the wet night, my gown of kisses
locamente cargado de eléctricas gestiones filled with electric management
de modo heroico dividido en suenos like a hero divided in dreams
y embriagadoras rosas practicándose en mi. and intoxicating roses practising themselves upon me.
Aguas arriba, en medio de las olas externas, Waters above, in the middle of the waves outside
tu paralelo cuerpo se sujeta en mis brazos your parallel body surrenders to my arms,
como un pez infinitamente pegado a mi alma like a fish infinitely fastened to my soul
rápido y lento en la energía subceleste. quick and slow in the subcelestial energy.
In this poem, Neruda was probably describing his amorous experiences on one of the sunny Caribbean islands where he had his fill of sunbathing and boating under the blue sky, making love in the freedom of the waves. In those small islands, he has absolute freedom, far away from any survieillance of nosy people and unwelcome snooping. He could revert to his natural self, as a naked ape. Even the weather seemed to him to be stripped of all signs of human civilization. He used the expression "clima descubierto" which literally meant "climate" or "weather" which is "uncovered" or stripped naked.
He has had a wonderful time, sailing his boat at the sunny seas, his muscles tired and aching and had to be rubbed with turpentine to relax them, with innumberable slow kisses in between. Daytime was drawing to a close. He had just finished making love, pale and tied to his "devouring water" (I like this). He had just had a climax, leaving only "abandoned foam" as the sad residue of his recent joy. He had endless bouts of love-making, day and night, as he said, "solar and lunar" , cemented to the "solid frenzy of the sea", where he was faraway from any hint of human interference.
The white sand on the curves of the beaches of the islands looked to him like just so many ladies hips. They had become the sources of giant size pleassures, "white and sweet like cool hips.". He was jerking frantically as if he had been charged with electricity and would twitch involuntarily despite his desperate attempts to control his motions in the "wet night". He was in paradise, a dream come true. In his dreams, he acted like a hero. But he was a drunk hero. He was drunk with roses! His description of love making in the water cannot have been more explicit than in the last stanza. But he used a peculiar description about the energy. He said it was "sub-celeste", which literally means sub-celestial. What was he trying to say? Perhaps he used the expression as a contrast to terrestrial, or earthly or was he suggesting that the pleasure that he had in the water was one that could nearly match that in "heaven"?