I don’t naturally lean towards poetry, I prefer the straightforwardness of prose. At the same time, I know that poetry, like music, can affect me in ways a novel or film never could. So, I’m always on the look-out for entry points to poetry, and I recently found one in the works of Pablo Neruda.
Neruda was a fiery Chilean poet and activist. He won a Nobel Prize and is thought to be one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century. The particular work that drew me to him was his “Captain Verses”. These were written in the early 1950s and are a collection of poems about his love and quarrels with Matilde Urrutia. He ended up marrying her in 1955 and they remained married until his death in 1973.
Reading the verses brought a big smile to my face. You can feel his passion for Matilde. But he doesn’t just stay with the happy side of relationships, he touches on the darker moments too. The poems are worldly, exciting and heartbreaking. Don’t take my word for it, here are some excerpts:
I have named you queen.
There are taller ones than you, taller.
There are purer ones than you, purer.
There are lovelier ones than you, lovelier.
But you are the queen.
But I love your feet
only because they walked
upon the earth and upon
the wind and upon the waters,
until they found me.
Take bread away from me, if you wish,
take air away, but
do not take from me your laughter
For me you are a treasure more laden
with immensity than the sea and its branches
and you are white and blue and spacious like
the earth at vintage time.
In that territory,
from your feet to your brow,
walking, walking, walking,
I shall spend my life.
What’s wrong with you, with us,
what’s happening to us?
Ah our love is a harsh cord
that binds us wounding us
and if we want
to leave our wound,
it makes a new knot for us and condemns us
to drain our blood and burn together
Do not fear me, do not fall
into the rancor again.
Shake off my word that came to wound you
And let it fly through the open window.
It will return to wound me
without your guiding it
since it is laden with a harsh instant
and that instant will disarmed in my breast.
All of love in a goblet
as wide as the earth, all
of love with stars and thorns
I gave you, but you walked
with little feet, with dirty heels
upon the fire, putting it out.
Ah great love, small beloved!
If you can’t pay the rent
go off to work with a proud step,
and remember, my love, that I am watching you
and together we are the greatest wealth
that has ever gathered upon the earth.
And so this letter ends
with no sadness:
my feet are firm upon the earth,
my hand writes this letter on the road,
and in the midst of life I shall be
beside the friend, facing the enemy,
with your name on my mouth
and a kiss that never
broke away from yours.
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