Friday, February 13, 2015

A love affair with the poetry of Pablo Neruda

In light of the upcoming Valentine's holiday, I thought it might be interesting to share with you some of my favorite poems written by Pablo Neruda. I have a bit of a love affair with poetry in general, but I'm especially fond of poetry about love and relationships. (Perhaps that makes me a bit of a cliche since I'm an English teacher, but I'm sure there are some of us who don't love poetry. They could exist, right?) Anyway, Neruda's writing sears my soul each time I read it. I don't know why or how he speaks to me so, but he does.

As a point of reference, Pablo Neruda was from Chile and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 (the year I was born). His work was originally all in Spanish, so the poems I'll mention in this post are all translations from the original.

Here's my very favorite of his poems:

XVII (I do not love you...)
I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

Why do I love it? Quite honestly, it's beautiful in its simplicity. The power of his imagery and the power of his diction evoke exactly the response in me that I think he intended. I appreciate that he begins the poem with non-examples of how he does not love her (in spur of the moment, spectacular ways that are fleeting and that are so common everyone appreciates them) and ends the first stanza with the example or description of how he does, in fact, love her (in secret, in his soul, almost painfully because he simply must love her). Keep in mind that I don't know specifically to whom he wrote the poem, so I'm describing it in terms that make sense to my life, namely heterosexual romantic love.

"Between the shadow and the soul" -  isn't this an amazing line in terms of the images it evokes from the reader? I know exactly what he means. It's that part of you that no one else knows, that part that lurks between the you that you portray to others and the you that you strive to be and the you that you really are, the part that wants and needs and feels without regard to the right or wrong, the part that you often choose to ignore because it isn't always rational or reliable or reasonable. In this poem, love is a hidden thing that exists because it simply must exist. This love exists because these people exist. In their imperfections, in their problems, in their flawed existence, his love for her remains a pure and unfaltering truth. This love exists because it can't not exist. I always wonder at this part if it is about unrequited love... I hope not; the thought of his depth of feeling being unfulfilled is almost more painful than I can bear to think of for him. The love he describes in this poem is hidden not because it is wrong but because it is precious. This love might not be easily explicable to others, but he describes it as pure and elemental - as right to him as the blood that courses through his veins. Perhaps this love crosses some boundary of society or convention. Perhaps this love is radical in some way. He doesn't tell us why it might be difficult to explain or define, but he alludes that it is a gray area for some reason. "Where I does not exist, nor you" - I find that phrase so lovely. Neruda finds a way to describe that oneness, that togetherness, that humans crave so much and paints a picture that is both intimate and raw without being vulgar. How rare that is in poetry today!

If you enjoyed this poem, I also really like Neruda's "Love Sonnet XI" and "I Do Not Love You Except Because I Love You" and "Poetry" and "Drunk as Drunk." Really, I like everything he wrote, but the five I've mentioned here are just wonderful. If you're so inclined, I'd love to hear what you think after reading some of his poems. Did you like the poems I mentioned? If so, why do you like them? And if not, why don't they speak to you the way they speak to me? 

Poetry is such a personal thing; what people are attracted to and appreciate fascinates me. Do you have read poetry? Do you have favorites? Please share them with me. There isn't enough poetry in this world, I think, and I'm always looking for writers who capture the essence of feelings and images with their words.

Maybe in the spirit of Valentine's Day you'll share some poetry with someone you love or admire.

Peace out - Tiffany

1 comment:

  1. that poem is beautiful, yes it was the images, his use of senses, & the loving all the parts, & the love being about more than just reason, for love often is.i remember a poetry class i took in college, many moons ago. i think our professor said poetry is meant to be read aloud. i think this poem you shared is a perfect example. i'm sure the phrasing would sound delicious.