Monday’s Verse, March 5, 2008

OK, honest question, show of hands. No lying. We all love Pablo Neruda’s love poems, but how many people knew he was a dedicated civil servant for the Chilean government? Really? Oh Scott, put your hand down, you GD socialist. Well I’m here to tell you that he served as the Chilean consul in Java, in Burma, and in Barcelona prior to and during WWII. From 1970-73, he was Allende’s ambassador to Paris.

None of which, exactly, confronts my understanding of the poem below, but I’m no expert. *Sigh*, if only we had some comparative lit experts, fluent in Spanish, who possess some understanding of 20th-century history and South American politics and lyric poetry! Then I could retire. In any case, I don’t have a copy of the original, but what do you make of the translation job? How about the ending? Have a good week. Don’t forget to laugh. -ed.




Take bread away from me, if you wish,
take air away, but
do not take from me your laughter.

Do not take away the rose,
the lance flower that you pluck,
the water that suddenly
bursts forth in joy,
the sudden wave
of silver born in you.

My struggle is harsh and I come back
with eyes tired
at times from having seen
the unchanging earth,
but when your laughter enters
it rises to the sky seeking me
and it opens for me all
the doors of life.

My love, in the darkest
hour your laughter
opens, and if suddenly
you see my blood staining
the stones of the street,
laugh, because your laughter
will be for my hands
like a fresh sword.

Next to the sea in the autumn,
your laughter must raise
its foamy cascade,
and in the spring, love,
I want your laughter like
the flower I was waiting for,
the blue flower, the rose
of my echoing country.

Laugh at the night,
at the day, at the moon,
laugh at the twisted
streets of the island,
laugh at this clumsy
boy who loves you,

but when I open
my eyes and close them,
when my steps go,
when my steps return,
deny me bread, air,
light, spring,
but never your laughter
for I would die.

One response to “Monday’s Verse, March 5, 2008

  1. I think a great comment was posted by one of the original MV recipients in 2008, here in its entirety:

    A lot of the lyrical quality is lost in the translation (or, i guess, in all translations– not particularly this one). A (sexy) friend once shared a statement she read by Garcia-Marquez on a translation of his work–It’s a great piece of work, it’s just not mine. Though i find his statement interesting, and true (to a certain degree), i really appreciate translators– they allow us to experience things we otherwise wouldn’t be able to even come close to seeing/thinking/feeling.

    Regarding the ending of the poem—I think even the most communist South Americans have a difficult time detaching from the influence of Catholicism on colloquial language– He uses the word bread to prove how much he is willing sacrifice. Even though I’m (pretty) sure he isn’t trying to insert Catholic symbols, it’s interesting that he chose to end his poem that way, that his final attempt at proving the extent of his sacrifice is by giving up bread (el pan de cada dia- something the third-world doesn’t come by very easily).

    Once last thing i wanted to share with everyone: Peruvians and Chileans can’t agree of anything- soccer, beaches, Pisco, etc. There is a trio of chilenos, however, Peruvians are taught to respect- Neruda, Salvador Allende, and Victor Jara. Matthew’s reference to Neruda’s relationship with Allende made me think of Jara’s relationship with Chile during that time (Jara was a folk singer and political activist). After Allende’s socialist government taken out in 73, Jara was arrested and taken to El Estadio Chile. Before he was machine-gunned to death, he was beaten and tortured. Though rumors that his hands were cut-off are false, South Americans still speak of the way the guards taunted him to play his guitar, after they ripped his finger-nails off. Defiantly, he sang. AND he sang about socialism. THAT, my friends, is GANGSTA…. and worthy of respect. He was also somehow able to write a poem about his experience in the stadium, along with the others who were being tortured. He hid it in a friend’s shoe… it’s below…


    We are 5,000 — here in this little part of the city
    We are 5,000 — how many more will there be?
    In the whole city, and in the country 10,000 hands
    Which could seed the fields, make run the factories.
    How much humanity — now with hunger, pain, panic and terror?

    There are six of us — lost in space among the stars,
    One dead, one beaten like I never believed a human could be so beaten.
    The other four wanting to leave all the terror,
    One leaping into space, other beating their heads against the wall
    All with gazes fixed on death.

    The military carry out their plans with precision;
    Blood is medals for them, Slaughter is the badge of heroism.
    Oh my God — is this the world you created?
    Was it for this, the seven days, of amazement and toil?

    The blood of companero Presidente is stronger than bombs
    Is stronger than machine guns.
    O you song, you come out so badly when I must sing — the terror!
    What I see I never saw. What I have felt, and what I feel must come out!
    “Hara brotar el momento! Hara brotar el momento!”

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