July 14, 2008 (guest ed.)

hi everyone,

being as how last week’s selection was admittedly on the darker side, this week i’ve settled on something a bit lighter, a love letter from pablo neruda.  i’m sure you’ve encountered sonnets from his cien sonetos de amor (100 love sonnets).  the passage in this book i find most powerful is, more often than not, passed over entirely.  i am aware that this is monday’s “verse,” however, this week’s selection most definitely falls into the realm of “prose”… a “prose-poem” would be a generous categorization.  the debate of which prerequisites a passage must fill to become a “poem” could go on for weeks; whether one places emphasis characteristics such as line breaks or rhythm, if it must sustain itself on the page or off, or perhaps one believes prose has as much as a claim to “poetry” as e.e. cummings concoctions do, looking as though he shook some letters and punctuation marks in a dice cup, dumped them onto a blank sheet of paper, and printed them where they fell.  personally, i have always felt that artist intent plays a large role, though this gets a bit dodgy if the artist never actually points to their work and claims, “poem!”

this week, i have enclosed a note from neruda to his wife, penned as the introduction to his collection, 100 love sonnets.  whether or not it was written as poem, whether or not it falls within your own parameters of poem/not poem, one must admit that it is certainly poetic.  in honor of our valiant editor’s south american expedition and for any spanish speakers out there, i’ve included the original, (or if you don’t speak a word of spanish it’s always fun to look the text over for sounds, alliterations and such,) and below, stephen tapscott’s english translation.



Senora mia muy amada, gran padecimiento tuve al escribirte estos mal llamados sonetos y harto me dolieron y costaron, pero la alegria de ofrecertelos es mayor que una pradera.  Al proponermelo bien sabia que al costado de cada uno, por aficion electiva y elegancia, los poetas de todo tiempo dispusieron rimas que sonaron como plateria, cristal, o canonazo.  Yo, con mucha humilidad, hice estos sonetos de madera, les di el sonido de esta opaca y pura substancia y asi deben llegar a tus oidos.  Tu y yo caminando por bosques y arenales, por lagos perdidos, por cenicientas latitudes, recogimos fragmentos de palo puro, de maderos sometidos al vaiven del agua y la intemperie.  De tales suavizadisimos vestigios construi con hacha, cuchillo, cortaplumas, estas madererias de amor y edifique pequenas casas de catorce tablas para que en ellas vivan tus ojos que adoro y canto.  Asi establecidas mis razones de amor te entrego esta centuria: sonetos de madera que solo levantaron porque tu les diste la vida.


My beloved wife, I suffered while I was writing these misnamed “sonnets”; they hurt me and caused me grief, but the happiness I feel in offering them to you is vast as a savanna.  When I set this task for myself I knew very well that down the right sides of sonnets, with elegant discriminating taste, poets of all times have arranged rhymes that sound like silver, or crystal, or canonfire.  But – with great humility – I made these sonnets out of wood; I gave them the sound of that opaque pure substance, and that is how they should reach your ears.  Walking in forests or on beaches, along hidden lakes, in latitudes sprinkled with ashes, you and I have picked up pieces of pure bark, pieces of wood subject to the comings and goings of water and the weather.  Out of such softened relics, then, with hatchet and machete and pocketknife, I built these lumber piles of love, and with fourteen boards each i built little houses, so that your eyes, which I adore and sing to, might live in them.  Now that I have declared the foundations of my love, I surrender this century to you: wooden sonnets that rise only because you gave them life.

October 1959

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