“So I wait for you like a lonely house
till you will see me again and live in me.
Till then my windows ache.”
Among the greatest and loudest literary voices of the twentieth century, Chilean diplomat and politician Pablo Neruda is one of the best known, loved and widely read Spanish-speaking poets to date.
He was celebrated as a poet since he was a teenager, and throughout his life and work he succeeded in channeling his poetic magic through a variety of genres and styles, out of which he excelled at romantic and erotically-charged poetry.
His original name was Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto (say again?) before he borrowed his pen name from Czech poet Jan Neruda.
He was active in the Chilean Communist Party until his exile to Argentina after communism was temporarily outlawed in Chile, but he returned to his country after his Nobel Prize acceptance, in 1971, and collaborated with Chile’s new, socialist president Salvador Allende.
He died of an alleged heart attack, three days after being hospitalized with cancer, during the coup d’etat led by Chile’s to-be-dictator, Augusto Pinochet, who overthrew Allende’s government in 1973.
He wrote in green ink, to symbolize the hope and desire often present even in his darkest lyrics.
In case you are the only human left on earth who hasn’t yet fallen in love with his most famous and recited poem, let alone heard of Neruda, today is your lucky day.
Clear your throat, take another sip of wine, coffee, coconut water, herbal tea, rain (whatever liquid is best suited to your imagination) and repeat after me:
For an extra sip of this poem’s inception, here’s the original, Spanish version.
No te amo como si fueras rosa de sal, topacio
o flecha de claveles que propagan el fuego:
te amo como se aman ciertas cosas oscuras,
secretamente, entre la sombra y el alma.
Te amo como la planta que no florece y lleva
dentro de sí, escondida, la luz de aquellas flores,
y gracias a tu amor vive oscuro en mi cuerpo
el apretado aroma que ascendió de la tierra.
Te amo sin saber cómo, ni cuándo, ni de dónde,
te amo directamente sin problemas ni orgullo:
así te amo porque no sé amar de otra manera,
sino así de este modo en que no soy ni eres,
tan cerca que tu mano sobre mi pecho es mía,
tan cerca que se cierran tus ojos con mi sueño.
Neruda was my first serious lover in Poetry.
I was 18, obsessed with books, pregnant with feelings and ideas and drunk with imagination. I spent half my student worker paychecks and my Saturday nights at Barnes & Noble buying cheap editions I never had the time to finish. (I just liked knowing they were mine.)
But in some parallel Utopia I was secretly living in, I believed all else in life was secondary and ramen noodles with ketchup was an acceptable meal. And it so happened that Neruda didn’t mind having dinner with me, almost every night for a year.
I thought, if I could ever get to do that with words, twist and bend and break and make them, eat them up and cry them out and breathe new life into them, until there’s nothing left of me but words, then anything was possible.
Call it escapism—why not? All art is escapism in the noblest sense. First you get out of prison with your mind, and maybe soon, your body follows. Why stay behind the bars? No one is safe.
Sometime later, I grew out of Neruda and into Borges and other, more obscure literary lovers. Other than short, life is also long, poetry–vast and love, a shape-shifter.
But over the years, I’ve been reminded of my original infatuation and my Nerudian gateway into poetry, here and there, voiced through different life travelers.
Like this reading by Glenn Close, that magically seals my heart’s broken mouth and quiets the noise in my mind and yes, the Voices, somebody get the Voices, and everything else that keeps me from the present—if only, for a brief eternal minute.
I’d like for you to be still, and press play.
I like for you to be still: it is as though you were absent,
and you hear me from far away and my voice does not touch you.
It seems as though your eyes had flown away
and it seems that a kiss had sealed your mouth.
As all things are filled with my soul
you emerge from the things, filled with my soul.
You are like my soul, a butterfly of dream,
and you are like the word Melancholy.
I like for you to be still, and you seem far away.
It sounds as though you were lamenting, a butterfly cooing like a dove.
And you hear me from far away, and my voice does not reach you:
Let me come to be still in your silence.
And let me talk to you with your silence
that is bright as a lamp, simple as a ring.
You are like the night, with its stillness and constellations.
Your silence is that of a star, as remote and candid.
I like for you to be still: it is as though you were absent,
distant and full of sorrow as though you had died.
One word then, one smile, is enough.
And I am happy, happy that it’s not true.
But what reaches deeper than his lifetime affair with words and lasts even longer than death; what has inspired generations and continues to stay warm and dark at the core of our social poetic imagination, is his raw, unapologetic passion—dare I say, for the most part, unmet.
For only unmet or seldom met passion can travel across time and space and even language at the speed of heart. To meet your own and dance with you. Especially when you can’t hear the music.
To quietly and irreversibly “do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.”
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