#10

(Guest blog entry by my Wife)

I find poetry to be one of the things that connects us. This seems obvious, maybe, but there are times when I mean that quite literally.  Senior year of high school (right in the hotspot of my writing fair-to-middling poetry phase myself), I hadn’t yet decided whether I would major in music or Spanish as I headed to college the next year (spoiler alert- Spanish won in the end). We explored poetry throughout my AP English 12 course, and one of the poets that we studied was Pablo Neruda.  This was my first exposure to Neruda, and although we read his work in translation, I would find myself coming across his poetry again and again throughout my life. There may have been some small, invisible push here that would help impel me toward Spanish later on, but who’s to say what truly guides our major life decisions?

My study of Spanish poets would, of course, continue through college. Poetry as connection came around again as I met my core group of friends (and future husband, too) through our writing club. I’ve loved the works of García Lorca, Martí, and Sor Juana, among other poets, but I keep coming back to Neruda.

Neruda was Chilean, and, like Martí and García Lorca, was a writer and a voice of his people in troubled times. Neruda was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (one of only six Hispanic/Latinx authors to be so lauded) in 1971; he was a politician and statesman as well, finding himself on the side of the opposition in his later days, and died of a terminal illness a few short days after the coup that saw his friend and President Salvador Allende (father of author Isabel Allende) assassinated in favor of dictator Augusto Pinochet.

One can’t help but be a product of one’s time, like Lee has mentioned with Dunbar and Ritsos recently. Other poems of Neruda’s, such as the English-titled “Walking Around” display a fatalistic and tired view of the world, with an opening line like “Sucede que me canso de ser hombre / It so happens that I’m tired of being a man”. At other times, though, like Ritsos, Neruda is able to eschew the difficulties that surrounded him and portray such a depth and description of a simple, quotidian moment that it gets right to the heart of what it’s like to be human, to be average. 

That first poem that I read in my English class all those years ago is one such, from 100 Love Sonnets, “Sonnet XVII”.  That poem stuck with me so hard over the years and spoke to me so much that I planned to quote it as part of my wedding vows. I was extra touched when our friend that we had asked to do a reading chose the same poem, all unknowing, and read it to us both.  Poetry connects us, and Neruda understood that connection better than most.

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Soneto XVII

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.  


(translation by me)

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, topaz
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as certain dark things are loved,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom and carries
within itself, hidden, the light of those flowers,
and thanks to your love, darkly in my body
lives the dense fragrance that rose from the earth.

I love you without knowing how, nor when, nor from where,
I love you simply, without problems or pride:
I love you in this way because I know no other way of loving  

but this, in which I am not, nor you,
so close that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

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