Reevaluating the Poetry of Pablo Neruda

The poetry of Pablo Neruda is no secret to English language readers. His has been more extensively translated than that of any other South American poet. And while this is usually to the poet’s favor, certain popular collections (for example, the 20 sonetos de amor…) have been groped by translators and reconfigured with the same whimsical prattle that prevents us from reading in English translation the works of someone like the Sufi poet, Jalaluddin Rumi. On the other hand, Neruda’s political poems are not so easy to be groped and exchange romantic nostalgia for a more “blood coloured hsitory”, as Michael Lee Rattigan translates it. Many admirers of Neruda’s erotic poems shudder in the presence of his invectives and demands, unaccustomed to being addressed so directly and ideologically – ordered to “smash locks from the doors / with your abused hands, with the pieces / of your surviving soul.” These new translations, generously contributed by Rattigan, remind us that there is indeed a need (and a real possibility) to keep reading the poetry of Pablo Neruda, specifically the more politically committed works.

–JM

Bio Bio

But speak to me, Bio Bio,
These are your words that slip
from my mouth, you gave me
the language, a nocturnal song
mixed with foliage and rain.
You, no-one else heeding this child,
told me about the earth’s
dawn, the powerful
peace of your reign, the axe buried
with a branch of dead arrows,
those which the cinnamon leaves
spoke of for a thousand years,
and after, I saw you give yourself up to the sea,
broken into breasts and mouths,
wide and verdant, murmuring
a blood coloured history.

— | — | — | — |—

Bío-Bío 

Pero háblame, Bío-Bío,
son tus palabras en mi boca
las que resbalan, tú me diste
el lenguaje, el canto nocturno
mezclado con lluvia y follaje.
Tú, sin que nadie mirara a un niño,
me contaste el amanecer
de la tierra, la poderosa
paz de tu reino, el hacha enterrada
con un ramo de flechas muertas,
lo que las hojasdelcanelo
en mil años te relataron,
y luego te vi entregarte al mar
dividido en bocas y senos,
ancho y florido, murmurando
una historia color de sangre.

from “Canto General”

— | — | — | — |—

Insurgent America

Our earth, wide earth, solitudes,
populated with rumour, arms and mouths.
An unspoken syllable was burning,
gathering the hidden rose,
till the plains resounded
with hooves and metal.

A truth as hard as the plough.

The earth erupted, planted desire,
burying its seeds of propaganda
which bloomed in a secret spring.

The flower was silent, was denied
its reunion with light, the collective yeast
was fought against, the kiss
of hidden flags,
but it arose and broke down walls,
breaking through imprisoned earth.

The obscured nation was its cup,
received the withheld substance,
spread itself out to the sea’s limits,
crushed by unstoppable mortars.

And it emerged with written flourish
and with Spring clear ahead.

Yesterday’s hour, midday,
today’s hour once more, hour awaited
between the moment that dies and comes into being,
smarting before an age of lies.

Nation, you were given birth by woodcutters,
by children unbaptised, by carpenters,
by those who, like a strange bird gave
a drop of flying blood,
and once again is born in struggle,
from where the prison-keeper and traitor
believe you buried forever.

Just as then you’ll be born today as a nation.

Today you’ll arise from coal and dew.
Today you’ll smash locks from the doors
with your abused hands, with the pieces
of your surviving soul, with the gathered
gaze death couldn’t extinguish,
with disdainful tools
armed under your rags.

— | — | — | — |—

América Insurecta

Nuestra tierra, ancha tierra, soledades,
se pobló de rumores, brazos, bocas.
Una callada sílaba iba ardiendo,
congregando la rosa clandestina,
hasta que las praderas trepidaron
cubiertas de metales y galopes.

Fue dura la verdad como un arado.

Rompió la tierra, estableció el deseo,
hundió sus propagandas germinales
y nació en la secreta primavera.

Fue callada su flor, fue rechazada
su reunión de luz, fue combatida
la levadura colectiva, el beso
de las banderas escondidas,
pero surgió rompiendo las paredes,
apartando las cárceles del suelo.

El pueblo oscuro fue su copa,
recibió la substancia rechazada,
la propagó en los límites marítimos,
la machacó en morteros indomables.

Y salió con las páginas golpeadas
y con la primavera en el camino.

Hora de ayer, hora de mediodía,
hora de hoy otra vez, hora esperada
entre el minuto muerto y el que nace
en la erizada edad de la mentira.

Patria, naciste de los leñadores,
de hijos sin bautizar, de carpinteros,
de los que dieron como un ave extraña
una gota de sangre voladora,
y hoy nacerás de nuevo duramente,
desde donde el traidor y el carcelero
te creen para siempre sumergida.

Hoy nacerás del pueblocomo entonces.

Hoy saldrás del carbón y del rocío.
Hoy llegarás a sacudir las puertas
con manos maltratadas, con pedazos
de alma sobreviviente, con racimos
de miradas que no extinguió la muerte,
con herramientas hurañas
armadas bajo los harapos.

From “Los Libertadores”

About the Translator: Michael Lee Rattigan was born in Croydon, England. He studied at the University of Kent and Trinity College Dublin. He has lived and taught in Cancun, Mexico and Palma de Mallorca. Through Rufus Books he has published “Nature Notes” and a translation of Fernando Pessoa’s Caeiro poems. A full-length collection of poems, “Between Places”, is upcoming with Rufus Books. He currently enjoys being interrupted from anything resembling work by his young niece, Meadow Eden.

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