Sunday, December 12, 2004

Pablo Neruda

This year marks the 100th birthday of the poet Pablo Neruda. Check out Copper Canyon Press for a celebration of his life and work.

Thank you to Kristina for suggesting the following beautiful poem by Neruda.

Here I Love You

Here I love you.
In the dark pines the wind disentangles itself.
The moon glows like phosphorous on the vagrant waters.
Days, all one kind, go chasing each other.

The snow unfurls in dancing figures.
A silver gull slips down from the west.
Sometimes a sail. High, high stars.
Oh the black cross of a ship.

Sometimes I get up early and even my soul is wet.
Far away the sea sounds and resounds.
This is a port.

Here I love you.
Here I love you and the horizon hides you in vain.
I love you still among these cold things.
Sometimes my kisses go on those heavy vessels
that cross the sea towards no arrival.
I see myself forgotten like those old anchors.

The piers sadden when the afternoon moors there.
My life grows tired, hungry to no purpose.
I love what I do not have. You are so far.
My loathing wrestles with the slow twilights.
But night comes and starts to sing to me.

The moon turns its clockwork dream.
The biggest stars look at me with your eyes.
And as I love you, the pines in the wind
want to sing your name with their leaves of wire.

Neruda is amazing at expressing love in a way that is terribly romantic. Trees, water, the sea, the moon, the stars—he uses lovely, expressive imagery that catches our imagination, longing, and desire for love.

This, in my opinion, is not what makes him a great poet. What he does so wonderfully well is describe love that is complicated, heartbreaking, and even messy. In this poem, “Here I Love You,” the speaker is separated from the object of his love: “the horizon hides you in vain.” In vain, because the speaker, although feeling the pain of separation keenly, feels no diminishment in his love.

In the first stanza, there are many subtle images which serve to complicate the expression of love. The "pines" in which "the wind disentangles itself" are "dark," and the "moon glows like phosphorous on the vagrant waters. My first response to the word "phosphorous" is simply to think of a warm glow on the surface of the water, perhaps reflecting a warm glow of love in the speaker's heart; but it is interesting to note that the most common form of phosphorous, which is a white solid, is highly poisonous. It is also insoluble in water. Why use a toxic substance to illustrate love? Perhaps because to love someone who is far away from you is so painful. It can feel as if something poisonous is eating away at you from the inside.

Why are the waters "vagrant?" Vagrant means "one who has no established residence and wanders idly from place to place." Perhaps the vagrant waters reflect the life of the speaker, one who must travel but feels as if he has no true home; at least, no home apart from the one he loves. And "Days, all one kind, go chasing each other." This expresses not only the day-to-day life of someone on the sea, doing his work almost robotically, thinking of his love, but also has a quality of depression: that every day seems exactly the same; every day brings the same pain and separation; every day the speaker longs for the lover he cannot see.

Neruda takes the experience of love and layers it, complicates it, even makes it downright painful. For me, this makes his work more accessible, because it reflects the world in which we exist. Sometimes love just plain hurts.

And this is just the first stanza. Any thoughts? I'd love to hear your ideas.


Greg Finnegan said...

This is a wonderful poem. My experience with the sea is as a sailor; the narrator of the poem is the one I left behind. A day in the life - longing, empty, dominated by Nature - that IS the sea! And like the ee cummings poem, one, alone, lonely. I like it!


jett said...

Great poem! 'Phosphorous' was a great word to use. But I especially liked the whole concept of 'vagrant waters' because the ocean is exactly that a vagrant that comes in with the tide and goes out with it to a different place. It also lends itself to the next line "days all one kind go chasing each other". It lends this sense of not being able to change things. Both the day and the ocean are what they are and no matter how hard you try you can't change it or put a stop to it. It leaves you with that great romantic sense of regret and remorse. Good stuff.

Anonymous said...

Kristina here. Thanks for choosing to discuss this poem, Amy!

I really love the way Neruda weaves together all the emotions of love-- the passion, the longing, the pain. This poem speaks to me. The narrator talks of being a port, an anchor, a pier. All are necessary things to a sea-going vessel-- necessary to survival and sustenance, in fact. And yet, all are forgotten when unneeded. Neglected. Unwanted. Still, the speaker waits-- and seems to find hope as night falls.

There is so much here, every time I read it I find something else that touches me. "Sometimes I get up early and even my soul is wet." My heart breaks with those words.

I'm interested in your take on the line "My loathing wrestles with the slow twilights." Is this self-loathing, for the role the narrator has chosen for himself? Loathing of the one he loves? What is he loathing?

Great discussion...


LadySunShine said...

Beautiful words such a romantic soul

Doctor Marco said...

I loved your post. Neruda is simply great, I do not know if you know Spanish, but you should try to read Neruda in Spanish.

Neruda is the poet of love, of nature. He has a book. The translation of the title would be "I confess that I have lived", his memoirs.

One last thing. As the opposite to Neruda, in Peru there was a poet named Vallejo. Pessimistic, mysterious, deathly. However, a wonderful use of the language. You should try it to see the contrast.