Saturday, September 6, 2008

Not the Poem Itself, But . . .

Dear Everybody:

It’s Pablo Neruda’s birthday! Well, okay, he’s dead. But if he weren’t, he’d be one hundred years old today.

And who is Pablo Neruda when he’s at home, you ask? Well, according to Gabriel Garcia Marquez (a terrific writer! foremost of the magic realists, and the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I urge you to take out of the library and read the first ten pages of; odds are strong you’ll read it all at a gallop), he was the greatest poet of the twentieth century.

Greater than Yeats? I can’t say. I don’t read Spanish. And, just against the possibility that neither do you, I’ve secured the following in English translation:

by Pablo Neruda

And it was at that age ... Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don't know how or when,
no they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,

[The rest of the poem has been removed because it’s almost certainly still in copyright. But I doubt you’ll have any trouble finding it on the Web.]

So there’s our infinitesimal drunken poet, by all accounts a good guy. Of the poem itself, I will note only that this is not that poem. It’s a translation. Followers of Islam say that the Koran existed from the beginning of time and that it cannot be translated. So, I wondered, what are all these English-language books I see in the stores labeled “Koran”? A couple of years ago, I stumbled across the answer: They’re not translations, but books of commentary, explaining the Koran as best as possible to English speakers.

So here. Not the poem itself, but a very good commentary on it.

Tomorrow, if you’re good, I’ll tell you what Neruda had to say about tomatoes.

All best,


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