This morning I woke up in the mood for nothing so much as Pablo Neruda. But when I realized I knew nothing about Neruda as a person, Wiki gently reminded me that poetry is separate from life and that, really, it’s always been Borges who is my South American poet boyfriend:
During the late 1960s, Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges was asked for his opinion of Pablo Neruda. After describing a brief meeting with him when both were young, Borges stated,
“I think of him as a very fine poet, a very fine poet. I don’t admire him as a man, I think of him as a very mean man.”
When asked for the reasons for this, Borges continued,
“Well, he wrote a book — well, maybe here I’m being political — he wrote a book about the tyrants of South America, and then he had several stanzas against the United States. Now he knows that that’s rubbish. And he had not a word against Perón. Because he had a law suit in Buenos Aires, that was explained to me afterwards, and he didn’t care to risk anything. And so, when he was supposed to be writing at the top of his voice, full of noble indignation, he had not a word to say against Perón. And he was married to an Argentine lady, he knew that many of his friends had been sent to jail. He knew all about the state of our country, but not a word against him. At the same time, he was speaking against the United States, knowing the whole thing was a lie, no? But, of course, that doesn’t mean anything against his poetry. Neruda is a very fine poet, a great poet in fact. And when they gave [ Miguel de Asturias ] the Nobel Prize, I said that it should have been given to Neruda! Now when I was in Chile, and we were on different political sides, I think he did the best thing to do. He went on a holiday during the three or four days I was there so there was no occasion for our meeting. But I think he was acting politely, no? Because he knew that people would be playing him up against me, no? I mean, I was an Argentine, poet, he was a Chilean poet, he’s on the side of the Communists, I’m against them. So I felt he was behaving very wisely in avoiding a meeting that would have been quite uncomfortable for both of us.”
Oy Borges, as if I didn’t already love you for that story about the plagiarizer.
As for Neruda, I remember poring over his poetry to help me memorize and understand time more profoundly dissected by Romance verb tenses than in English. Though the lovely (if utterly morose) lines that have been tattooed on my brain since I was sixteen have little to do with verb tenses:
La misma noche que hace blanquear los mismos árboles.
Nosotros, los de entonces, ya no somos los mismos.
Ya no la quiero, es cierto, pero cuánto la quise.
Mi voz buscaba el viento para tocar su oído.
De otro. Será de otro. Como antes de mis besos.
Su voz, su cuerpo claro. Sus ojos infinitos.
Ya no la quiero, es cierto, pero tal vez la quiero.
Es tan corto el amor, y es tan largo el olvido.
Those lines — “Será de otro. Como antes de mis besos” — that is a rather exquisite time dissection.
I will not spend this precious Tax Thursday playing in melancholy poetry, but suffice to say that last line might be my favorite from any poem, ever, in any language I can read.
And, because it would be ridiculous not to repeat the phrase “senos locos,” here are some less-morose lines, this time about youth and breasts:
oh mujer -carne y sueño-, ven a encantarme un poco,
ven a vaciar tus copas de sol en mi camino:
que en mi barco amarillo tiemblen tus senos locos
y ebrios de juventud, que es el más bello vino.
Find both poems at this link. The first is part of the 20th poem of Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada, and the second comes from Virese.