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Just had to….

November 23, 2020

go and find that Chilean born poet Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, – later to become renowned for his pen name Pablo Neruda,- this morning, with these feelings of melancholy, remembering Pablo.

Neruda died of cancer at the age of 73 years shortly after the Kissinger-backed military coup against Salvador Allende led by Augusto Pinochet. The dictator, supported by elements of the armed forces, denied permission for Neruda’s funeral to be made a public event, but thousands of grieving Chileans disobeyed the curfew and crowded the streets. The people loved him, the folk of Chile adored him. Who is Pablo? He was a Stalinist, my heart is torched with grief everytime I’m reminded of the deeply flawed politics of Neruda. He came to admire the Soviet Union of Joseph Stalin. An internationalist at heart he believed in this thing called ‘Socialism in One Country’. After indulging myself in the era, I got the feeling that the movement was experimenting in various countries trying to get the architecture right, not really working, the foundations were flooded with power hungry activists and revolutionary fighters turned politicians and presidents in their respective countries. People on the left of the international struggles fought each other foot and nail for an ideology based on the materialist views and scientific thought of Karl Marx. Yes, they took him and made an idol out of him, he became their god, despite the fact that he called religion the opium of the people. Pablo also an unbeliever whatever that is or maybe did dream of a promised heaven, reflecting on a place called yonder in a poem he dedicated to his beloved friend and companion, his dog, on the day he buried him in his garden. Like everyone else the great poet with his dense poetic imagery took sides in the great political battle, international socialism or socialism in one country- you are on your own. Pablo Neruda did however later in years became to regret his fondness for the politics in the Soviet Union of Joseph Stalin.

I love the dense forest of Pablo’s poetry. The Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez once called him “the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language” Today, due to his memoirs, Pablo Neruda remains a controversial figure amongst the feminist movement, who highlighted a passage in Neruda’s memoirs in which he describes raping a maid in Ceylon in 1929.

Photo/Paris Review

Melancholy Inside Families

Pablo Neruda, translated by Robert Bly & James Wright

I keep a blue bottle.
Inside it an ear and a portrait.
When the night dominates
the feathers of the owl,
when the hoarse cherry tree
rips out its lips and makes menacing gestures
with rinds which the ocean wind often perforates—
then I know that there are immense expanses hidden from us,
quartz in slugs,
blue waters for a battle,
much silence, many ore-veins
of withdrawals and camphor,
fallen things, medallions, kindnesses,
parachutes, kisses.

It is only the passage from one day to another,
a single bottle moving over the seas,
and a dining room where roses arrive,
a dining room deserted
as a fish-bone: I am speaking of
a smashed cup, a curtain, at the end
of a deserted room through which a river passes
dragging along the stones. It is a house
set on the foundations of the rain,
a house of two floors with the required number of windows,
and climbing vines faithful in every particular.

I walk through afternoons, I arrive
full of mud and death,
dragging along the earth and its roots,
and its indistinct stomach in which corpses
are sleeping with wheat,
metals, and pushed-over elephants.

But above all there is a terrifying,
a terrifying deserted dining room,
with its broken olive oil cruets,
and vinegar running under its chairs,
one ray of moonlight tied down,
something dark, and I look
for a comparison inside myself:
perhaps it is a grocery store surrounded by the sea
and torn clothing from which sea water is dripping.
It is only a deserted dining room,
and around it there are expanses,
sunken factories, pieces of timber
which I alone know
because I am sad, and because I travel,
and I know the earth, and I am sad.

        —translations by James Wright and Robert Bly

Addressing loss and isolation in the poem, the Paris Review in 1966 published the translation of Pablo’s Melancholy in Families. I don’t know the reason why, an impetus must’ve come from somewhere, who knows which feelings of melancholy were pervading the day.

As if prepared and written for our time, -where the global reach is in despair- with equal attention to effective aesthetics and politics, in an imaginative style Neruda writes for the common man. – Melancholy in Families.


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