Translation by Robert Bly
By Anna Daniels
Nobel Prize winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda is well known for his love poems which have been translated by such luminaries as WS Merwin and Robert Bly, both poets in their own right. Matilde Urrutia, who is the subject of a number of those poems, has been described as his muse of love. Neruda hearkened often to the muse’s call.
Less well known are his keen observations of nature that reflect an inquisitive and informed intellect. His poems about birds in Arte de Pájaros/Art of Birds as well as those about the sea and sea life are as sensual in their language as the love poems.
Those of us who read Neruda in English are probably unaware of the role a translator, in this case Robert Bly, plays in maintaining the elegance and sense of the original Spanish. Bly beautifully conveys “life in its jewel boxes” which is the poetic metaphor at the heart of Enigmas.
The video below is from a movie called Mind Walk. If you enjoyed My Dinner with Andre which is to say a movie that has no car chases, no explosions and no transformations, save for the metaphorical kind, Mind Walk is worth a look.
You’ve asked me what the lobster is weaving there with
his golden feet?
I reply, the ocean knows this.
You say, what is the ascidia waiting for in its transparent
bell? What is it waiting for?
I tell you it is waiting for time, like you.
You ask me whom the Macrocystis alga hugs in its arms?
Study, study it, at a certain hour, in a certain sea I know.
You question me about the wicked tusk of the narwhal,
and I reply by describing
how the sea unicorn with the harpoon in it dies.
Read the rest of the poem here.
Red Poppy says
What a wonderful post! And series of posts. I haven’t seen that clip from Mind Walk for ages–wow does it make that poem hit the soul, although Neruda so often does that so simply, directly. Along the lines of Pablo Neruda and film, please check out this documentary we’re working on him– would love your thoughts http://www.redpoppy.net/pablo_neruda.php
Thanks for the lyrics, Anna
OB Mercy says
Thank you for this article Anna. It was only in the last couple of years I’ve been turned onto Pablo’s works by my boyfriend. Falling in love with each other, he sent me many of Pablo’s poems, which in turn, made me fall in love with them both! I will donate towards getting this film finished.
Anna Daniels says
OB Mercy–if you and your boyfriend haven’t seen the movie Il Postino, check it out! A young man, with little formal education is charged with delivering mail to Pablo Neruda. Over time a friendship forms between the two of them. Mario the postman tries to win the heart of his girlfriend by passing off one of Neruda’s love poems as his own.
When Neruda confronts him, Mario utters this great line: “Poetry doesn’t belong to those who write it, but to those who need it.” I think of that line often.