Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Pablo Neruda, "Deber del Poeta" / "The Poet's Obligation"

A quien no escucha el mar en este viernes
por la mañana, quien adentro de algo,
casa, oficina, fábrica or mujer,
o calle o mina o seco calabozo:
a éste yo acudo y sin hablar ni ver
leego y abro la puerta del encierro
y un sin fin se oye vago en la insistencia,
un largo trueno roto se encadena
al peso del planeta y de la espuma,
surgen los ríos roncos del océano,
vibra veloz en su rosal la estrella
y el mar palpita, muere y continúa.

Así por el destino conducido
debo sin tregua oír y conservar
el lamento marino en mi conciencia,
debo sentir el golpe de agua dura
y recogerlo en una taza eterna
para que donde esté el encarcelado,
donde sufra el castigo del otoño
yo esté presente con una ola errante,
yo circule a través de las ventanas
y al oírme levante la mirada
diciendo: cómo me acercaré al océano?
Y yo transmitiré de la ola,
un quebranto de espuma y arenales,
un susurro de sal que se retira,
el grito gris del ave de la costa.

Y así, por mí, la libertad y el mar
responderán al corazón oscuro.


To whoever is not listening to the sea
this Friday morning, to whoever is cooped up
in house or office, factory or woman
or street or mine or dry prison cell,
to him I come, and without speaking or looking
I arrive and open the door of his prison,
and a vibration starts up, vague and insistent,
a long rumble of thunder adds itself
to the weight of the planet and the foam,
the groaning rivers of the ocean rise,
the star vibrates quickly in its corona
and the sea beats, dies, and goes on beating.

So, drawn on by my destiny,
I ceaselessly must listen to and keep
the sea's lamenting in my consciousness,
I must feel the crash of the hard water
and gather it up in a perpetual cup
so that, wherever those in prison may be,
wherever they suffer the sentence of the autumn,
I may be present with an errant wave,
I may move in and out of windows,
and hearing me, eyes may lift themselves,
asking "How can I reach the sea?"
And I will pass to them, saying nothing,
the starry echoes of the wave,
a breaking up of foam and quicksand,
a rustling of salt withdrawing itself,
the grey cry of seabirds on the coast.

So, through me, freedom and the sea
will call in answer to the shrouded heart.

(Translation by Alastair Reid)


From Plenos Poderes / Fully Empowered (1962)

Today we move part way from a critical and metaphysical consideration of poetry to something more social and personal. Wallace Stevens' ideas verge in a way on solipsism - not that he would think our mental experience is all there is of reality, but perhaps that it is all there is of my or your reality anyway. Neruda (1904-1973) was staunchly opposed to such a position, at least in terms of a theory of poetry and the role of the poet. During large portions of his career, Neruda was a fiercely political poet, writing entire books about the Spanish Civil War, the colonization of South America, and the struggles of Communism ... he was even a senator and diplomat for his native Chile. But Neruda was also a very personal lyric poet - he is perhaps best known for his first book Veinte Poemas de Amor y un Canción Desesperada / Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair and for his many odes to the simple, "elemental" things in life, such as an artichoke, a pair of socks, a lemon, or a suit.
I selected "The Poet's Obligation" as a mid-point between these two relations to poetry. On the one hand, the sense of social responsibility and a public role for poetry - as expounded in poems such as "The Invisible Man" - is evident in the titular "Obligation" or 'duty', and in the references to work - the office and factory - as well as imprisonment. Poetry is depicted as being a liberating force - but in this case that liberation is not strictly political, but more metaphysical, being symbolized as a reconnection with the elements.
One the other hand, this is not a discussion of poetry in the abstract, but of the poet's relationship with it - something explored more explicitly in poems such as "Poetry" and "Bread-Poetry" - poetry is a mode of communication that mediates between him, his experience, and the world, as well as between him and society, and between society and the world. But throughout there is the clear presence of the personal "I" of the poet, so that in the final it is the poet himself, and only implicitly poetry, which mediates between "freedom and the sea" and "the shrouded heart."
Though the stance taken here may seem authoritative, to the point that Neruda can come off as arrogant, he struggled with the issue of the poet's obligation throughout his life. His Communist impulses made this all the worse - or, perhaps, it was his sense of duty that disposed him towards Communism - as he had trouble reconciling poetry with the value of physical/industrial labor or political action. In one poem (I do not have it to hand at the moment) he questions whether his life would have be to more purpose had he made just one broom rather than his many hundreds of poems.

(More about Pablo Neruda:

1 comment:

VNTuongLai said...

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