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Saturday, June 25, 2005

To The Dead Poor Man (a Pablo Neruda poem)

this is an audio post - click to play

This is not Neruda's best poem, nor is it my favourite poem of his. It's a poem with flaws — at least, I feel there are flaws in this translation — but a good poem despite them because it still manages to stand up under its own weight. This version was translated by Alastair Reid. I'm reading from this book. Here's the text:

To The Dead Poor Man

Today we are burying our own poor man;
our poor poor man.

He was always so badly off
that this is the first time
his person is personified.

For he had neither house nor land,
nor alphabet nor sheets,
nor roast meat,
and so from one place to another, on the roads,
he went, dying from lack of life,
dying little by little—
that was the way of it from his birth.

Luckily (and strangely) they were all of the same mind,
from the bishop to the judge,
in assuring him of his share of heaven;
and dead now, properly dead, our own poor man,
oh, our poor poor man,
he will not know what to do with so much sky.
Can he plow it or sow it or harvest it?

He did that always; cruelly
he struggled with raw land,
and now the sky lies easy to his plow,
and later, among the fruits of heaven,
he will have his share, and at his table,
at such a height, everything is set
for him to eat his fill of heaven,
our poor man, who brings, as his fortune,
from below, some sixty years of hunger
to be satisfied, finally, as is just and proper,
with no more batterings from life,
without being victimized for eating;
safe as houses in his box under the ground,
now he no longer moves to protect himself,
now he will not struggle over wages.
He never hoped for such justice, did this man.
Suddenly they have filled his cup, and it cheers him;
now he has fallen dumb with happiness.

How heavy is he now, the poor poor man!
He was a bag of bones, with black eyes,
and now we know, by the weight of him alone,
the oh so many things he always lacked,
for if this strength had gone on and on,
digging up raw land, combing out stones,
harvesting wheat, soaking clay,
grinding down sulfur, lugging firewood,
if this so weighty man did not have shoes,
oh, misery, if this whole separate man
of tendon and muscle didn't ever have
justice in life, and all men beat him,
all men did him down, and even so
he went on laboring away, now, lifting him up,
in his coffin, on our shoulders,
now at least we know how much life he didn't have,
that we did not help him in his life on earth.

Now it dawns on us we are taking on
all that we never gave him, and now it is late;
he weighs on us, and we cannot take his weight.

How many people does our dead one weigh?

He weighs as much as this world does, and we go on
taking this dead one on our shoulders. It's clear
that heaven must abound in bread baking.


Anonymous said...

Neruda...ahhhh. This poem, as I have to wonder, do all translations?, has obviously lost something,(the best stuff, to my way of thinking, that i have read on traslation is by Jane Hirschfield) but as you said, it stands up under its own weight. :-)

My favorite part is "How many people does our dead one weigh?" opens up worlds of thought for me.

thanks for the reading too.

Yvette Doucette

Humble Servant said...

Very good.

Sometimes I see alone
coffins under sail,
embarking with the pale dead, with women that have dead hair,
with bakers who are as white as angels,
and pensive young girls married to notary publics,
caskets sailing up the vertical river of the dead,
the river of dark purple,
moving upstream with sails filled out by the sound of death,
filled by the sound of death which is silence.

Death arrives among all that sound
like a shoe with no foot in it, like a suit with no man in it,
comes and knocks, using a ring with no stone in it, with no
finger in it,
comes and shouts with no mouth, with no tongue, with no
Nevertheless its steps can be heard
and its clothing makes a hushed sound, like a tree.

I'm not sure, I understand only a little, I can hardly see,
but it seems to me that its singing has the color of damp violets,
of violets that are at home in the earth,
because the face of death is green,
and the look death gives is green,
with the penetrating dampness of a violet leaf
and the somber color of embittered winter.

But death also goes through the world dressed as a broom,
lapping the floor, looking for dead bodies,
death is inside the broom,
the broom is the tongue of death looking for corpses,
it is the needle of death looking for thread.

Death is inside the folding cots:
it spends its life sleeping on the slow mattresses,
in the black blankets, and suddenly breathes out:
it blows out a mournful sound that swells the sheets,
and the beds go sailing toward a port
where death is waiting, dressed like an admiral.

From Neruda's "Nothing But Death."

Anonymous said...

Hey, that's a fine reading John.
So nice to hear Neruda.


MackJohnny said...

Nothing But Death, eh? I think I'll give it a go -- the poem, I mean, not death itself.

Brenda Schmidt said...

Wonderful reading.