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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Two Versions of a Neruda Poem

1st version
this is an audio post - click to play

2nd version
this is an audio post - click to play

Part of this poem was posted in the comments on the previous Neruda post. The text of the first version I'm reading can be found here. That translation is by Robert Bly. The second version is translated by Donald D. Walsh and the text of it (from this book) can be found below. I'm not sure which I like better, though I'm leaning towards the Walsh at the moment because it seems to me to be more succinct somehow, sharper, more focused.

Only Death

There are lone cemeteries,
tombs filled with soundless bones,
the heart passing through a tunnel
dark, dark, dark;
like a shipwreck we die inward,
like smothering in our hearts,
like slowly falling from our skin down to our soul.

There are corpses,
there are feet of sticky, cold gravestone,
there is death in the bones,
like a pure sound,
like a bark without a dog,
coming from certain bells, from certain tombs,
growing in the dampness like teardrops or raindrops.

I see alone, at times,
coffins with sails
weighing anchor with pale corpses, with dead-tressed women,
with bakers white as angels,
with pensive girls married to notaries,
coffins going up the vertical river of the dead,
the dark purple river,
upstream, with sails swollen by the sound of death,
swollen by the silent sound of death.

To resonance comes death
like a shoe without a foot, like a suit without a man,
she comes to knock with a stoneless and fingerless ring,
she comes to shout without mouth, without tongue, without throat.
Yet her steps sound
and her dress sounds, silent, like a tree.

I know little, I am not well-accquainted, I can scarcely see,
but I think that her song has the color of moist violets,
of violets accustomed to the earth,
because the face of death is green,
and the gaze of death is green,
with the sharp dampness of a violet leaf
and its dark color of exasperated winter.

But death also goes through the world dressed as a broom,
she licks the ground looking for corpses,
death is in the broom,
it is death's tongue looking for dead bodies,
it is death's needle looking for thread.

Death is in the cots:
in the slow mattresses, in the black blankets
she lives stretched out, and she suddenly blows:
she blows a dark sound that puffs out sheets,
and there are beds sailing to a port
where she is waiting, dressed as an admiral.


Humble Servant said...

Brrr--chilly but lovely--your voice does well by death, John. I like parts of both translations--I like "Nothing but Death" as the title, but I like "not well acquainted." I don't know about death being a "she," though of course it must be so in Spanish, but perhaps where every person must have a gender it takes on less emphasis than ascribing a gender does in English where we can go neuter.

I thought this linked article was interesting from a personal perspective--it's got Pound and the imagist revolution, Osip Mandelstam, a hanging and Lorca--more like blood than ink indeed.

And, for all its right-wing screediness, it asks the same question we asked about Pound and Wilde and Milton--does a poet's politics or self-promotion or inhumanity matter? Well, it does if you are interested in movements, but it doesn't if you want a personal or "private-life" art.

MackJohnny said...

Gotta run, L. Thanks for the link. I skimmed it. I'll give it a closer read later and get back to you.

Brenda Schmidt said...

Wonderful readings, John. It's great to hear two versions. I can't decide which moves me more.

MackJohnny said...

The Neruda article sure is shrill. Not much I can say about it, except that I seem to pretty share the writer's opinion of Robert Bly as a poet.