A Brief Story of Pablo Neruda

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A friend sends out a poetry email every Monday, and here’s what he sent this week.

Pablo Neruda, toward the end of his life, was invited to read in Caracas, Venezuela, in the great national theater there.

The theater was filled with people celebrating him as the icon and the conscience and the voice of much of Latin culture.

He read for quite a long time, then asked, “Is there anything else you’d like to hear?”

Someone raised their hand and said, “Would you please read the last love poem in the book Twenty Love Songs and A Song of Despair?”

He said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t bring that with me” (a book published in 1924 when he was 20 years old.)

Then 400 people stood up and recited the poem to him.

What a culture to have the voice of the poet in the hearts of so many people!

The poem filling the theater that night follows.

—————–

TONIGHT I CAN WRITE

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example, “The night is starry
and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance.”

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is starry and she is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

My sight tries to find her as though to bring her closer.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, that’s certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.

Another’s. She will be another’s. As she was before my kisses.
Her voice, her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that’s certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.

by Pablo Neruda, from Twenty Love Poems and A Song of Despair,
translated from the Spanish by W.S. Merwin, 1969.
Caracas story from interview with Jack Kornfield.