If there is one man or woman who can be said to be the poet of the 21st century, then many would choose Chile's Pablo Neruda.

The first time I read Neruda in the 1990s, I really wanted to learn Spanish -- because I wondered what poetry like this, amazing as it was in translation, would sound like in Spanish. People talk often about how something they read changed their lives forever or moved and changed them forever and I usually say I have never had such experiences but reading Neruda perhaps comes close!
"something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
deciphering
that fire
and wrote the first faint line,
faint without substance, pure
nonsense,
pure wisdom,
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
unfastened
and open."
 - Pablo Neruda (From: Poetry, Memorial de isla negra, 1964).
"Our original guiding stars are struggle and hope. But there is no such thing as a lone struggle, no such thing as a lone hope. In every human being are combined the most distant epochs, passivity, mistakes, sufferings, the pressing urgencies of our own time, the pace of history." - Pablo Neruda (Nobel lecture)
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Pablo Neruda (Born: July 12 1904, Parral, Chile – Died: September 23 1973, Santiago, Chile)

Onto some of his poems:
Absence and Presence
by Pablo Neruda


If I die, survive me with such sheer force
that you waken the furies of the pallid and the cold,
from south to south lift your indelible eyes,
from sun to sun dream through your singing mouth.
I don't want your laughter or your steps to waver,
I don't want my heritage of joy to die.
Don't call up my person. I am absent.
Live in my absence as if in a house.
Absence is a house so vast
that inside you will pass through its walls
and hang pictures on the air.
Absence is a house so transparent
that I, lifeless, will see you, living,
and if you suffer, my love, I will die again.


Saddest Poem
by Pablo Neruda

I can write the saddest lines tonight.

Write for example: ‘The night is fractured
and they shiver, blue, those stars, in the distance’

The night wind turns in the sky and sings.

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

On nights like these I held her in my arms.
I kissed her greatly under the infinite sky.

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

I can write the saddest lines tonight.
To think I don’t have her, to feel I have lost her.

Hear the vast night, vaster without her.
Lines fall on the soul like dew on the grass.

What does it matter that I couldn’t keep her.
The night is fractured and she is not with me.

That is all. Someone sings far off. Far off,
my soul is not content to have lost her.

As though to reach her, my sight looks for her.
My heart looks for her: she is not with me.
                  
The same night whitens, in the same branches.
We, from that time, we are not the same.

I don’t love her, that’s certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the breeze to reach her.

Another’s kisses on her, like my kisses.
Her voice, her bright body, infinite eyes.

I don’t love her, that’s certain, but perhaps I love her.
Love is brief: forgetting lasts so long.

Since, on these nights, I held her in my arms,
my soul is not content to have lost her.

Though this is the last pain she will make me suffer,
and these are the last lines I will write for her.

And this poem is from his third book of poems, 'Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair', which he had a tough time getting published initially because of its open celebration of sex. (Note that he was only 20 when he wrote this!)

Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs
by Pablo Neruda

Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs,
when you surrender, you stretch out like the world.
My body, savage and pleasant, undermines you
and makes a son leap in the bottom of the earth.

I was lonely as a tunnel. Birds flew from me.
And night invaded me with her powerful army.
To survive I forged you like a weapon,
like an arrow for my bow, or a stone for my sling.

But now the hour of revenge falls, and I love you.
Body of skin, of moss, of firm and thirsty milk!
And the cups of your breasts! And your eyes full of absence!
And the roses of your mound! And your voice slow and sad!

Body of my woman, I will live on through your marvelousness,
My thirst, my desire without end, my wavering road!
Dark river beds down which the eternal thirst is flowing,
and the fatigue is flowing, and the grief without shore.

Amongst his many poems, there are also the Odes to every day objects like clothes, socks, wine, tomatoes, maize, a large tuna in the market, a lemon, the onion, an artichoke, and even salt. Here's one of them:


Ode To Enchanted Light
by Pablo Neruda

Under the trees light
has dropped from the top of the sky,
light
like a green
latticework of branches,
shining
on every leaf,
drifting down like clean
white sand.

A cicada sends
its sawing song
high into the empty air.

The world is
a glass overflowing
with water.
And now a few sonnets:

by Pablo Neruda

Full woman, carnal apple, hot moon,
thick smell of seaweed, crushed mud and light,
what obscure clarity opens between your columns?
What ancient night does man touch with his senses?

Ah, loving is a voyage with water and with stars,
with suffocating air and brusque storms of flour:
loving is a battle of lightning bolts,
and two bodies, overcome by one honey.

Kiss by kiss I travel across your small infinity,
your images, your rivers, your diminutive villages,
and the genital fire transformed into delight

runs through the narrow trails of the blood
until it plunges itself, like a nocturnal carnation,
until it is and is nothing more but a ray in the shadows.


by Pablo Neruda

Age covers us like drizzle;
time is interminable and sad;
a salt feather touches your face;
a trickle ate through my shirt.

Time does not distinguish between my hands
and a flock of oranges in yours;
with snow and picks life chips away
at your life, which is my life.

My life, which I gave you, fills
with years like a swelling cluster of fruit.
The grapes will return to the earth.

And even down there time
continues, waiting, raining
on the dust, eager to erase even absence.


Sonnet XVII (100 Love Sonnets, 1960)
by Pablo Neruda

I don't love you as if you were the salt-rose, topaz
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as certain dark things are loved,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn't bloom and carries
hidden within itself the light of those flowers,
and thanks to your love, darkly in my body
lives the dense fragrance that rises from the earth.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you simply, without problems or pride:
I love you in this way because I don't know any other way of loving

but this, in which there is no I or you,
so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.
And one last poem that I am tempted to add to end this post:

Death Alone
by Pablo Neruda

There are lone cemeteries,
tombs full of soundless bones,
the heart threading a tunnel,
a dark, dark tunnel :
like a wreck we die to the very core,
as if drowning at the heart
or collapsing inwards from skin to soul.

There are corpses,
clammy slabs for feet,
there is death in the bones,
like a pure sound,
a bark without its dog,
out of certain bells, certain tombs
swelling in this humidity like lament or rain.

I see, when alone at times,
coffins under sail
setting out with the pale dead, women in their dead braids,
bakers as white as angels,
thoughtful girls married to notaries,
coffins ascending the vertical river of the dead,
the wine-dark river to its source,
with their sails swollen with the sound of death,
filled with the silent noise of death.

Death is drawn to sound
like a slipper without a foot, a suit without its wearer,
comes to knock with a ring, stoneless and fingerless,
comes to shout without a mouth, a tongue, without a throat.
Nevertheless its footsteps sound
and its clothes echo, hushed like a tree.

I do not know, I am ignorant, I hardly see
but it seems to me that its song has the colour of wet violets,
violets well used to the earth,
since the face of death is green,
and the gaze of death green
with the etched moisture of a violet's leaf
and its grave colour of exasperated winter.

But death goes about the earth also, riding a broom
lapping the ground in search of the dead -
death is in the broom,
it is the tongue of death looking for the dead,
the needle of death looking for the thread.

Death lies in our beds :
in the lazy mattresses, the black blankets,
lives a full stretch and then suddenly blows,
blows sound unknown filling out the sheets
and there are beds sailing into a harbour
where death is waiting, dressed as an admiral.
I could go on and on because Neruda wrote thousands of poems but I'll leave you with two links that have some of his poems....
and leave you with another excerpt from his rather long Nobel lecture:
Ladies and Gentlemen, I did not learn from books any recipe for writing a poem, and I , in my turn, will avoid giving any advice on mode or style which might give the new poets even a drop of supposed insight...Because in the course of my life I have always found somewhere the necessary support, the formula which had been waiting for me, not in order to be petrified in my words, but in order to explain me to myself...""And I believe that poetry is an action, ephemeral or solemn, in which there enter as equal partners solitude and solidarity, emotion and action, the nearness to oneself, the nearness to mankind, and to the secret manifestations of nature.

....

The poet is not a "little god". No, he is not a "little god". He is not picked out by a mystical destiny in preference to those who follow other crafts and professions. I have often maintained that the best poet is he who prepares our daily bread: the nearest baker who does not imagine himself to be a god. He does his majestic and unpretentious work of kneading the dough, consigning it to the oven, baking it in golden colours and handing us our daily bread as a duty of fellowship. And, if the poet succeeds in achieving this simple consciousness, this too will be transformed into an element in an immense activity, in a simple or complicated structure which constitutes the building of a community, the changing of the conditions which surround mankind, the handing over of mankind's products: bread, truth, wine, dreams. If the poet joins this never-completed struggle to extend to the hands of each and all his part of his undertaking, his effort and his tenderness to the daily work of all people, then the poet must take part, the poet will take part, in the sweat, in the bread, in the wine, in the whole dream of humanity. Only in this indispensable way of being ordinary people shall we give back to poetry the mighty breadth which has been pared away from it little by little in every epoch, just as we ourselves have been whittled down in every epoch.

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