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Posts Tagged ‘Latin American Poetry’

One of my dear friends gifted me Pablo Neruda’s ‘Odes to Common Things’. I have been reading it on and off for sometime, but recently I thought I will take the book and read it ‘properly’ – from the first page to the last. I finished it recently. Here is the review.


What I think

 

I have to start from the way the book looked. It has a beautiful brown cover with a black-and-white drawing of a salt bottle (or is it a pepper bottle?) and green coloured cloth binding. The paper was smooth, thick and wonderful to touch. The book had the wonderful bookish fragrance that the best books have. It was published by Bulfinch press. There were twenty five odes in the book. Each of the odes celebrated an everyday object – table, chair, bed, guitar, dog, cat, flowers, soap, socks, dictionary, scissors, tea, spoon, plate, orange, apple, bread, onion, tomato and a few more. Every poem was in bilingual form – the Spanish version was on the left hand side while the English translation was on the right hand side. Before the start of the poem there was a beautiful drawing of the everyday object which was the subject of the poem – the pictures on the two pages revealed two different facets of the object.

 

I loved the book. Neruda’s odes were beautiful. Neruda takes each everday object and sings its glory. He also uses the occasion to talk about love and life and music and nature and friendship and war and dreams and beauty and travel and learning and everything in between. One marvels at Neruda’s talent. One marvels at the beauty of the odes. One is engulfed slowly by their melody.

 

I highly recommend this collection of Neruda’s odes. If you like poems you will love this. If you don’t read much poetry, you will still love this 🙂

 

Favourites

 

I loved all the odes in the book. But I loved some of them more than the others. Here are some of my favourites.

 

From ‘Ode to the cat’

 

Men would like to be fish or fowl,

snakes would rather have wings,

and dogs are would-be lions.

Engineers want to be poets,

flies emulate swallows,

and poets try hard to act like flies.

But the cat

wants nothing more than to be a cat,

and every cat is pure cat

from its whiskers to its tail,

from sixth sense to squirming rat,

from nighttime to its golden eyes.

 

From ‘Ode to the onion’

 

Generously

you give up

your balloon of freshness

to the boiling consummation

of the pot,

and in the blazing heat of the oil

the shred of crystal

is transformed into a curled feather of gold.

 

From ‘Ode to the tomato’

 

Tomatoes have

their own glow,

and a benign grandeur.

All the same, we’ll have

to put this one to death :

the knife

sinks into

its living pulp,

it’s a bloody

organ,

a poignant,

raw,

inexhaustible

sun.

 

Ode to things

 

I have a crazy,

crazy love of things.

I like pliers,

and scissors.

I love

cups,

rings,

and bowls –

not to speak, of course,

of hats.

I love

all things,

not just

the grandest,

also

the

infinite-

ly

small –

thimbles,

spurs,

plates,

and flower vases.

 

Oh yes,

the planet

is sublime!

It’s full of

pipes

weaving

hand-held

through tobacco smoke,

and keys

and salt shakers –

everything,

I mean,

that is made

by the hand of man, every little thing :

shapely shoes,

and fabric,

and each new

bloodless birth

of gold,

eyeglasses,

carpenter’s nails,

brushes,

clocks, compasses,

coins, and the so-soft

softness of chairs.

 

Mankind has

built

oh so many

perfect

things!

Built them of wool

and of wood,

of glass and

of rope :

remarkable

tables,

ships, and stairways.

 

I love

all

things,

not because they are

passionate

or sweet smelling

but because,

I don’t know,

because

this ocean is yours,

and mine :

these buttons

and wheels

and little

forgotten

treasures,

fans upon

whose feathers

love has scattered

its blossoms,

glasses, knives and

scissors –

all bear

the trace

of someone’s fingers

on their handle or surface,

the trace of a distant hand

lost

in the depths of forgetfulness.

 

I pause in houses,

streets and

elevators,

touching things,

identifying objects

that I secretly covet :

this one because it rings,

that one because

it’s as soft

as the softness of a woman’s hip,

that one there for its deep-sea color,

and that one for its velvet feel.

 

O irrevocable

river

of things :

no one can say

that I loved

only

fish,

or the plants of the jungle and the field,

that I loved

only

those things that leap and climb, desire, and survive.

It’s not true :

many things conspired

to tell me the whole story.

Not only did they touch me,

or my hand touched them :

they were

so close

that they were a part

of my being,

they were so alive with me

that they lived half my life

and will die half my death.

 

Ode to the dog

 

The dog is asking me a question

and I have no answer.

He dashes thruogh the countryside and asks me

wordlessly,

and his eyes

are two moist question marks, two wet

inquiring flames,

but I do not answer

because I haven’t got the answer.

I have nothing to say.

 

Dog and man : together we roam

the open countryside.

 

Leaves shine as

if someone

had kissed them

one by one,

orange trees

rise up from the earth

raising

minute planetariums

in trees that are as rounded

and green as the night,

while we roam together, dog and man

sniffling everything, jostling clover

in the countryside of Chile,

cradled by the bright fingers of September.

The dog makes stops,

chases bees,

leaps over restless water,

listens to far-off

barking,

pees on a rock,

and presents me the tip of his snout

as if it were a gift :

it is the freshness of his love,

his message of love.

And he asks me

with both eyes :

why is it daytime? why does night always fall?

why does spring bring

nothing

in its basket

for wandering dogs

but useless flowers,

flowers and more flowers?

This is how the dog

asks questions

and I do not reply.

 

Together we roam,

man and dog bound together again

by the bright green morning,

by the provocative empty solitude

in which we alone,

exist,

this union of dog and dew

or poet and woods,

For these two companions,

for these fellow-hunters,

there is no lurking fowl

or secret berry

but only birdsong and sweet smells,

a world moistened

by night’s distillations,

a green tunnel and then

a meadow,

a gust of orangey air,

the murmurings of roots,

life on the move,

breathing and growing,

and the ancient friendship,

the joy

of being dog or being man

fused in a single beast

that pads along on

six feet,

wagging

its dew-wet tail.

 

Ode to a bar of soap

 

When I pick up

a bar

of soap

to take a closer look,

its powerful aroma

astounds me :

O fragrance,

I don’t know

where you come from,

– what

is your home town?

Did my cousin send you

or did you come from clean clothes

and the hands that washed them,

splotchy from the cold basin?

Did you come from those

lilacs

I remember so well,

from the amaranth’s

blossom,

from green plums

clinging to a branch?

Have you come from the playing field

and a quick swim

beneath the

trembling

willows?

Is yours the aroma of thickets

or of young love or birthday

cakes? Or is yours the smell

of a dampened heart?

 

What is it that you bring

to my nose

so early

every day,

bar of soap,

before I climb into my morning

bath

and go into the streets

among men weighed down

with goods?

What this smell of people,

a faint smell,

of petticoat

flowers,

the honey of woodland girls?

Or is it

the old

half-forgotten

air of a

five-

and-ten,

the heavy white fabric

a peasant holds in his hands,

rich

thickness

of molasses,

or the red carnation

that lay on my aunt’s

sideboard

like a lightning-bolt of red,

ike a red arrow?

 

Do I detect

your pungent

odor

in cut-rate

dry goods and unforgettable

cologne, in barbershops

and the clean cuontryside,

in sweet water?

This is what

you are,

soap : you are pure delight,

the passing fragrance

that slithers

and sinks like a

blind fish

to the bottom of the bathtub.

 

Ode to a pair of scissors

 

Prodigious

scissors

(looking like

birds, or

fish),

you are as polished as a knight’s

shining armor.

 

Two long and treacherous

knives

crossed and bound together

for all time,

two

tiny rivers

joined :

thus was born a creature for cutting,

a fish that swims among billowing linens,

a bird that flies

through

barbershops.

 

Scissors

that smell

of

my seamstress

aunt’s

hands

when their vacant

metal eye

spied on

our

cramped

childhood,

tattling

to the neighbours

about our thefts of plums and kisses.

 

There,

in the house,

nestled in their corner,

the scissors crossed

our lives,

and oh so

many lengths of

fabric

that they cut and kept on cutting :

for newlyweds and the dead,

for newborns and hospital wards.

They cut

and kept on cutting,

also the peasant’s

hair

as tough

as a plant that clings to rock,

and flags

soon stained and scorched

by blood and flame,

and vine

stalks in winter,

and the cord

of

voices

on the telephone.

 

A long-lost pair of scissors

cut your mother’s

thread

from your navel

and handed you for all time

your separate existence.

Another pair, not necessarily

somber,

will one day cut

the suit you wear to your grave.

 

Scissors

have gone

everywhere,

they’ve explored

the world

snipping off piece of

happiness

and sadness

indifferently.

Everything has been material

for scissors to shape :

the tailor’s

giant scissors,

as lovely as schooners,

and very small ones

for trimming nails

in the shape of the waning moon,

and the surgeon’s

slender

submarine scissors

that cut complications

and the know that should not have grown inside you.

 

Now, I’ll cut this ode short

with the scissors

of good sense,

so tht it won’t be too long or too short,

so that it

will

fit in your pocket

smoothed and folded

like

a pair

of scissors.

 

Did you like the above poems? Have you read Neruda’s book? What do you think about it?

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