Notebook, 1993-


Pablo Neruda

Under the volcanoes, beside the snow-capped mountains, among the huge lakes, the fragrant, the silent, the tangled Chilean forest . . . My feet sink down into the dead leaves, a fragile twig crackles, the giant rauli trees rise in all their bristling height, a bird from the cold jungle passes over, flaps its wings, and stops in the sunless branches. And then, from its hideaway, it sings like an oboe . . . . . The wild scent of the laurel, the dark scent of the boldo herb, enter my nostrils and flood my whole being . . . . . The cypress of the Guaitecas blocks my way . . . . . This is a vertical world: a nation of birds, a plenitude of leaves . . . . . I stumble over a rock, dig up the uncovered hollow, an enormous spider covered with red hair stares up at me, motionless, as huge as a crab . . . . . A golden carabus beetle blows its mephitic breath at me, as its brilliant rainbow disappears like lightning . . . . . Going on, I pass through a forest of ferns much taller than i am: from their cold green eyes sixty tears splash down on my face and, behind me, their fans go on quivering for a long time . . . . . A decaying tree trunk: what a treasure! . . . . . Black and blue mushrooms have given it ears, red parasite plants have covered it with rubies, other lazy plants have let it borrow their beards, and a snake springs out of the rooted body like a sudden breath, as if the spirit of the dead trunk were slipping away from it . . . . . Farther along, each tree stands away from its fellows . . . . . They soar up over the carpet of the secretive forest, and the foliage of each has its own style, linear, bristling, ramulose, lanceolate, as if cut by shears moving in infinite ways. . . A gorge; below, the crystal water slides over granite and jasper . . . . . A butterfly goes past, bright as a lemon, dancing between the water and the sunlight . . . . . Close by, innumerable calceolarias nod their little yellow heads in greeting . . . . . High up, red copihues [Lapageria rosea] dangle like drops from the magic forest's arteries . . . . . The red copihue is the blood flower, the white copihue is the snow flower . . . . . A fox cuts through the silence like a flash, sending a shiver through the leaves, but silence is the law of the plant kingdom . . . . . The barely audible cry of some bewildered animal far off . . . . . The piercing interruption of a hidden bird . . . . . The vegetable world keeps up its low rustle until a storm churns up all the music of the earth.

Anyone who hasn't been in the Chilean forest doesn't know this planet. I have come out of that landscape, that mud, that silence, to roam, to go singing through the world. ['The Chilean Forest' - pps. 5-6]

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. . . . . You can say anything you want, yessir, but it's the words that sing, they soar and descend . . . . . I bow to them . . l love them, I cling to them, I run them down, I bite into them, I melt them down . . . . . I love words so much . . . . . The unexpected ones . . . . . The ones I wait for greedily or stalk until, suddenly, they drop . . . . . Vowels I love . . . . . They glitter like colored stones, they leap like silver fish, they are foam, thread, metal, dew . . . . . I run after certain words. . . They are so beautiful that I want to fit them all into my poem . . . . . I catch them in mid-flight, as they buzz past, I trap them, clean them, peel them, I set myself in front of the dish, they have a crystalline texture to me, vibrant, ivory, vegetable, oily, like fruit, like algae, like agates, like olives . . . . . And then I stir them, I shake them, I drink them, I gulp them down, I mash them, I garnish them, I let them go . . . . . I leave them in my poem like stalactites, like slivers of polished wood, like coals, pickings from a shipwreck, gifts from the waves . . . . . Everything exists in the word . . . . . An idea goes through a complete change because one word shifted its place, or because another settled down like a spoiled little thing inside a phrase that was not expecting her but obeys her . . . . . They have shadow, transparence, weight, feathers, hair, and everything they gathered from so much rolling down the river, from so much wandering from country to country, from being roots so long . . . . . They are very ancient and very new . . . . . They live in the bier, hidden away, and in the budding flower . . . . . What a great language I have, it's a fine language we inherited from the fierce conquistadors . . . . . They strode over the giant cordilleras, over the rugged Americas, hunting for potatoes, sausages, beans, black tobacco, gold, corn, fried eggs, with a voracious appetite not found in the world since then . . . . . They swallowed up everything, religions, pyramids, tribes, idolatries just like the ones they brought along in their huge sacks . . . Wherever they went, they razed the land . . . But words fell like pebbles out of the boots of the barbarians, out of their beards, their helmets, their horseshoes, luminous words that were left glittering here . . . . . our language. We came up losers . . . We came up winners . . . They carried off the gold and left us the gold . . . . . They carried everything off and left us everything . . . They left us the words. ['The Word' - pp. 5-52]

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A bibliophile of little means is likely to suffer often. Books don't slip from his hands but fly past him through the air, high as birds, high as prices..... ['Books and Seashells' p. 171]

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I don't believe in originality. It is just one more fetish made up in our time, which is speeding dizzily to its collapse. I believe in personality reached through any language, any form, any creative means used by the artists. But out-and-out originality is a modern invention and an electoral fraud. There are some who want to be elected Poet Laureate in their country, their language, or in the world. So they run in search of electors, they fling insults at those who seem close enough to compete for the scepter, and poetry turns into a farce.

Still, it is essential to keep one's interior bearing, to stay in control of the additional material that nature, culture, and a socially-committed life contribute to bringing out the best in the poet.

In the past, the most noble, the consummate poets, like Quevedo, for example, wrote poems headed with this warning signal: "Imitation of Horace," "Imitation of Ovid," "Imitation of Lucretius."

For my part, I keep up my own tone, which gathered strength by its own nature as time went along, like all living things. There is no doubt that feelings are a major part of my earliest books, and so much the worse for the poet who does not respond with song to the tender and furious summons of the heart! Yet, after forty years of experience, I believe that the poet can take a firmer grip on his emotions in his work. I believe in guided spontaneity. For this, the poet must always have some reserves, in his pocket, let's say, in case of emergency. First, a reserve of mental notes on established poetic forms, of words, sounds, or images, the ones that buzz right past us like bees. They must be caught quickly and put away in one's pocket. I am lazy in this respect, but I know I am passing on some good advice, Mayakovsky had a little notebook he was constantly going into. There is also the reserve of feelings. How can these be preserved? By being conscious of them when they come up. Then, when we face the paper, this consciousness will come back to us more vividly than the emotion itself.

In a substantial part of my work I have tried to prove that the poet can write about any given subject, about something needed by a community as a whole. Almost all the great works of anitiquity were done strictly on request. The Georgics are propaganda for the farming of the Roman countryside. A poet can write for a university or a labor union, for skilled workers and professionals. Freedom was never lost simply because of this. Magical inspiration and the poet's communication with God are inventions dictated by self-interest. At the moments of greatest creative intensity, the product can be partially someone else's influenced by reading and external pressures.

Suddenly I interrupt these observations, which are a bit on the theoretic side, and I start remembering the literary life in Santiago when I was a young man. Painters and writers worked in a creative ferment, without public response. An autumnal lyricism hovered over painting and poetry. Each artist tried to be more anarchic, more demoralizing, more disorderly than the others. There were deep and troubled stirrings among Chile's social classes. Alessandri made subversive speeches. On the nitrate pampas the workers, who would create the most important people's movement on the continent, were organizing. Those were the holy days of the struggle. Carlos Vicu÷a, Juan Gandulfo. I quickly joined the student anarcho-syndicalist movement. My favorite book was Andreyev's Sacha Yegulev. Others read Artsybashev's pornographic novels and attributed an ideological thrust to them, exactly as people do today with existentialist pornography. Intellectuals made themselves at home in bars. The good old wine gave poverty a glittering golden aura that lasted till the next morning. Juan Ega÷a, an extraordinarily gifted poet, was going to pieces, headed for the grave. A story was making the rounds that he had inherited a fortune and had left all his money in bills on a table in an abandoned house. His drinking companions, who slept by day, went out at night to fetch wine by the keg. But Juan Ega÷a's poetry is a beam of moonlight that has never sent the slightest shudder through our "lyric forest." This was the romantic title of the wonderful modernist anthology put out by Molina N■÷ez and O. Segura Castro, a very complete book, filled with greatness and generosity. It is the Summa Poetica of a chaotic era, marked by huge gaps as well as pure, resplendent poems. The personality who made the greatest impression on me was Aliro Oyarz■n, the dictator of the new literature. No one remembers him now. He was an emaciated Baudelairean, a remarkable decadent, Chile's Barba Jacob, tormented, cadaverous, handsome, and mad. He spoke with a cavernous voice from the top of his tall stature. He invented a hieroglyphic style of stating aesthetic problems which is peculiar to a certain segment of our literary world. His voice soared; his forehead was a yellow dome of the temple of intelligence. He would say, for example: "the circle's circularity," "the Dionysian in Dionysius," "the obscurity of the obscure." Yet Aliro Oyarz■n was no fool. In him were combined the paradisiacal and the infernal sides of a culture. He was a cosmopolite who gradually killed his real nature with his theories. They say he wrote his only poem in order to win a bet, and I can't understand why that poem is not in all the anthologies of Chilean poetry. ['Originality' - p. 266-67]

[Neruda, Memoirs [Autobiography], translated from the Spanish by Hardie St. Martin, New York: Penquin books, 1977. [Translated from the Spanish, Confieso que he vivido: Memorias, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc., 1974].]



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