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“Barely Freed from the Nettles”

Pablo Neruda’s Home, “La Sebastiana,” in Valparaíso

Pablo Neruda’s Home, “La Sebastiana,” in Valparaíso

Since I intend to visit Chile this November after crossing the Andes by way of San Carlos Bariloche, I plan to read as much of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s work as I can. I thought I would start by selecting the following from his collection, Canto General:

The Poet

I used to wander through life amid
an ill-starred love: I used to keep
a little page of quartz
to rivet my eyes to life.
I bought kindness, I was in the market
of greed, I inhaled envy’s
most sordid waters, the inhuman
hostility of masks and beings,
I lived a sea-swamp world
in which the flower, the lily, suddenly
consumed me in their foamy tremor,
and wherever I stepped my soul slid
toward the teeth ofthe abyss.
That’s how my poetry was born, barely
freed from the nettles, clutched
above solitude like a punishment,
or its most secret flower sequestered
in the garden of immodesty until it was buried.
And so isolated like the dark water
that inhabits its deep corridors,
I fled from hand to hand, to each
being’s alienation, to daily hatred.
I knew that was how they lived, hiding
half of their beings, like fish
from the strangest sea, and in the murky
immensities, I encountered death.
Death opening doors and roads.
Death gliding along the walls.

Neruda died suspiciously soon after Salvador Allende, the socialist President of Chile, was found dead by “suicide.”

I hope to visit Neruda’s two houses in the Valparaíso area, La Sebastiana (shown above) and Isla Negra.