Book: The Sea and the Bells


So after The Postman, I had to taste some of Pablo Neruda’s works first hand. I chance upon this particular collection which comes from the last year of his life. It coincides perfectly with The Postman, as it deals with his return back to the Isla Negra, his love for his home and the sea, and it also deals with the knowledge of impending death.

It appears that a different ship

will sail across the sea, at a certain hour.

She isn’t built of iron and does not fly

orange flags:

nobody knows from here or the hour:

everything is arranged

The Sea and the Bells

This particular version I picked up contains the original Spanish versions side by side with the translated poems by William O’Daly. I love how the poems are presented and the entire collection is well put together. Considering that Neruda was working on 8 books simultaneously while dying, I think it’s an unrivaled accomplishment.

Why search in vain

in every door in which we will not exist

because we have not arrived yet?

That is how I found out

that I was exactly like you

and like everybody.

The poems speak of a variety of things, it displays Neruda’s love for nature, for his country. He blends the two seamlessly, bring across his experiences of the war, of his time serving his country in the most majestic ways. In addition he has this way with describing the human condition. His use of words and imagery is just magnificent.

Pedro is the When and the How

Clara might say Of Course,

Roberto means Nevertheless:

they all walk with the help of prepositions,

adverbs, nouns

that pile up in the stores,

in the corporations, in the street,

and the weight of each man weighs on me,

on his connecting word

like an old hat:

where are they going? I ask myself.

Where are we going

with merchandise

we chose so carefully,

wrapped in little words,

dressed up in nets of words?

The curious ways in which we live our lives. Sometimes without even noticing or realizing how strange our behaviour has become,the beliefs that we have bought into and what we have left behind in our pursuit of success. All of this is captured in his poetry. It would seem that he has spent a lot of time observing people. This isn’t surprising considering that he served as a diplomat in a number of countries. His experiences span across the globe and it shows how connected he is to the world as whole, although he will always call Chile his home.

There are also poems that tell of moments in Neruda’s life, but told in such a different and unexpected way. They remain in one’s consciousness for a long time, such a deep impression that they leave.

They knocked on my door on the sixth of August:

nobody was standing there

and nobody entered, sat down in a chair

and passed the time with me, nobody

I will never forget that absence

that entered me like a man enters his own house,

and I was satisfied with nonbeing:

an emptiness open to everything.

Nobody questioned me, saying nothing,

and I answered without seeing or speaking,

Such a spacious and specific interview!

In the collection there are beautiful poems dedicated to his wife Matilde, and although his life hasn’t been the most exemplary, one can definitely see his overflowing talent with words. I’m not the best judge of poetry, since I don’t read that much, but if it only depends on one’s enjoyment of the poem, then this collection is definitely worth the read.

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