July 12, 2010
Fun fact: if you were mischievous, you could translate the title of PABLO NERUDA’s (1904-1973) first book as “Twilight.” (The title is Crepusculario, which really means “Twilight Book.”) Neruda was only nineteen when he published that first volume of poetry; his second, the one that made him famous, was published a scant year later, in 1924: Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair). Neruda was fifty-five in 1959 when he published another famous work of erotic and melancholy love poetry, Cien sonetos de amor (100 Love Sonnets), and by that time History’s prod had chivvied him to the Far East as Chilean consul, to Spain during the bloody Spanish Civil War, to the Chilean government as a Communist senator, and then fast away from Chile as a fugitive from the very government he had helped bring to power. He became the people’s poet, a political poet as well as a love poet, and he won the Nobel Prize in 1971. But even before all that, before the wars and the flights, before the political phantasmagoria, back when he was barely out of his teens, he did a little better than “You’re like my own personal brand of heroin“:
Oh flesh, my own flesh, woman whom I loved and lost,
I summon you in the moist hour, I raise my song to you.
Like a jar you housed the infinite tenderness,
and the infinite oblivion shattered you like a jar.
There was the black solitude of the islands,
and there, woman of love, your arms took me in.
There were thirst and hunger, and you were the fruit.
There were grief and the ruins, and you were the miracle.
–from “The Song of Despair,” trans. W. S. Merwin
ALSO BORN THIS DATE: R. Buckminster Fuller
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