In my own stream of consciousness, I surfed from As The Tumor Turns to one of her favorite blogs, The Cheerful Oncologist. CO posts a poem every Sunday night, and this week’s entry was from Pablo Neruda, one of my favorite Latin American writers. It is fitting to honor Neruda today, on the death of Augusto Pinochet. Neruda died of heart failure in his beloved Chile, mere days after Pinochet overthrew the government of Neruda’s ally, Salvador Allende.
Reading Neruda in translation — like García Marquez and Borges — is like eating diet vanilla ice milk when you know there’s French Vanilla Haagen Dazs around somewhere. How I do know? I’ve read and experienced all these in their original language. I ran to my bookshelf and found my favorite volume of Neruda poetry, Crepusculario (Poemas 1920-1923). “Crepusculario” means “dawning”. It was Neruda’s first book of poetry. Symbolist in nature, this early work was part of the Hispanic modernismo (modernism) movement, which was a rejection of the materialist world of the day. Modernist poetry was equivalent to today’s fantasy genre in fiction, wherein authors create exotic and distant worlds … escapist writing. Comparatively, Modernism was a short-lived movement in Hispanic writing. The ugly realities of World War I and Latin America’s defiance of colonialism gave rise to new generations of writers compelled to comment on the social, political and economic turbulence they witnessed. Neruda’s subsequent writings reflected the burgeoning 20th century: erotic love poems, surrealist poems, historical epics, and political manifestos.
To whet your appetite and to challenge my brain, I present you wth Neruda’s “Sensación de dolor” in its original text and my own translation. The poem speaks of how something as fleeting as a scent can evoke memories both painful and wonderful. Apologies to Ricardo, may he rest in peace.
Sensación de dolor
de lilas …
Claros atardeceres de mi lejana infancia
que fluyó como el cauce de unas aguas tranquilas.
Y después un pañuelo temblando en la distancia.
Bajo el cielo de seda la estrella que titila.
Nada mas. Pies cansados en las largas errancias
y un dolor, un dolor que remuerde y se afila.
… Y a lo lejos campanas, canciones, penas, ansias,
vírgenes que tenían tan dulces las pupilas.
de lilas …
The fragrance of lilacs …
Limpid afternoons of my distant childhood
that flowed like a stream of tranquil water.
And later a handkerchief trembling in the distance.
A star titillated under a silken sky.
No more. Feet, tired from endless wanderings
and pain, the biting pain of extraordinary effort.
… And in the distance bells, songs, grief, anguish,
virgins with such sweet eyes.
The fragrance of lilacs.
For my grandmother, Frieda (z”l), who was the scent of lilacs and roses.
She brought me the gift of another tongue.