I can still remember the rush of discovering Pablo Neruda many years ago, when I first read his Residencia en la tierra or Residence On Earth. My favourite poem on cursorily reading first was Madrigal Written In Winter. It begins thus.....In the depths of the deep sea, in the night of long lists, like a horse your silent silent name runs past. These words are recollected here with the flaws memory has.
I will not be brave enough to try to write a critique of Neruda's poetry. And that is not my intention. Before I venture any further, I must quote these lines....
Poetry is white:
it comes from the water wrapped in drops,
it wrinkles, and it piles up,
the skin of this planet must be stretched,
the sea of its whiteness must be ironed
and the hands go and go...........( Full flowers)
Pablo Neruda is the Poet's poet. He is the writer's writer. His influence is far and wide, on writer's in different languages. He carved a new style in poetry, a style that is rich in imagery, in content and in finesse. He is attractive because he is original. He writes in a language at once real and surreal. His poetry is not tame beause it smells fresh from the rigours of earth dug up, from social upheavals, from involvement in politics, from social justice.
My aim here is to draw attention to a poem called The Book Of Questions, published in 1973. These brief poems are written as questions, in all some 320. However as we read, we find there are no answers because the questions cannot be answered.
The imagery evoked is just utterly fantastic and somberly beautiful. This is imagination mixed with melancholy. Most questions are breath stoppers leaving some wound somewhere, inside. As we read, we know they should not be answered, there is no need, let them be, let this wound simmer, let this pain be.
Here are some of the questions that I like most......
Is there anything sadder than a train standing in the rain?
Why do leaves commit suicide
when they feel yellow?
How many bees are there in a day?
Is the sun the same as yesterdays
or is this fire different from that fire?
What will they say about my poetry who never touched my blood?
Why does the earth grieve
when the violets appear?
How does the abandoned bicycle win its freedom?
How does rumour of the sky smell
when the blue of water sings?
Is it true that sadness is thick and melancholy thin?
And why is the sun so congenial in the hospital garden?
As one can see, there are so many images here, of flowers, of sea and of memories. The answers we may give take us to an unknown world or worlds, which we do not know of, only pretend to know.
Where does the rainbow end, in your soul or on the horizon?
What can one say to that, what can one say anyway......
For those acquainted with Neruda's more famous poems, The Book Of Questions allows a more tender feel of his work, work that even under the strain of rigid universalism, retains the freshness of earth.
I will end with a few more questions.........
How is the translation of their languages
arranged with the birds?
In which language does rain fall over tormented cities?
Do thoughts of love fall
into extinct volcanoes?
And many more.