Friday Poem: ‘Enigmas’ by Pablo Neruda

You asked me what the lobster is weaving there with his
…. golden feet?
I reply, the ocean knows this.
You say, what is the ascidia waiting for in its transparent bell?
…. What is it waiting for?
I tell you it is waiting for time, like you.
You ask me whom the Macrocystis hugs in its arms?
Study, study it, at a certain hour, in a certain sea I know.
You question me about the wicked tusk of the narwhal, and I
…. reply by describing
how the sea unicorn with the harpoon in it dies.
You inquire about the kingfisher’s feathers,
which tremble in the pure springs of the southern tide?
Or you’ve found in the cards a new question touching on the
…. crystal architecture
of the sea anemone, and you’ll deal that to me now?
You want to understand the electric Nature of the ocean spines?
…. The armored stalactite that breaks as it walks?
…. The hook of the angler fish, the music stretched out in the
…. deep places like a thread in the water?

I want to tell you the ocean knows this, that life in its
…. jewel boxes
is endless as the sand, impossible to count, pure,
and among the blood-colored grapes time has made the petal
hard and shiny, made the jellyfish full of light
and untied its knot, letting its musical threads fall
from a horn of plenty made of infinite mother-of-pearl.

I am nothing but the empty net which has gone on ahead
of human eyes, dead in those darknesses,
of fingers accustomed to the triangle, longitudes
on the timid globe of an orange.

I walked around as you do, investigating
the endless star,
and in my net, during the night, I woke up naked,
the only thing caught, a fish trapped inside the wind.

by Pablo Neruda | translation: Robert Bly
News of the Universe, Sierra Club Books, 1995

Pablo Neruda

A note by Anna Daniels at San Diego Free Press: Nobel Prize winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda is well known for his love poems which have been translated by such luminaries as WS Merwin and Robert Bly, both poets in their own right.  Matilde Urrutia, who is the subject of a number of those poems, has been described as his muse of love.  Neruda hearkened often to the muse’s call. Less well known are his keen observations of nature that reflect an inquisitive and informed intellect.  His poems about birds in Arte de Pájaros/Art of Birds as well as those about the sea and sea life are as sensual in their language as the love poems.

Those of us who read Neruda in English are probably unaware of the role a translator, in this case Robert Bly, plays in maintaining the elegance and sense of the original Spanish.  Bly beautifully conveys “life in its jewel boxes” which is the poetic metaphor at the heart of Enigmas.

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