Thursday, April 8, 2010

Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions

This is a strange little book.  It's a translated work of poetry (translation from the Spanish by William O'Daly) that is unlike any poetry I've read.  It's simply a book of questions that make you stop and think for a moment, or longer.  The answers are irrelevant.  Some are humorous, others deep and meaningful, as in XL,

To whom does the ragged condor
report after its mission?

What do they call the sadness
of a solitary sheep?

And what happens in the dovecote
if the doves learn to sing?

If the flies make honey
will they offend the bees?

or in LXVIII,

When does the butterfly read
what flies written on its wings?

So it can understand its itinerary,
which letters does the bee know?

And with which numbers does the ant
subtract its dead soldiers?

What are cyclones called
when they stand still?

The most poignant questions are in LXIV,

Do we learn kindness

or the mask of kindness?

Who assigns names and numbers
to the innumerable innocent?

The collection is like this, and it's not something you read through continuously.  I actually put it in a basket by the coffee maker, just to glance at a few random questions throughout the day.  Pablo Neruda is famous for his politics and his love poems, so I'll have to take a look at those someday.  He was from Chile and passed away in 1973, just a few years after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.  He left a huge body of work to explore, but sadly not all of it is translated. 

Three Percent (an amazing literary translation site) has a review of his collection World's End at the link


  1. I really want to read something by Pablo Neruda. My partner's family are from Chile, and his name is Pablo - so it seems fitting. You have reminded me to get something of his.

  2. Amy may I suggest also Pablo Neruda's Memoirs?

  3. i enjoyed his likeness in the movie, Il Postino.

  4. oh, by the way, you won The Life O'Reilly on my blog!

  5. Oh I love Pablo Nerudo!!!! His love poems are so incredible & erotic! Pick up one his book Twenty Love Poems & a Song of Despair....ahh, it's so beautiful! I had an old boyfriend give me that book and highlight particular pieces - very, very hot!!! but he didn't call me his princess ;-)

  6. pablo neruda rocks his poems are so influencial his poems comrehend so much with my mind.