Sunday, June 20, 2010

Winter Garden, a collection by Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda has some pretty big achievements:  Chile's ambassador to France, a Nobel Prize for Literature, and this particular title receiving Bloomsbury's Book of the Year.  His life could never be described as dull...he's certainly not your stereotypical poet, pale and anguished, hidden away and perfecting his verse.  Neruda was out and active in life.  A Chilean Senator, various worldwide diplomatic assignments, plus a commentator on the activities in Chilean politics....he was never still. 

This beautiful collection, translated by William O'Daly, was written shortly before his death.  In fact, several manuscripts were found on his desk after he died of cancer in 1973.  The translator notes in the introduction that Chile was always his beloved home, one that he thought of in any other location he found himself.  This fits with what Neruda says in "Many Thanks":  "Why do I live exiled from the shine of the oranges?"

He knew he was dying but never does he descend into self-pity or maudlin reveries.  He acknowledges the big life he led, and in his final days he wants to simply meditate, focus on the simpler things (like a bird that approaches him as he sits outside alone), and retrieve the fondest of his memories.

In "Modestly", he uses a play on the words 'see' and 'sea': 
Without doubt I praise the wild excellence,
the old-fashioned reverence, the natural see,
the economy of sublime truths that cling
to rock upon rock in succeeding generations,
like certain mollusks who conquered the sea.

He shows some humor in "For All to Know", when he acknowledges that he's sometimes asked why he didn't write about some significant events. His response:
"I didn't have enough time or ink for everyone....I didn't decipher it, I couldn't grasp each and every meaning:  I ask forgiveness from anyone not here."

The most poignant poem of all is "In Memory of Manuel and Benjamin", two close friends of his, who unimaginably die on the same day by accidents.  Neruda is genuinely perplexed at the loss:  both were friends but they couldn't have been more different and while words were his voice, he finds it difficult to compose anything to make sense of it:

I loved my two contrary friends
who, with their silence, left me speechless
without knowing what to think or say.
So much searching under the skin
and so much walking among souls and roots
hour by hour so much pecking at paper. 

Even if they didn't have the time to grow tired,
now quiet and finally solemn,
they enter, pressed together, the vast silence
that will slowly grind down their frames.

Tears were never invented for those men.

Given his impending death, late in life, it's easy to see how pained Neruda was.  This collection features many personal thoughts, among them his eager wish not to be praised or to receive accolades in his late days.  He wants to watch water through windows and see the sunrise.  He's gracious and brave.

This book is part of a series by Copper Canyon Press of Neruda's works, translated by O'Daly from the Spanish (which is still featured in the left facing pages).

My thanks to Janet Jones of Copper Canyon Press for the Review Copy.


  1. Wow, I would love to read this, especially after recently reading Bolano's By Night in Chile. My family in law are from Chile and they came back recently from a trip with a lot of Neruda's works, although they are all in the original Spanish which I can't read. Great review

  2. I love Pablo Nerudo's works! He was such a tremendous ambassador for Chile and a poet among poets! His work can bring me to tears or to the highest peak of ecstasy. Ahhh, to have a lover read Nerudo is a fantasy come true! What an amazing review and tribute you have written for him! Great job Amy!