It’s always a happy surprise when I discover wonderful art in unexpected places. The poetry of Pablo Neruda was one of those discoveries for me, tucked into a rerun of a '90s era TV show that I watched every once in a while. I just so happened to catch an episode in which a character recited a few lines of a beautiful Neruda love poem. My interest piqued by that small excerpt, I was on a search to find the entire piece. Oddly enough, I don’t know that I’ve run across it yet, all these years later; by now, I‘ve forgotten the lines recited. It’s not important any more though. Lucky for me, someone writing an episode of a TV show was a fan of his work, and I was introduced to it in turn.
Ever a writer, bits and pieces of his life and feelings found their way into Neruda’s work, even as the possibility of cancer was beginning to creep in, as shown in “Fear“:
“Everyone is spotting oddnesses/ in my innards, suddenly shocked/ by radio awful diagrams./ I don’t agree with them…I am afraid of the whole world,/ afraid of cold water, afraid of death./ I am as all mortals are,/ unable to be patient.”
It’s that lyrical honesty that’s part of why Neruda’s work appeals to me so much. He also had a wry sense of humor that makes it even more endearing. A good example of this is in his poem “Bestiary”:
“Fleas interest me so much/ that I let them bite me for hours./ They are perfect, ancient as Sanskrit,/ relentless as machines.”
The one regret I have is that I’m not quite able to read Neruda in his own words. The volumes of his poetry that I have are the original Spanish, side by side with English translations. It’s torturous to be able to read just enough Spanish to know that certain lines aren’t translated exactly verbatim. This hasn’t stopped me from enjoying his poetry over the years though, and to keep going back to it like a visit to an old friend.