theliteraryjournals: BOOK OF THE DAY: Twenty L…



Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda

Sensual poetic beauty, with a lingering sadness, this collection of poems written when Chilean Neruda was only 19 is a remarkable feat, but was not received well for the intense and sexual content, this time being 1924 I can understand why, however, there is no explicit text it’s more to do with imagery using the surrounding environment, charting oceanic movements of passion along with the changing weather, to tell of youthful love. “ I have gone marking the atlas of your body / with crosses of fire. / My mouth went across: a spider, trying to hide. / In you, behind you, timid, driven by thirst.”. Becoming Neruda’s best-loved work selling two million copies by the 1960s. Why? the imagery he conjures up is simply breathtaking but also painfully sad. “On all sides I see your waist of fog, / and your silence hunts down my afflicted hours; / my kisses anchor, and my moist desire nests / in you with your arms of transparent stone.” As irresistible as the sea, love is engulfing (“You swallowed everything, like distance. / … In you everything sank!”), but also departs as mysteriously as it arrived, leaving the poet’s heart a “pit of debris, fierce cave of the shipwrecked.”

In terms of the intensity of romance and the tenderness of love, this collection encapsulates so much, each piece stands alone, but always remains close to the others.
Of the 20 poems on offer, not all made sense to me on first reading, but at only 70 pages in length, I will certainly be re-visiting in time. And then there’s the seething “Song of Despair”, a breakup song if I ever heard one, this for me was the highlight, words of such searing torment that were expressed with a heartbroken urgency. At such a young age, Neruda paints a mature picture of the abstract representations of life. To the contrary, the poems represent an open curiosity for different dimensions of life like sexuality, solitude, melancholy, and loss. Also, he does not idealize beauty and love, making his poetry far more authentically realistic. Nature is a constant presence throughout, with stars, rivers, wind, sky and sea reappearing in different contexts, lovers become nature itself. You can truly feel that each poem is reaching out to the other, sharing the same pleasure and plight.

by guest reviewer Steven Godin

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