‘Don’t go far off’ by Pablo Neruda

Don’t go far off, not even for a day, because —
because — I don’t know how to say it: a day is long
and I will be waiting for you, as in an empty station
when the trains are parked off somewhere else, asleep.

Don’t leave me, even for an hour, because
then the little drops of anguish will all run together,
the smoke that roams looking for a home will drift
into me, choking my lost heart.

Oh, may your silhouette never dissolve on the beach;
may your eyelids never flutter into the empty distance.

Don’t leave me for a second, my dearest,

because in that moment you’ll have gone so far
I’ll wander mazily over all the earth, asking,
Will you come back? Will you leave me here, dying?

I really love this poem by Pablo Neruda. I feel bad about not reading it in the original Spanish, but my Spanish is very rusty these days, so this translation will have to do. As it happens, I think this is a wonderful translation, that reads absolutely beautifully…

So, from what I have read by Neruda, it is his love poems that excite me most. I love so many of them that it is difficult to choose which one to post on here first. This poem is achingly gorgeous. I love the image in the first stanza where the poet waiting for his absent lover as in an empty station, “when the trains are off parked somewhere else, asleep”. What a sweet, unique image; without his lover, the speaker feels completely lost, with no way of getting back to her. I love the pleading “Don’t go far off”, “don’t leave me” and “don’t leave me for a second”, because it displays how desperate we can all become, when we are truly in love. In this poem, one lover, without the other, feels himself to be “dying”. It’s so dramatic, and I love that!

In the second stanza of this poem I particularly like the image of “the smoke that roams looking for a home” (which so beautifully embodies loneliness) choking the speaker if his lover ever stays away too long. Even “for a second”, if his lover leaves him, the speaker will begin to wander through the world, choking on loneliness, disbelief, and “dying”. I love the drama of this poem — it’s what really attracts me to Neruda’s work.

‘I thought of you’ by Sara Teasdale

I thought of you and how you love this beauty,
And walking up the long beach all alone 
I heard the waves breaking in measured thunder
As you and I once heard their monotone.

Around me were the echoing dunes, beyond me
The cold and sparkling silver of the sea —
We two will pass through death and ages lengthen
Before you hear that sound again with me.

 

Here is a poem by Sara Teasdale, whose work never fails to touch me with its simplicity and its beauty. This is, of course, a very sad poem, because it evokes a love that is in many ways impossible (the lovers will never meet again in this life). I think it delivers an incredibly true sense of what it is to be separated from the one you love, and describes so beautifully the simplicity of what it is we need or miss in that person when they are gone…  

In the poem, the poet is walking along the beach “all alone”, surrounded by the “beauty” of the “echoing dunes,” and the “cold and sparkling silver of the sea”. The scene is beautiful, but nonetheless empty and cold, and her heart is full of the one who she longs to share her experience with. She tells us that she and her loved one will “pass through death and ages lengthen” before they can listen to the sound of the waves again together. 

This a terribly sad scene that is presented in Teasdale’s poem, but what I love about this is the simplicity of what the speaker longs for. This is what we miss when our Other is far away: just their presence. All the poet wants in this poem is to hear the waves with him… to see this scene with him…  it’s just the togetherness that matters to her. I love this because there’s nothing fancy about it, and that feels real and true to me. 

‘Blessing’ by Imtiaz Dharker

The skin cracks like a pod.
There never is enough water.

Imagine the drip of it,
the small splash, echo
in a tin mug,
the voice of a kindly god.

Sometimes, the sudden rush
of fortune. The municipal pipe bursts,
silver crashes to the ground
and the flow has found
a roar of tongues. From the huts,
a congregation : every man woman
child for streets around
butts in, with pots,
brass, copper, aluminium,
plastic buckets,
frantic hands,

and naked children
screaming in the liquid sun,
their highlights polished to perfection,
flashing light,
as the blessing sings
over their small bones.

 

I think this is the second poem by Imtiaz Dharker that I have posted on this blog. I just think she is an extremely exciting poet; she uses such bright, colourful language.

I love the opening of this poem, with its image of skin that “cracks like a pod”. This phrase delivers a strong image of dehydration, of drought, and of cracked earth in the heat. The cracked “pod” brings to my mind a pod of seeds, scorched by the sun so that it will never produce or grow or bear fruit…”There is never enough water.” The simplicity of this second statement to me amplifies the tragic ramifications of its significance. Nothing can grow — nothing can live — where there is no water.

In the second stanza, as the poet invites us to “imagine the drip of it”, I find that the sound of the words here are so cleverly evocative that they even make me thirsty! The sibilance of the “small splash”, and the pleasing clanging of consanants in “echoing”, “tin” and “mug” deliver such a strong image of water that is so needed after the image of the “crack[ed].. pod”… It is significant that the poet describes this sound of water as the “voice of a kindly god” because it emphasises to us that very often the people in such a situation (where water is so scarce), view the advent of such a commodity as a kindly act of god. What else is there to do when you have no possibility to improve your situation? What else is there to believe when you have no possibility of educating yourself? I imagine this poem to be set in India somewhere, because of Dharker’s background.

There is a “sudden rush of fortune” in the third stanza, when the municipal pipe bursts. I think this is very clever, the way the poet draws a parallel between financial wealth and the water. Notice that the water is “silver” — so much more bright and expensive than the “brass, copper, aluminium,/ plastic buckets,/ frantic hands” that scramble to trap just a bit of the precious liquid. I think the fact that the water comes from a “municipal pipe” is important. To me, this evokes the idea of a mistake on the part of the authorities — the pipe burst and so the water got out. When I read this poem it makes me think of corrupt authorities that could help their people, but don’t. And when the pipe bursts, the reaction is a furious scramble to get as much from the happy accident as possible.  The people in the poem are described as a “congregation” here; again we have some ambiguous religious language that (to me) enforces the notion of superstitious, uneducated people, who do not know how wronged they are by the authorities.

For a moment, in the final stanza, the people — “the naked children” — become perfect, even godlike, as everything around them seems to turn to water. They stand in the “liquid sun” and are turned to gold, “polished to perfection”; they are rich as they stand in the world that has come alive thanks to the water. I think this is such a clever, and beautiful image because it really brings home to us the significance of water — how absolutely indispensable a commodity it is — and how a “rush” of water can be a miracle and a gift from god for those who are not fortunate enough to have been born in a country where it is taken for granted.

The final line, “the blessing sings over their small bones” is so very beautiful. I love the use of “sings”, and the “small bones”, and think it just reinforces the idea of the children’s mortality, reminding us that without water, they would certainly die.

‘My grandmother’s love letters’ by Hart Crane

There are no stars to-night
But those of memory.
Yet how much room for memory there is
In the loose girdle of soft rain.

There is even room enough
For the letters of my mother’s mother,
Elizabeth,
That have been pressed so long
Into a corner of the roof
That they are brown and soft,
And liable to melt as snow.
Over the greatness of such space
Steps must be gentle.
It is all hung by an invisible white hair.
It trembles as birch limbs webbing the air.
And I ask myself:

‘Are your fingers long enough to play
Old keys that are but echoes:
Is the silence strong enough
To carry back the music to its source
And back to you again
As though to her?’
Yet I would lead my grandmother by the hand
Through much of what she would not understand;
And so I stumble. And the rain continues on the roof
With such a sound of gently pitying laughter.

Hart Crane is a poet I started reading very recently — only about a week ago. He was an American poet and what I have read so far of his work has completely startled me in a way I find so exciting because his work is new (to me), and I can’t wait to read and discover more. 

The opening, “There are no stars tonight/But those of memory” really drew me in to this poem. It is such an evocative phrase, with the idea that there is nothing to guide him but memories… that there is no destiny to be followed save one that leads backwards, into memory. This is what I imagine old age to feel like.

Another thing I would like to point out in this poem is how the poet refers to his grandmother, in the second stanza, as “my mother’s mother,/ Elizabeth”. I think this is very significant, and touching. The poet recognises the family tie to this woman, but he does not call her ‘grandmother’ — he calls her “Elizabeth”. I love the way he gives “Elizabeth” a line to herself. By employing his grandmother’s first name, I get the impression that the speaker is allowing this lady to remain her own entity — Elizabeth — not simply ‘grandmother’, as he had presumably known her.

I love the description of the love letters being, “pressed so long/ Into a corner of the roof/ That they are brown and soft/ And liable to melt as snow”. There is something so American about the way that phrase sounds (to me); it is so deft and uniquely-angled in its beauty. It is like each word is weighed so carefully and spoken so slowly…

I also love the image in the final stanza of the poet leading his grandmother by the  hand through “much of what she would not understand” — and so he stumbles. For me, he stumbles because she does not understand; it makes him hesitate because perhaps she has been a measure for him of what is right. Perhaps he is afraid to tread in places where she has not because she would not understand and perhaps she would not approve.

I think this is such a touching description of the pain of loving one who is frail — one who is at once so aged and yet, in some ways, innocent as a child. And the rain’s “gently pitying laughter” is for the poet (I think), rather than for his grandmother.

‘Bright Star’ by John Keats

 

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

This is such a beautiful love poem, and I am in love with it! I came to this poem fairly late in my Keats obsession (which is ongoing!), by which I mean that I read the odes and other sonnets first. I never properly appreciated the love story that existed between Keats and Fanny Brawne until I saw Jane Campion’s film Bright Star a couple of years ago (which is a wonderful film!) I had been so enthralled by his poetry and philosophy and discourse on the nature of poetry that I hadn’t really understood that aspect of his life.

This is an astoundingly beautiful sonnet to the poet’s “Bright star”. As with all of Keats’ work, this is full of the most delicious word pairings and phrases… I love “her tender-taken breath”, I think it is ingenious. I also love the image of the “moving waters at their priest-like task/ of pure ablution”… and “a sweet unrest”, too… I love all of it, in fact!

I have a book of Keats’ poems and letters, and I read through the letters chronologically for the first time while I was still at school. By doing this, you can trace Keats’ life and thought in some sense. His letters are so beautifully-written, touching, charming, philosophical, revealing and terribly sad, and I remember when I came to the last letter — the first time I read it at 18 — I was in tears! Keats’ final letter was to his friend Charles Brown, on 30th November 1820. At this time he was in Italy, dying of tuberculosis. I would like to post the final lines of that letter here because I think it is the most touching ending to a letter that I have ever read. And I’ll leave this at that:

“I can scarcely bid you good bye even in a letter. I always made an awkward bow.” 

‘Remembrance’ by Emily Bronte

Cold in the earth — and the deep snow piled above thee,
Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave!
Have I forgot, my only Love, to love thee,
Severed at last by Time’s all-severing wave?

Now, when alone, do my thoughts no longer hover
Over the mountains, on that northern shore,
Resting their wings where heath and fern leaves cover
Thy noble heart forever, ever more?

Cold in the earth — and fifteen wild Decembers,
From those brown hills, have melted into spring;
Faithful, indeed, is the spirit that remembers
After such years of change and suffering!

Sweet Love of youth, forgive, if I forget thee,
While the world’s tide is bearing me along;
Other desires and other hopes beset me,
Hopes which obscure, but cannot do thee wrong!

No later light has lightened up my heaven,
No second morn has ever shone for me;
All my life’s bliss from thy dear life was given,
All my life’s bliss is in the grave with thee.

But, when the days of golden dreams had perished,
And even Despair was powerless to destroy,
Then did I learn how existence could be cherished,
Strengthened, and fed without the aid of joy.

Then did I check the tears of useless passion —
Weaned my young soul from yearning after thine;
Sternly denied its burning wish to hasten
Down to that tomb already more than mine.

And, even yet, I dare not let it languish,
Dare not indulge in memory’s rapturous pain;
Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish,
How could I seek the empty world again?

 

Here is another of Emily Bronte’s poems. I love this one, and it reminds me a lot of Wuthering Heights, because of the idea of endless, eternal love that defeats even death. Emily was very preoccupied with this subject, and it is no wonder, because her life was so full of death from her earliest years. The oldest Bronte sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, died while they were still children, from consumption. Emily Bronte had to live with that awful memory until she was also taken by the disease… Something I always find so inspiring in Emily Bronte is the way in which she held on to the idea of love, even though she was painfully aware of her own — and her family’s — mortality.

This poem understands how grief can be a “rapturous pain” — something addictive and necessary to the griever. Emily calls it a “divinest anguish”, and acknowledges that very human phenomenon whereby we become attached to our grief, because it is the only chord that sill connects us to our loved-one who has died. As always, Bronte displays an incredibly intimate understanding and knowledge of the deepest undercurrents of human nature and psychology. I love this one!

‘Il faut, voyez vous, nous pardonner les choses’ by Paul Verlaine

Il faut, voyez-vous, nous pardonner les choses :
De cette façon nous serons bien heureuses
Et si notre vie a des instants moroses,
Du moins nous serons, n’est-ce pas, deux pleureuses.

O que nous mêlions, âmes soeurs que nous sommes,
A nos voeux confus la douceur puérile
De cheminer loin des femmes et des hommes,
Dans le frais oubli de ce qui nous exile !

Soyons deux enfants, soyons deux jeunes filles
Eprises de rien et de tout étonnées
Qui s’en vont pâlir sous les chastes charmilles
Sans même savoir qu’elles sont pardonnées.

 

My Translation 

You see, we must be forgiven things:
That way, we will find happiness,
And if our life has moments of sadness,
At least we shall weep together.

Oh, if only our sister-souls could blend
Our confused desires with childish tenderness,
And wander on, far from men and women,
In the cool forgetfulness of that which has exiled us.

Let us be children, let us be two little girls,
Who are enamoured by nothing and amazed by all,
Who grow pale in their chaste bowers,
Without even knowing they have been forgiven.

I have been very taken with Verlaine’s poetry since my late teens. I think it is the melancholy of it, a certain lightness and delicate quality to this poet’s voice that  really attracts and continues to fascinate me.

The first line of this poem (in French) is so beautiful. I love the ruffling sound of the repetition of the ‘f’ in “faut” and the ‘v’s in “voyez-vous”. I think that Verlaine was extremely masterful in the way he used alliteration and sibilance in this poem, particularly in the first stanza.

This poem is often described as Verlaine’s request for forgiveness from his wife, Mathilde. He had good reason to beg her forgiveness, because it was no secret that he was in love and having an affair with fellow poet, Arthur Rimbaud. However, for me personally, this poem seems rather to describe his love for Rimbaud, and his wish that society were different and that he could fulfil his love freely. For me, in this poem Verlaine is wishing that he could be forgiven (yes, by his wife, and also by the rest of society). He wishes that he could be forgiven for loving the wrong person because then he could find happiness. Happiness is being with one’s ‘sister-soul’ or ‘soul-mate’, because even during the sad times, at least one is not alone.

The second stanza particularly makes me think of Verlaine’s relationship with Rimbaud because he talks about ‘confused desires’, wishing that they could be as innocent as children. It was only natural that Verlaine’s feelings for Rimbaud were “confused”, since he was married, and also because he was living at a time when homosexuality was illegal and considered a moral evil. He expresses a desire to leave behind ‘men and women’ (the prison of gender) and to live free from that which has exiled him.

In the final stanza, I find it a very touching sentiment as Verlaine expresses his longing for the innocence of childhood. This image of the little girls in their bower, not even knowing that they have been forgiven, is so beautiful. This was a difficult poem to translate but the act of translating it made me realise certain aspects that  I had not clearly registered before.