Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair is the second collection of poetry published by the Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda. The poems in this collection strongly depict love in very personal, intimate, erotic, and artistic ways. Published when he was only 19 years old, the critically acclaimed collection gave him international fame and set his place among men of letters as an emerging South American poet.
I didn’t know how to read this. Should I read the poems in one go? Should I wait for a certain mood before I start? Should I only read one poem a day to process each one effectively? Should I read aloud? I only did the last item, and it proved to be helpful. It further convinced me that poems are meant to be read aloud, to be whispered to the wind, to be heard within someone’s hearing.
Typing this alone makes me nervous because as much as I want to capture the feelings that I have for this book, they just remain as they are: feelings. And while reading, I imagined myself taking a northbound bus with a smattering of passengers. I am seated by the window. It is night. The moon is not full but it is luminescent. I could see it shed its light on the sleepy coastal towns as we drive along the silvery concrete. Further ahead, the shadow of the mountain looms like a grandmother tucking the kids to sleep. One could almost listen to the rustling of leaves perched atop the mountain, or is that the sea foam dissolving at the beach?
There’s so much to say and yet you cannot say.
I Have Gone Marking
Between the lips and the voice something goes dying.
Something with the wings of a bird, something of anguish and oblivion.
The way nets cannot hold water.
My toy doll, only a few drops are left trembling.
Even so, something sings in these fugitive words.
Something sings, something climbs to my ravenous mouth.
Oh to be able to celebrate you with all the words of joy.
Sing, burn, flee, like a belfry at the hands of a madman.
My sad tenderness, what comes over you all at once?
When I have reached the most awesome and the coldest summit
my heart closes like a nocturnal flower.
Mother Nature and her dainty movements were the subjects of my imagination while I was reading this. Neruda’s poems are created with natural elements that they bring a pining to a heart that has been battered by the daily urban motions. He dips his poetic brush into the colors of nature to paint scintillating images of love. And lust.
But the poet’s figure, in the mind’s eye, doesn’t wag a condescending finger. The poems never say that this is how a poem should be written, even if you want to write one half as good. Instead, he reaches a hand and says, come, let us celebrate life and open our senses to feel the love emanating from it.
I Like for You to Be Still
I like for you to be still: it is as though you were absent,
distant and full of sorrow as though you had died.
One word then, one smile is enough.
And I am happy, happy that it’s not true.
The collection came out a few years after the first world war. It was perfect timing because people needed something like this for them to remember that their ravaged lives were once beautiful and can still be beautiful. Beauty doesn’t need to be in physical terms; the memory of a loving face from your youth can spell the difference between bliss and despair.
My favorite poems in this collection have a strong similarity. I Have Gone Marking and So that You Will Hear Me talk of the fleeting moments that we so want to communicate and yet, we are incapable to do so despite all the thousands of words swimming in our heads.
So that You Will Hear Me
But my words become stained with your love.
You occupy everything, you occupy everything.
I am making them into an endless necklace
for your white hands, smooth as grapes.
I always thought that words fail when you most need them. But with Neruda, words can be stringed together to preserve every single moment. From the mundane to the significant, there is no exception, not in the deft hands of a poet as talented as Neruda.
Tonight, I may not have written the saddest lines, but I will not despair. I am filled with joy for those lines are here waiting to be read over and over.
Tonight I Can Write
I no longer love her, that’s certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.
Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.
Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.
Dates Read: February 2 to 9, 2013
No. of Pages: 94
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars