Serendipitous book discovery – Love Poems, by Pablo Neruda

Every so often a couple more books get added to our already overfull home library, as a result of us going for a little browse in a bookshop. Sometimes I buy a familiar author, other times it’s the look and feel of a book that I like, or it is on sale, or it looks intriguing. And to be honest, sometimes those spur-of the-moment book buys are disasters – a real waste of money. Other times, they are serendipitous, a delightful surprise, like coming upon a little island gem in the middle of an ocean of mediocrity. The Princess of Nowhere by Prince Lorenzo Borghese, reviewed on this website, was one such. It was amongst the sale books, and it was only the author’s name that got my attention. It turned out to be an unexpectedly enjoyable read.

The same can be said of a pretty little publication of Love Poems – Pablo Neruda that was on a table amongst other Valentine’s Day paraphernalia in Chapters.

Love Poems – Pablo Neruda – Nobel Laureate (Paperback; publisher : New Directions; Jan. 17 2008; 64 pages; dimensions : 10.41 x 1.02 x 15.24 cm)

I knew of Neruda, but I am always loath to read poetry, since it requires attention and effort to understand. But this pocket-sized little book, with its pink cover with elegant gold hand-lettering done by Marian Bantjes, said “take me home”. I believe that the translations by Donald D. Walsh managed to retain the beauty and rhythm of Neruda’s words, and there wasn’t a single line or stanza that did not touch me.

Few poets can express passion, intimacy and longing so clearly, so touchingly. Any person who has ever been in love, will feel his words resonate in them and take them back into those moments of togetherness. I have always wished that I were born with the talent, the words, the way of putting them together, to adequately express love. I keep trying, but Neruda captures so beautifully and tenderly moments of love, that his words speak for me.

Below is one of the poems from the book, called “Your Hands” (in the original Spanish, “Tus Manos”). Those last four lines are just plain gorgeous.

“…until your hands
closed on my chest
and there like two wings
they ended their journey.”

- Pablo Neruda

When your hands go out,
love, towards mine,
what do they bring me flying?
Why did they stop at my mouth, suddenly,
why do I recognise them
as if then, before,
I had touched them,
as if before they existed
they had passed over
my forehead, my waist?

Their softness came
flying over time,
over the sea, over the smoke,
over the spring,
and when you placed
your hands on my chest,
I recognised those golden
dove wings,
I recognised that clay
and that color of wheat.

All the years of my life
I walked around looking for them.
I went up the stairs,
I crossed the roads,
trains carried me,
waters brought me,
and in the skin of the grapes
I thought I touched you.
The wood suddenly
brought me your touch,
the almond announced to me
your secret softness,
until your hands
closed on my chest
and there like two wings
they ended their journey.

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