Sunday, February 12, 2012

Review: Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda

Reviewed by Christina

Published: As 20 Poemas de amor y una Canción desesperada, 1924. This translation, by W.S. Merwin, 1969

It's about: Twenty love poems. And then a song of despair.

I thought: Well. First of all, a disclaimer: I really have no right to review poetry. I know so little about it, and it's been years since I read much poetry at all. So consider this more of a response than a review if you want to.

Today I got a hankerin' for some lovey poetry ('tis the season). Enter Señor Neruda. And boy, does he deliver the goods. This is an intensely romantic collection of poems, rich with tastefully erotic imagery and nature-y symbolism. It's no surprise that nineteen-year-old Pablo Neruda was vaulted into literary stardom when 20 Poemas de amor y una Canción desesperada was first published in 1924. The romantic themes are powerfully expressed and universal: longing, stillness, anticipation, and worshipful, passionate love, all wrapped in teenage urgency. And then there's the seething Song of Despair, a breakup song if I ever heard one.

I'm not gonna lie, there are definitely lines, stanzas, whole poems in this collection that I just don't get. It probably has something to do with my inexperience with poetry. I lose my train of thought in phrases like this: "from your regard sometimes the coast of dread emerges," and then I get annoyed when I have to rearrange it in my head ("sometimes the coast of dread emerges from your regard") and I get more distracted still when I try to check my version with the Spanish original on the opposite page.

But then, out of nowhere, BAM! A simple truth like "Love is so short, forgetting is so long." Or a uniquely descriptive stanza, like this:
In you is the illusion of each day.
You arrive like the dew to the cupped flowers.
You undermine the horizon with your absence.
Eternally in flight like the wave.
Ah! Amor!

Verdict: It's not my favorite poetry ever, but it definitely still deserves a place on the shelf.

Reading Recommendations: This is a perfect V-day read, whether you're in love or not. It's very short and it'll help you remember all the wonderful and terrible things about love.
And don't get one of those editions that leaves off the Song of Despair.

Warnings: sexy!

Favorite excerpts: from XIV:
"My words rained over you, stroking you.
A long time I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your body.
I go so far as to think you own the universe.
I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, bluebells,
dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses.
I want
to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees."

And from the Song of Despair:
"Oh the bitten mouth, oh the kissed limbs,
oh the hungering teeth, oh the entwined bodies.

Oh the mad coupling of hope and force
in which we merged and despaired."

What I'm reading next: Still savoring My Mistress's Sparrow Is Dead