Poetry

by Pablo Neruda

English version by Anthony Kerrigan
Original Language Spanish

And it was at that age... Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don't know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
deciphering
that fire
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
nonsense,
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
unfastened
and open,
planets,
palpitating planations,
shadow perforated,
riddled
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
void,
likeness, image of
mystery,
I felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke free on the open sky.

-- from Pablo Neruda: Selected Poems, by Pablo Neruda / Translated by Anthony Kerrigan

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

The autobiography of a poet and his art.

And it was at that age... Poetry arrived
in search of me.


It isn't that he sought poetry but, rather, that poetry sought him. He was simply watching the world. In watching, he lost himself--

there I was without a face
and it touched me.


--and poetry came to him.

Every art beneath its surface craft is about seeing. And true seeing requires selflessness. (I use seeing in the widest sense of deep perception. Music and hearing fit comfortably within my definition of "seeing" too.) The ego-self always -- always -- colors and fogs our vision. Deep art requires stepping free from the ego's blinders, to see honestly and fully. The ancient schools would say, only when we see -- without self -- do we have something to say. Only then is the artist ready.

and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
deciphering
that fire


The path of the artist is also the path of awakening.

Egolessness, spiritual awakening, and art... This raises an obvious question: Why then do so many great artists embody just the opposite, exhibiting immense egos and imbalanced lives? Not everyone is taught to approach their art as a path of clarity and awakening, but there is still the artist's desperate need to see beyond the limits of the ego. The result is that each artist develops his or her own unique way to lurch briefly free from ego to catch those pure moments of inspiration and vision.

and suddenly I saw
the heavens
unfastened
and open,
planets,
palpitating planations,
shadow perforated,
riddled
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.


But such an aggressive, chaotic approach becomes traumatic for the awareness, and the individual must then counterbalance by reinforcing the ego once again. This also explains why too many visionaries and artists turn to drink and other narcotics: to cope with these violent swings of consciousness.

Better to learn meditation and stillness and patience. Most of all, one must know the naked self. That's how to stand whole before the immense vision.

Actually, you don't just stand there, you step into it -- a fulfillment, an overflowing, an expansion, a merging.

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
void,
likeness, image of
mystery,
I felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke free on the open sky.


That mystery then seeks you out, your arm, your hand, and the pen it holds.

and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
nonsense,
pure wisdom...



Recommended Books: Pablo Neruda

The Book of Questions Neruda: Selected Poems On the Blue Shore of Silence: Poems of the Sea Pablo Neruda: Selected Poems Extravagaria: A Bilingual Edition
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Poetry