Saturday, March 29, 2008

Visiting an old speech full of life

I am reading Pablo Neruda's Nobel Lecture. (He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 and died two years later at the age of 69.) This is a translation. If you read Spanish, you can find the original here. There is also a sound recording on the Web page. I listened to most of it because I love reading Neruda poems aloud and I had never heard his voice. I hear sadness in it.

The narrative of the first part of Neruda's speech is a lot like his poems in its descriptions of nature. It's worth listening to for a short while even if you don't know Spanish. I used to read Neruda's poems aloud even when I didn't understand all the words. The sound of them alone was beautiful. Having a bilingual edition, of course, helped me cheat and understand what I was missing.

But language never fully translates. A translation is almost an entirely different work from the original.

Go to the right hand column and you can click your way around for a biography of Neruda and other resources.

...

From all this, my friends, there arises an insight which the poet must learn through other people. There is no insurmountable solitude. All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. And we must pass through solitude and difficulty, isolation and silence in order to reach forth to the enchanted place where we can dance our clumsy dance and sing our sorrowful song - but in this dance or in this song there are fulfilled the most ancient rites of our conscience in the awareness of being human and of believing in a common destiny. ...

The poet is not a "little god". No, he is not a "little god". He is not picked out by a mystical destiny in preference to those who follow other crafts and professions. I have often maintained that the best poet is he who prepares our daily bread: the nearest baker who does not imagine himself to be a god. He does his majestic and unpretentious work of kneading the dough, consigning it to the oven, baking it in golden colours and handing us our daily bread as a duty of fellowship. And, if the poet succeeds in achieving this simple consciousness, this too will be transformed into an element in an immense activity, in a simple or complicated structure which constitutes the building of a community, the changing of the conditions which surround mankind, the handing over of mankind's products: bread, truth, wine, dreams. If the poet joins this never-completed struggle to extend to the hands of each and all his part of his undertaking, his effort and his tenderness to the daily work of all people, then the poet must take part, the poet will take part, in the sweat, in the bread, in the wine, in the whole dream of humanity. Only in this indispensable way of being ordinary people shall we give back to poetry the mighty breadth which has been pared away from it little by little in every epoch, just as we ourselves have been whittled down in every epoch. ...

As far as we in particular are concerned, we writers within the tremendously far-flung American region, we listen unceasingly to the call to fill this mighty void with beings of flesh and blood. We are conscious of our duty as fulfillers - at the same time we are faced with the unavoidable task of critical communication within a world which is empty and is not less full of injustices, punishments and sufferings because it is empty - and we feel also the responsibility for reawakening the old dreams which sleep in statues of stone in the ruined ancient monuments, in the wide-stretching silence in planetary plains, in dense primeval forests, in rivers which roar like thunder. We must fill with words the most distant places in a dumb continent and we are intoxicated by this task of making fables and giving names. This is perhaps what is decisive in my own humble case, and if so my exaggerations or my abundance or my rhetoric would not be anything other than the simplest of events within the daily work of an American. Each and every one of my verses has chosen to take its place as a tangible object, each and every one of my poems has claimed to be a useful working instrument, each and every one of my songs has endeavoured to serve as a sign in space for a meeting between paths which cross one another, or as a piece of stone or wood on which someone, some others, those who follow after, will be able to carve the new signs.

By extending to these extreme consequences the poet's duty, in truth or in error, I determined that my posture within the community and before life should be that of in a humble way taking sides. I decided this when I saw so many honourable misfortunes, lone victories, splendid defeats. In the midst of the arena of America's struggles I saw that my human task was none other than to join the extensive forces of the organized masses of the people, to join with life and soul with suffering and hope, because it is only from this great popular stream that the necessary changes can arise for the authors and for the nations. And even if my attitude gave and still gives rise to bitter or friendly objections, the truth is that I can find no other way for an author in our far-flung and cruel countries, if we want the darkness to blossom, if we are concerned that the millions of people who have learnt neither to read us nor to read at all, who still cannot write or write to us, are to feel at home in the area of dignity without which it is impossible for them to be complete human beings.

We have inherited this damaged life of peoples dragging behind them the burden of the condemnation of centuries, the most paradisaical of peoples, the purest, those who with stones and metals made marvellous towers, jewels of dazzling brilliance - peoples who were suddenly despoiled and silenced in the fearful epochs of colonialism which still linger on.

Our original guiding stars are struggle and hope. But there is no such thing as a lone struggle, no such thing as a lone hope. In every human being are combined the most distant epochs, passivity, mistakes, sufferings, the pressing urgencies of our own time, the pace of history. But what would have become of me if, for example, I had contributed in some way to the maintenance of the feudal past of the great American continent? How should I then have been able to raise my brow, illuminated by the honour which Sweden has conferred on me, if I had not been able to feel some pride in having taken part, even to a small extent, in the change which has now come over my country? It is necessary to look at the map of America, to place oneself before its splendid multiplicity, before the cosmic generosity of the wide places which surround us, in order to understand why many writers refuse to share the dishonour and plundering of the past, of all that which dark gods have taken away from the American peoples.

I chose the difficult way of divided responsibility and, rather than to repeat the worship of the individual as the sun and centre of the system, I have preferred to offer my services in all modesty to an honourable army which may from time to time commit mistakes but which moves forward unceasingly and struggles every day against the anachronism of the refractory and the impatience of the opinionated. For I believe that my duties as a poet involve friendship not only with the rose and with symmetry, with exalted love and endless longing, but also with unrelenting human occupations which I have incorporated into my poetry.

It is today exactly one hundred years since an unhappy and brilliant poet, the most awesome of all despairing souls, wrote down this prophecy: "A l'aurore, armés d'une ardente patience, nous entrerons aux splendides Villes." "In the dawn, armed with a burning patience, we shall enter the splendid Cities." ...

... I wish to say to the people of good will, to the workers, to the poets, that the whole future has been expressed in this line by Rimbaud: only with a burning patience can we conquer the splendid City which will give light, justice and dignity to all [hu]mankind. ...

***************- Pablo Neruda


Neruda always wrote in green, the color (he said) of hope, esperanza.

8 comments:

johnieb said...

What a wonderful speech! I must pay more attention to his work; friends have recommended it since about the time of the speech, and still do.

FranIAm said...

Oh my- I read this in my reader earlier, but did not have time to come in and comment.

This is brilliant, just brilliant.

I am of course reminded of the tradition of South American leaders who were also of arts and letters. Of course the praise of the cold cash changed all that; that and the harsh roots of colonialism.

I know I sound like an old crank, but Neruda brings out nostalgia, heartbreak and a bit of righteous anger for me.

Paul said...

Just "thanks"!

Caminante said...

Oh thanks... I have just fielded a bunch of snarky notes from a bunch of committee members (you know: how come you, the chair, haven't done this this this and that, instead of being responsible like the so-called adults they are and pulling their own weight -- I have a bunch of very high maintenance people on this committee, of all things, the Global Reconciliation Committee!), and perhaps reading some dear Pablo Neruda will calm me down.

Jane R said...

Oy! Committees! You have no idea how much I empathize! Though I have to say that the diocesan committee I chair is one of the best ever -- but about other committees I could say a few things. (I had a spiritual director who had on her desk -- in the pre-inclusive-language days -- a plaque saying "God so loved the world that He didn't send a committee.")

Listen to the audio, it'll calm you right down, that beautiful voice --the French would say grave, not in the sense of low but in the other sense of having gravity or gravitas-- and the beautiful Spanish words speaking of Chile and the American continent and poetry and the people.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Oh, Jane, thanks for this. The words are so wise and beautiful. What a man!

Jane R said...

I'm so glad you all enjoyed this. It gave me a great deal of joy to read it -- and to share it.

FranIAm said...

The sound of Neruda's voice is magnificent; I have a lovely CD that I often listen to.