Then Come Back: Pablo Neruda, Bloodaxe
Neruda was a towering, universal writer, a Nobel prize-winner, described by Gabriel García Marquez as the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language. His poetry reaches even those who don’t read poetry: millions around the world are said to have fallen in love to the sound of his music, especially to his first book: Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair.
While his dominant mode is the pure lyric, in the 1930s he wrote fine complex surreal poems, the Residences on Earth, and the political poems of Spain in my Heart, in response to the Spanish civil war. Other notable books among the more than 50 he wrote are Heights of Macchu Picchu and the humanist/communist Canto General/Universal Song. There have been many English editions of his Selected Poems.
All of which makes the publication of these poems, rediscovered by his third wife, Matilde and the Neruda Foundation, an important literary event, already hailed as such in the Spanish-speaking world. Then Come Back is published in a beautiful bilingual edition by Bloodaxe, including facsimiles of some of the poems in manuscript.
“They will publish my socks,” remarked Neruda in a late poem. Well, these are socks of the finest silk. They date from the 1950s and 1960s when Neruda had invented his late style in the Odas Elementales, single-subject odes, to an orange, a cactus, a bee for example, in very short lines of one, two, three words. The best of these new poems could be described as out-takes from the odes: to the Andes, to an ear, to astronauts, to adolescence, to himself as a young poet, to exile.
It’s a delight to have them to read 40 years after the poet’s death, and these too are the best-translated by Forrest Gander, who is a little more awkward in the rhapsodic love poems to Matilde that begin the book. His translation is fluent and readable but occasionally inclined to be chatty, where the Spanish is always simple, pure, musical. The reader will get most out of the book who has at least some Spanish.
Here is Neruda sailing out from his beloved Isla Negra, off the coast of Chile (from poem 17):
“La nave es la nube del mar/y olvidé cuál es mi destino,/olvidé la proa y la luna,/no sé hacia dónde van las olas/ni dónde me lleva la nave./No tiene mar ni tierra el día.”
“The boat is the cloud of the sea/and I’ve forgotten where I’m sailing to,/forgotten prow and moon,/I don’t know where the waves are going/or where the boat is taking me./The day holds no land and no sea.”
This book will give great pleasure both to those new to Neruda’s work and to those for whom he has always been a favourite poet.