Another Neruda translation?

“It’s true, I’ve been caught in print several times saying, ‘The last thing we need is another Neruda translation.'” This sentence opens Forrest Gander’s introduction to Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda Poems, from Copper Canyon Press. He then goes onto explain how these late poems were discovered, and their quality convinced him to undertake the project of translating them. Here’s one from the book:


shoes“Don’t be vain,” someone had scrawled
on my wall.
I don’t recognize
the script or hand of
whoever left that line
in the kitchen, No one I invited, clearly.
He came in from the roof.
So who am I
Supposed to answer? The wind.
Listen to me, wind.
For many years
the vainest
have tossed in my face
their own vanities,
that is, they show me the door
I open at night, the book
I write,
the bed
that waits to receive me,
the house I build,
that is, that is, maliciously
they make signs with their fingers
their viny fingers,
and all their self-love
they dump in my face,
they call me the things they are,
they bark at me their secrets.
I’m vain,
I’m also vain.
Not about my poetry, I don’t think.
Well, let’s take a look.
All my life it’s coursed through my body
like my own blood
which I decode
onto this paper, sometimes
I have work to do, they call me
and I don’t come,
I’m given to write lines
I don’t read,
I’m given to sing for someone
who one day
I’ll never even meet.
It’s true I get letters
that tell me:
your words
brought back my love,
they saved my life,
they reached me in prison,
and I think
that this circulating
blood, invisible blood
inside me
runs through other veins
from now on.
Bust as soon as
it leaves me,
I’ve forgotten my poetry.
There’s no
vanity in my forgetting
or in my creating,
in my shoes
in my ancient
beat-up shoes,
bearing my vagrant feet,
every five years
I get myself a new suit,
my wilted ties
don’t exactly
if at some time
when my people
are in danger
I check to see whether
our flag is still flying,
I race up
the bell towers
the froth-
spitting wave,
the flower
on the road,
I’ve done nothing
more than others,
maybe less than anyone,

Pablo Neruda, translated by Forrest Gander

And yes, the last line ends with a comma–to see this and the many other wonderful poems and their Spanish originals, some in facsimile, you’ll have to get the book. BTW, I love this paragraph on Forrest’s process of deciding to engage the project:

“I thought about what I’d need to give up to focus on a job like this. What do I ever give up to take on a translation project? My own writing goes on hold, but when, eventually, I come back to it, I bring to it something new–a feral vocabulary I’ve adopted from my translation, a fresh set of syntactical and rhythmical strategies, the image repertoire of someone else’s imagination.”


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