Bitter love, a violet with its crown
of thorns in a thicket of spiky passions,
spirit of sorrow, corolla of rage: how did you come
to conquer my soul? What via dolorosa brought you?
Why did you pour your tender fire
so quickly, over my life’s cool leaves?
Who pointed the way to you? What flower,
what rock, what smoke showed you where I live?
Because the earth shook—it did—, that awful night;
then dawn filled all the goblets with its wine;
the heavenly sun declared itself;
while inside, a ferocious love wound around
and around me— till it pierced me with its thorns, it sword,
slashing a seared road through my heart.
In my last entry on Pablo Neruda, I didn’t really spend a lot of time on his life, mostly because I knew I wasn’t finished sharing his poems.
Neruda is mostly remembered in the US for his political poetry. Partly because he was a very high-ranking politician in communist Chile (he was nominated to be president), but also because his romantic works were not translated into English. His first book of poems, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, (which I’ve not gotten my hands on yet, but are apparently very racy) was published when he was in his late teens in 1924 and not translated into English until 1969. My favorite collection, 100 Love Sonnets had to wait until 1986 thirteen years after Neruda’s death (possibly by assassination) before it was translated by Steven Tapscott.
I don’t pretend to understand the political situation in post-World War II, then Cold War Era South America, especially for left-leaning intellectuals, so I don’t hold any pro-Stalin statements against Neruda. Because he was a communist (which nearly cost him his Nobel Prize, got him exhiled from Chile, and possibly cost him his life) his poetry was demonized during his lifetime, especially in the United States.
But the quality of his art – he was called the greatest poet of the century by Gabriel García Márquez – transcends personal failings and politics. This poem, Sonnet III, Bitter Love, pretty much sums up my views on the power that love, even when it is reciprocated, has to invade and devastate a person’s life.