The separate rose

by Pablo Neruda

Paper Book, 2005






Port Townsend, Wash. : Copper Canyon Press, c2005.


"This is pure Neruda at his prime, which is to say incomparable."--Choice "The Separate Rose represents Pablo Neruda at the peak of his art, and William O'Daly has done an important service by bringing it before American readers with such care."--The Bloomsbury Review The coast of Easter Island--the most isolated inhabited island in the world--is adorned with gigantic and miraculous stone statues. Neruda made a single pilgrimage to Easter Island during a poignant time in his life--he was dying of cancer and taking his life's inventory. Out of this journey grew a sequence of poems that alternate between "Men" and "The Island," through which Neruda observes the latest remnants of the ancient world in direct opposition to modernity. With an introduction by William O'Daly.… (more)

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LibraryThing member dasam
This is the second volume of Neruda's poetry translated by William O'Daly that I have read, and it is also finely crafted and moving. Neruda takes Easter Island as his subject, the island in half the poems, the humans who live on it, have been part of its history, or visit it as the other half.
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This interplay of land and time and human experience offers Neruda a chance "to begin the lives of my life again," an echo of Whitman's "I contain multitudes."

The language is simple but eloquent, sometimes blunt. The poet offers criticism with whimsical yet acerbic comparisons:

"we transport ourselves sin enormous aluminum geese,
seated correctly, drinking sour cocktails,
descending rows of friendly stomachs.

But the poet is ultimately forgiving to the humans as they face their individual journeys toward's time end, as the civilization that made the great stone heads has died away. And those stone heads represent the ineffable that we face, not always with grace:

We all arrive by different streets,
by unequal languages, at Silence.

...we ceaseless talkers of the world
come from all corners and spit in your lava,
we arrive full of conflicts, arguments, blood,
weeping and indigestion, wars and peach trees,
in small rows of soured friendships, of hypocritical
smiles, brought together by the sky's dice
upon the table of your silence.

Neruda's conceit of the island of stone heads gives him the opportunity to talk about our experience anywhere on this world, the universality of our facing the unknowable as tourists face these black, unmoving stone visages. It takes a courage most of us lack to stare into them with knowing unknowing:

But let no one reveal the world to us, for we acquire
oblivion, nothing but dreams of air,
and all that's left is an aftertaste of blood and dust
on the tongue...

Neruda himself faced illness and the overthrow of hopeful democracy in Chile by the military, followed by his own exile. That all certainly colors his mood. Nonetheless, his words and their able translation by O'Daly challenge us wherever we are to look into the else of stone silence, and make meaning from that oblivion.
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