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Archive for the ‘Pablo Neruda’ Category

Time for the fifth annual Poem Elf Valentine’s Day Binge. Valentine’s Day has always been one of my favorite holidays, providing good reason to eat chocolate, tell people close to me that I love them, and hide lovely poems around town. On with the celebration!

 

In a dark romantic bar with plenty of private corners for canoodling, I set Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee” against a cocktail menu on a table for two.

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The first line is overly familiar, but it’s worth taking a minute to read the rest. Browning marries high-minded love–

I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;

I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise

with a physical passion–

I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life!

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The table was empty when I left the poem, but a short while later, a couple took over the booth. I slunk past to see what had happened to the poem, and found that the woman had put it under a wine glass, like a coaster. The poem seemed to have had a romantic effect on the two–

 

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Unfortunately the pull of texting won out over the pull of passion put to use/In my old Griefs

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I went to the last remaining bookstore chain in my area and left “A Birthday” by Christina Rossetti in a section featuring books on love and relationships. Specifically, I put it on top of a book (top shelf) called What I Love About You:

poem is on top shelf in front of book with heart on the cover

I thumbed through the book and found that the sweet nothings there were truly nothing compared to Rossetti’s soaring lines. Wildly in love, the speaker proclaims the commencement of a new love to be a new birth-day for her:

the birthday of my life

     is come, my love is come to me

 

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Rossetti is usually my go-to girl for the anti-Valentine portion of this annual love-poem post, but this time I turned to an ancient Japanese poet named Otomo No Yakamochi to fill that role. I left a short poem of his in a high school. Swim practice was underway, and plenty of teens, lovelorn and otherwise, loitered in the hallway after school.

poem is on wall next to pool windows

poem is on wall next to pool windows

 

I was thinking of teenagers in love, teenagers experiencing their first love, and eventually, for most, facing the end of first love and all the beautiful illusions it brought.

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Alas, the rest of my poems were placed in that most prosaic and least-romantic of places, the mall. But it was cold outside, and the idea of traipsing around looking for more interesting spots was an idea better suited to a younger and warmer elf.

I returned to Victoria’s Secret (where last year I took one of my favorite pictures ever) to leave “Couples” by Romanian poet Nina Cassain. I set the poem in a red lace panty set and wondered who would buy such a cliche, man or woman.

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I haven’t figured this poem out completely, but it reminds me of some interesting advice my girlfriend’s mother gave her. Always love a man less than he loves you, she said. Presumably it was safer. But Cassain sees a benefit to loving more:

The one who loves more

is the happier.

Indeed, the happiest!

I wish I could know if the man or woman who buys this Valentine underwear is the one who loves more or the one who loves less. And if they consider themselves to have the better bargain.

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Pablo Neruda was the poet I placed last year in the Victoria’s Secret underwear. This year I put him in a less promising spot, the luggage department at Macys. But “Love Sonnet XLV” is so romantic it infuses the whole floor with charm:

Poem is in pocket of blue suitcase

Poem is in front pocket of blue suitcase

 

After I took the pictures, I zipped up the poem inside the suitcase. I dream of the person packing for a trip who finds these lines

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In the Apple Store, the most crowded store in the mall on the day before Valentine’s Day, I put a few lines of Alexander Pushkin on top of an iPad display:

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poem is on top of iPad next to frowning man

I’m enamored of the way this lover speaks to his lost love. He wishes her well, he wishes her a new love. This isn’t the kind of ex-lover we see in movies. Pushkin is a sweet counterpoint to all those stalkers and revenge seekers. (That’s Pushkin’s face I pulled up on the iPad.)

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Finally, in Macy’s kitchen section I left Donald Hall’s “Summer Kitchen.” This one is for my own Valentine, a lover of food and cooking.

poem leans against stockpot

poem leans against stockpot

Donald Hall was married to poet Jane Kenyon for twenty-three years before she died of leukemia. This poem strikes me as very Kenyon-like, celebrating their daily love, settled and quiet:

We ate, and talked, and went to bed,

And slept. It was a miracle.

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Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! With so much hate in the world, this year I cherish Valentine’s Day all the more. Love trumps hate, I believe that with all my heart. (And the pun is intended.)

 

For more Valentine poems, see posts from 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012.

 

 

 

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Every Valentine’s Day I brainstorm for places that romantically-inclined or romantically-averse folks might congregate as they prepare for the holiday or prepare to avoid it. In the past I’ve left love poems in a chocolate store, post office, senior citizen’s home, a food court, a lonely-looking motel, the floral department of a grocery store. Now in my fourth year of Valentine’s Day poem-elfing, I think I need a location scout.

Here’s where this year’s crop of love poems landed:

 

At Victoria’s Secret, nestled in between the pink thongs and the pink brassieres, I left Pablo Neruda’s “Sonnet XVII,” a poem which speaks of loving someone “in secret, between the shadow and the soul.”

 

poem is on white shelf with the pale pink underwear

poem is on white shelf with the pale pink underwear

 

Funny that we used to call ladies’ underwear “intimates.” Victoria’s Secret intimates, however sexy, are no match for Neruda’s brand. The intimacy he’s after can’t be manufactured or marketed or purchased. He writes of a passionate love

so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand

so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.

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I left Carl Sandberg’s “At a Window” on a stranger’s window at a transportation center.

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poem is on white car’s windshield

 

 

Presumably the stranger will return to the car after work, and I hope this universal wish for companionship and love is a balm and not an irritant:

…leave me a little love,

A voice to speak to me in the day end,

A hand to touch me in the dark room

Breaking the long loneliness.

 

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A Greyhound bus station seemed like a fine place for the decidedly unsentimental “First Love” by one of my favorites, Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska.

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poem is on white wall in foreground

 

 

First love, says Szymborska,

does what all the others still can’t manage:

unremembered,

not even seen in dreams,

it introduces me to death.

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Valentine’s Day is a great day to celebrate the love of friends. I taped Robert Frost’s “A Time to Talk” to the sign outside a neighborhood bar, always a good place for friends to gather.

 

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poem is on oval sign just under the small red oval on the right-hand side

 

 

In this age of distraction and shortened attention spans, what better way to show affection than setting aside your hoe, whatever your hoe may be (no naughty jokes, please) and taking time “for a friendly visit“?

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For anyone sadder but wiser who might need retail therapy on Valentine’s Day, I left “I Have Come to the Conclusion” by Nelle Fertig in the Macy’s purse department:

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poem is on the mirror

 

 

 

(Excuse the typos in the poem I left–too late for corrections.)

Fertig’s version of love is more cynical than my own. But I guess I’ve been fortunate not to have “broken a few/ very fine mirrors.”

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Finally, I left an excerpt from Roy Croft’s “Love” near my husband’s office outside a restaurant he likes. But he was out of town, so he’ll only see the poem here.

 

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poem is on lamp post

 

 

The restaurant is frequented by middle-aged couples and singles looking to be coupled, people old enough to appreciate what’s under the surface, who can understand the beauty of what Fertig expresses here.

 

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If none of these poems suit your mood or situation, take a look past Valentine poem-elfing in 2014, 2013, and 2012.

 

And spread love! Everyone has it, everyone needs it.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

 

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poem got sucked into the doorway

 

Ode to Age

 

by Pablo Neruda

 

I don’t believe in age.

 

All old people

carry

in their eyes,

a child,

and children,

at times

observe us with the

eyes of wise ancients.

 

Shall we measure

life

in meters or kilometers

or months?

How far since you were born?

How long

must you wander

until

like all men

instead of walking on its surface

we rest below the earth?

 

To the man, to the woman

who utilized their

energies, goodness, strength,

anger, love, tenderness,

to those who truly

alive

flowered,

and in their sensuality matured,

let us not apply

the measure

of a time

that may be

something else, a mineral

mantle, a solar

bird, a flower,

something, maybe,

but not a measure.

 

Time, metal

or bird, long

petiolate flower,

stretch

through

man’s life,

shower him

with blossoms

and with

bright

water

or with hidden sun.

I proclaim you

road,

not shroud,

a pristine

ladder

with treads

of air,

a suit lovingly

renewed

through springtimes

around the world.

 

Now,

time, I roll you up

I deposit you in my

bait box

and I am off to fish

with your long line

the fishes of the dawn!

before I re-located it

Mid-October, and summer projects lay flattened at my feet, deflated and tiresome.   The tomatoes not planted, the crab feast not hosted, the badmitton net still in its carrying case, the pedicure unscheduled, the sides of my knees never carefully and cleanly shaven.  Time to officially abandon them all.

 

But one such project I’m determined to finish today.  Ever since March when Professor Dean Rader in the New York Times named Pablo Neruda as the greatest poet of all time, I knew I had to poem elf him, even though I’ve always found Neruda inscrutable.  Last June I placed “Ode to Age” on a 150-year old barn in Shakopee, Minnesota.  And all summer and half into fall I’ve put off a careful reading.

 

So here goes.  “Ode to Age.”  Er.  Uh.  Yeah.  Okay I don’t get it.  Neruda obviously doesn’t value clarity as much as my man Billy Collins.  Or else this poem highlights an underdeveloped part of my brain in the same way moving furniture does.

 

Let me break it down then.  I get the first line.  I don’t believe in age.  Could be on a birthday card underneath a picture of old people tap dancing or canoodling on a merry-go-round or jumping on a trampoline (diapered, of course).

 

The second stanza, I get that too.  Here’s a picture of my beautiful mother (the poem is one of Mary Oliver’s) that’s a good visual representation of the child-like joie de vivre that Neruda says can exist at any age.

 

I start to get lost in the third stanza.  Neruda switches out the expected measurement for age (months, years) for that of distance (meters, kilometers).  How far have you lived and how long have you wandered?  Is this just a novel way of saying, it’s not how long you’ve lived, but how well?

 

By the fourth stanza I’ve lost my foothold, and I haven’t even gotten to the ladder with treads made of air that appears in the fifth stanza.

 

let us not apply

the measure

of a time

that may be

something else, a mineral

mantle, a solar

bird, a flower,

something, maybe,

but not a measure.

What does that mean?  I’m really asking.  I keep banging my head against these lines but the door is jammed.  Please help before I give myself a poetry concussion.

I try to understand by looking up words I don’t know.  Petiolate flower is a flower with leaves that have stems attached to the stalk. Not sure how that makes any difference.

 

Then I turn to the images.  We have a flower, the earth’s mantle, and a bird.  The first dies and comes back to life each spring, the second has existed for billions of years, and the third lives and dies as we do.  So what he’s trying to say is . . . again, help wanted!

 

On to the troublesome fifth stanza.  Either Neruda is off and running on a surrealistic jaunt or he’s purposely mixing metaphors to confuse his readers so much that they are propelled out of conventional ways of looking at time and age.  What I get from it are questions, which is sometimes what poems do.

 

What is a pristine ladder with treads of air?  Why is it pristine?  What is the syntax of these lines:

Time, metal

or bird, long

petiolate flower,

stretch

through

man’s life,

 

that is, are “metal or bird” the appositive of “time,” and are “time” and “flower” the subjects of the verb “stretch”?  Why wouldn’t “flower” also be part of the description of time? Will I ever just give it a rest and go fishing instead?

 

I get the general drift.  Let’s not measure our life by time but by what we’ve seen and experienced along the road.  Neruda will only compose an ode, a song of praise, to age if he re-defines how age is measured.  And in the end it’s better to go fishing than to worry about being old.

 

At the risk of disrespecting the greatest poet of all time, I must admit that the more I read this poem, the less I like it.  “Ode to Age” seems needlessly confusing.  And I can’t really get over using the word “utilize” un-ironically in a poem (could be a translation issue of course).  The only line I love is

 

I proclaim you road

not shroud.

 

a gust or a ghost sucked the poem in the doorway

I thought I was being artistic or at least clever when I carefully placed the poem half in and half out of the doorway of this historic building.  When I released the poem from my fingers, it was sucked inside the crack with an unexpected whoosh.  I couldn’t get it back.  Should I make something of this strange event?  The inaccessibility of the poem?   The old age of the building/tomb?  Nah.  Enough is enough.  In the words of Billy Collins, “beating it with a hose/to find out what it really means” is not what reading poetry is all about.

 

PPABLO NERUDA by riccardo.ilariablo Neruda (1904-1973) was born in Chile and published poems at a young age, despite his family’s disapproval.  He was active in politics, serving in diplomatic posts abroad, and was elected as a senator.  Imagine, a poet who’s electable!  He was a lifelong communist who had to live underground for two years when a right-wing government outlawed communism.  He later escaped Chile through the mountains.  At the end of his life, he helped elect his friend Salvador Allende as president of Chile.  Neruda died days after dictator Pinochet came to power and murdered Allende.  Pinochet tried unsuccessfully to outlaw public mourning for the beloved poet.

 

Gee, poets in other countries sure have exciting lives.

 

Neruda’s poetry has been translated into every major language, and he won the Nobel Prize in 1971.  His influence on 20th century poetry worldwide and his experimentation with poetic forms have given him the name of the Picasso of Poetry.

 

Clearly I have to give him another shot.  I’ll try again later with another poem, a different ode or one of his love poems, one that I have an emotional connection or response to, even if I don’t fully understand it.

 

One more thing:  I’m done with long poems.  Just doesn’t work in a blog format.

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