Book Review: The Captain’s Verses by Pablo Neruda

The Captain’s Verses is a collection of lyric poems by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. It was first published anonymously in 1952, and many years later it was reprinted with the author’s name.

The book is divided into four parts (Love, Desire, The Furies, and Lives) and all in all there are 42 poems.

Most of the poems are about, well, physical and emotional love and longing, while the others are political. I liked a few of the poems, because I could somehow relate with them, but the rest I either couldn’t identify with (they were either too remote from my personal experience or too sensual for my taste) or couldn’t understand.

The poems that stood out for me were If You Forget Me, The Queen, and Not Only the Fire:

If You Forget Me

I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
remember
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

But
if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.

The Queen

I have named you queen.
There are taller ones than you, taller.
There are purer ones than you, purer.
There are lovelier than you, lovelier.

But you are the queen.

When you go through the streets
no one recognizes you.
No one sees your crystal crown, no one looks
at the carpet of red gold
that you tread as you pass
the nonexistent carpet.

And when you appear
all the rivers sound
in my body, bells
shake the sky,
and a hymn fills the world.

Only you and I,
only you and I, my love,
listen to it.

Not Only the Fire

Ah yes, I remember I
ah your closed eyes
as if filled from within with black light,
your whole body like an open hand,
like a white cluster from the moon,
and the ecstacy,
when a lightningbolt kills us,
when a dagger wounds us in the roots,
and a light strikes our hair,
and when
again we gradually
return to life,
as if we emerged from the ocean,
as if from the shipwreck
we returned wounded
among the stones and the red seaweed.

But
there are other memories,
not only flowers from the fire
but little sprouts
that suddenly appear
when I go on trains
or in the streets.

I see you
washing my handkerchiefs,
hanging at the window
my worn-out socks,
your figure on which everything,
all pleasure like a flare-up,
fell without destroying you,
agaIn,
little wife
of every day,
again a h Ulllan being,
humbly human,
proudly poor,
as you have to be in order to be
not the swift rose
that love’s ash dissolves
but all of life,
all of life with soap and needles,
with the smell that I love
of the kitchen that perhaps we shall not have
and in which your hand among the fried potatoes
and your mouth singing in the winter
until the roast arrives
would be for me the permanence
of happiness on earth.

Ah my life,
it is not only the fire that burns between us
but all of life,
the simple story,
the simple love
of a woman and a man
like everyone.

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.
Date Read: January 15 – 17, 2012

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