Pablo Neruda, The Light Wraps You, Poetry Read-through

29 Nov

Pablo Neruda is the poet of love and loss.  Though you might say every poet is about these things and be partially right, Neruda completely gorges himself on love and loss.  In his poems you cannot have one without another, because love, like every other living thing, dies eventually.  The greatest thing about Neruda is he has a knack of making love poems that don’t sound sappy, and believe me that is a damned hard thing to do.

First “the light wraps you in its mortal flame.”  “You” means the object of his love, to whom he is always speaking.  Why is the light mortal?  Partially because it’s twilight and the sun is sinking, but also light is always temporary–being energy, sooner or later that energy stops, or at least changes.  “Abstracted pale mourner, standing that way/against the old propellers of the twilight/that revolves around you.”  First of all, propellers of light is the low beams of the sun at twilight.  Also, doesn’t the image seem a bit angelic?  What is more of an angel than a being that is surrounded by light?    By mourner, I think the poem means (and it’s translated from spanish by the way so meanings are VERY approximate) a person who suffers.  Why is she suffering?  Because she is mortal and knows loss, just as the day is slowly ending.  Keep in mind, Neruda really hones in on the sort of happy-sadness that comes from finding a good day ending.

“Speachless, my friend,/alone in the loneliness of this hour of the dead/and filled with the lives of fire,/pure heir to the ruined day.”     Again, suffering, even if it is a sweet suffering, quietly seeing the day end.  The reason she is the heir to the ruined day is because she will outlive it, and remember it, even when it is no more–the day is ruined because it is done.

“A bough of fruit falls from the sun on your dark garment.”  The day gives one more present to the person, fruit–which could mean pregnancy, or a metaphorical pregnancy, a place where new things (even poems and art) are born.  “The great roots of night,/grow suddenly from your soul/and the things that hide in you come out again…”    Night is a different place, where things grow, and where secrets come out.  It reminds me of daytime being a place which is very practical and social and mundane, while night is mysterious, and dark, and secretive.  I don’t think night is a bad force here, but it is a force that alters, and there’s a darkness that comes with night and hidden things, a less logical orderly place.

“…so that a blue and pallid people,/your newly born, takes nourishment.”  Of course a baby comes out and feeds.  Why is this nightmarish and beautiful at once?  The language is strongly metaphorical–a person who saves the night to make things in, to feed the “baby.”   I think the baby could be almost anything–art, an addiction, our childish sides…

“Oh magnificent and fecund and magnetic slave/of the circle that moves in turn through black and gold…”  He is speaking of a person who is very different in the night than in the day, that is why she is a slave–not in control of it.  I’m imagining someone who is very intuitive and reactive–not a thinker.  But she is magnificent and fertile and magnetic for all that–her state is natural, part of what draws the speaker to her.

“…rise, lead and possess a creation so rich in life/that its flowers perish, and it is full of sadness.”  This poem sounds like an invocation to the muse, the sorts that the Greek playwrights would make to bring on inspiration.  His goal, to make something so true to life that it dies, and has sadness.    Why make such a thing?  Well, I think one purpose of art is to remind us of the greater things, that we tend to get lost in our day-to-day ordinary worlds, never thinking beyond the next thing to do–one thing poetry can do is give us a reminder that life is oh so much greater than that, and the best reminder is that life is never forever, from the moment of birth we are slowly dying, so by making us remember this, through talk of night and fertility and the like, we will too experience that sweet sadness.   And also this “baby” this poem will outlive the writer and go out into the world and hopefully take root their in the dreams and nights of the readers.

This is what I’d like to encourage you to do tonight–to look at your night babies, not to think about them, because these things are never about thinking, but to feed them, and to hold them, to let all those secrets out, and see what happens.

You’ll be glad you did.

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