I was once convinced by a professor of South American literature of the formal and aesthetic inadequacies of Neruda. The professor, with whom I remain on very good terms, may have been motivated by politics – he remains a staunch conservative – but the objections to the poet (even in his own language) were sound to my judgement.
However, Neruda (in translation – sadly, my Spanish is infantile) remains a favourite. There’s something far too earthy and human for me to resist. His sonnets especially portray a passion that strikes a deep and highly sexual chord. I know of fewer more convincing erotic imagists. Below is a personal favourite:
Love Sonnet XI
I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.
Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.
Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day
I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps.
I hunger for your sleek laugh,
your hands the color of a savage harvest,
hunger for the pale stones of your fingernails,
I want to eat your skin like a whole almond.
I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body,
the sovereign nose of your arrogant face,
I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes,
and I pace around hungry, sniffing the twilight,
hunting for you, for your hot heart,
like a puma in the barrens of Quitratue.
Love as hunger, sex as longing. It recalls to mind times distant to me now, late night text messages received from the other end of the city as I walked from bar to bar. This poem could be torn down a hundred times by a hundred critics and it would still resonate in the unlit recesses of my memory.
I caught Last Tango in Halifax for the first time last night. Derek Jacobi’s character finally confesses his love to Anne Reid’s, after a period of 60 years. After a crippling heart attack, all he can muster is
And I love you
And I don’t care.
That struck me as a tremendous piece of television writing. It has the same honesty as the Neruda poem. There’s not the great and Latin sexual force, but that same conveyance of time lost, of every moment spent away from one’s lover being wasted.
I don’t know. One of those moods.