does not describe me fully
it is where to start

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Why Do I Write? - Part I

I was about to publish my next post on this topic when I realized that a while back, I had addressed it by featuring a Pablo Neruda poem. I am republishing "Poet's Obligation" as Part I of Why Do I Write? I will publish Part II mid next week. This poem applies to more than poetry, which I also write occasionally. Nobel-Prize-winner Neruda captures well the nearly mystical impulse which drives me to write fiction. The English translation is provided first, followed by the original in Spanish.

Poet's Obligation

To whoever is not listening to the sea this Friday
morning, to whoever is cooped up
in the house or office, factory or woman
or street or mine or dry prison cell,
to him I come, and without speaking or looking
I arrive and open the door of his prison,
and a vibration starts up, vague and insistent,
a long rumble of thunder adds itself
to the weight of the planet and the foam,
the groaning rivers of the ocean rise,
the star vibrates quickly in its crown
and the sea beats, dies, and goes on beating.

So, drawn on by my destiny,
I ceaselessly must listen to and keep
the sea’s lamenting in my consciousness,
I must feel the crash of the hard water
and gather it up in a perpetual cup
so that, wherever those in prison may be,
wherever they suffer the sentence of the autumn,
I may be present with an errant wave,
I may move in and out of windows,
and hearing me, eyes may lift themselves,
asking “How can I reach the sea?”
And I will pass to them, saying nothing,
the starry echoes of the wave,
a breaking up of foam and quicksand,
a rustling of salt withdrawing itself,
the gray cry of seabirds on the coast.

So, through me, freedom and the sea
will call in answer to the shrouded heart.

Deber del poeta

A quien no escucha el mar en este viernes
por la mañana, a quien adentro de algo,
casa, oficina, fábrica o mujer,
o calle o mina o seco calabozo:
a este yo acudo y sin hablar ni ver
llego y abro la puerta del encierro
y un sin fin se oye vago en la insistencia,
un largo trueno roto se encadena
al peso del planeta y de la espuma,
surgen los ríos roncos del océano,
vibra veloz en su rosal la estrella
y el mar palpíta, muere y continúa.

Así por el destino conducido
debo sin tregua oír y conservar
el lamento marino en mi conciencia,
debo sentir el golpe de agua dura
y recogerlo en una taza eterna
para que donde esté el encarcelado,
donde sufra el castigo del otoño
yo esté presente con una ola errante,
yo circule a través de las ventanas
y al oírme levante la mirada
diciendo: cómo me acercaré al océano?
Y yo transmitiré sin decir nada
los ecos estrellados de la ola,
un quebranto de espuma y arenales,
un susurro de sal que se retira,
el grito gris del ave de la costa.

Y así, por mí, la libertad y el mar
responderán al corazón oscuro.


Sun Singer said...

I know what he's talking about and feel the same way, knowing that as I do this to bring the sea and the mountain to others, I am following my own path.


Nevine said...

I think that just in looking at the title, I have to agree that writing sometimes does feel like an obligation, although it is a sweet obligation. And like Neruda listens to the sounds of the sea and of life, and opens up all of his other senses, so do we, and we build an awareness not only to places and events, but most importantly to the people who are present within those settings when we witness them or experience them. I've found inspiration in the funniest of things, and I never know when it will hit - so I keep myself open, and the stories never stop coming.

This is a beautiful poem, by the way. I don't think I've ever come across it before. Thank you for sharing it, Judith. I wouldn't mind reading some of your poetry, as well, if you don't mind sharing that.


Judith Mercado said...

Sun Singer: yes, I sometimes feel like an emissary,something I address in my next post.

Nevine, I love this Neruda poem. I have it on my desk. But as for my poetry? Oh my. Those spontaneous, barely formalized utterances, as pleasurable as they are to release from my inner self to my self aren't, I think, good enough to release to the world. Maybe someday perhaps.

A Cuban In London said...

I came to Neruda in my 20s and I'm so glad I did then and not before. One of his most famous poems, Poema 20, became one of the most popular chat-up lines in Cuba: 'Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.' So, as you may imagine, I distanced myself from his work. But I re-acquainted myself with his poetry when I was in uni and it made so much sense. You have posted one of my favourites. Without the poet, the landlocked person cannot get to know the sea. Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Stephanie Thornton said...

I love that poem, especially the dichotomy of the people he's reaching. Poetry has the power to touch everyone!

Ann Victor said...

I've been wanting to read these posts ever since they popped up on my reader. Finally getting to read them.

First time I've read this poem by Neruda - lovely way to describe the effect one's writing can have: how beautiful to think that poets and writers can free people from whatever prisons they are in! :)

(Win one of five unique prizes from South Africa in the Christmas Contest on my blog)