Life’s Fire – Brief Poems by Walter Savage Landor

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Walter Savage Landor (1775 – 1864) was one of the major authors of both the Romantic and the Victorian eras who wrote and published voluminously throughout his long life (he died in his ninetieth year). He was sent away to school at 4 and at 9 went to Rugby School where he excelled  in Latin translation and composition and was noted for his rebelliousness. Later he went to Trinity College, Oxford, where he was thought a “mad Jacobin”  because he wore unpowdered hair. He was sent down for shooting a fellow student and spent a summer at Tenby in Wales, where he made love to a woman named Nancy Jones, later “banging angrily” out of his father’s house to live with her at Swansea until the birth of their child. In 1796 on the Welsh coast, he met and fell in love with Rose Aylmer, aged 17, and wrote one of his most renowned poems, Rose Aylmer,  about her. In 1800 she died of cholera in India at the age of twenty .

In 1807 he met the poet Robert Southey, with whom he remained friends all his life. Later he went to Spain to fight Napoleon and stayed for some months but never saw action. He returned to England, having spent an enormous amount of money and having been made an honorary colonel in the Spanish army. He wrote many poems, based on classical Greek and Roman works, to Sophia Jane Swift, whom he called Ianthe. (See below)

In 1807 Landor bought the ruins of Llanthony Abbey in Wales which he renovated, ruining himself and antagonising his neighbors in the process. Southey urged him to marry, and he married Julia Thuillier, whom he took to Llanthony but they soon left for Italy. From 1821 to 1829 they lived in Florence at the Villa Castiglione and in 1829 moved to the Villa Gherardesca in Fiesole, where he left his wife and children and returned to England. He settled at Bath, where he lived for 20 years.

Between 1824 and 1853 Landor’s Imaginary Conversations appeared and established him as one of the great English men of letters.  His close friend Southey died at the beginning of the 1840s. Landor lived on, writing and publishing poetry, prose and drama, in English and in Latin. He was friends with Robert Browning who was deeply influenced by his writing  and who said he owed more to Landor than to anyone. He was also friendly with Charles Dickens who named his second son Walter Savage Landor Dickens in his honour and who said of him, “Talking, laughing or snoring, his lungs made the beams of the house shake.” In 1858 he fled back to Florence to avoid a libel action. Disowned by his children,  he would have starved but for the kindness of Browning. Landor retained his powers into old age, publishing Last Fruit off an Old Tree in 1853 and Heroic Idyls in 1863. He died in Florence on Sept. 17, 1864.

Landor’s Collected Works was published between 1927 and 1936 in sixteen volumes and that doesn’t include everything he wrote and published. It omits his voluminous Latin writing. Landor was the last great English writer to produce a substantial body of work in that dead language. In late life he once said ‘I am sometimes at a loss for an English word; for a Latin—never!’

 

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The Epigrams of Walter Savage Landor

Some of the epigrams below exceed the twitter limit. But they are worth the exemption. Landor recognised his own proficiency in his poem Trifling With Epigrams:

You ask how I, who could converse
With Pericles, can stoop to worse:
How I, who once had higher aims,
Can trifle so with epigrams.
I would not lose the wise from view,
But would amuse the children too;
Beside, my breath is short and weak,
And few must be the words I speak.

Others have recognised his skill at the genre. Ralph Waldo Emerson, for example, wrote: “Mr. Landor is one of the foremost of that small class who make good in the nineteenth-century the claims of pure literature.”  Algernon Charles Swinburne later wrote: “If we except Catullus and Simonides, it might be hard to match and it would be impossible to overmatch the flawless and blameless yet living and breathing beauty of his most perfect elegies, epigrams or epitaphs.” Former U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky writing of one of the epigrams below

On love, on grief, on every human thing,
Time sprinkles Lethe’s water with his wing.

spoke of its “mysterious kind of economy,” its “delicacy and finality,” and the manner in which it “refreshes” clichés, accomplishing all this in just fifteen words.

 

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Brief Poems by Walter Savage Landor

Dirce

Stand close around, ye Stygian set,
With Dirce in one boat conveyed!
Or Charon, seeing, may forget
That he is old and she a shade.

***

Dying Speech of an Old Philosopher

I strove with none, for none was worth my strife:
Nature I loved, and, next to Nature, Art:
I warm’d both hands before the fire of Life;
It sinks; and I am ready to depart.

***

On love, on grief, on every human thing,
Time sprinkles Lethe’s water with his wing.

***

Verses Why Burnt

How many verses have I thrown
Into the fire because the one
Peculiar word, the wanted most,
Was irrecoverably lost!

***

Soon, O Ianthe! life is o’er,
And sooner beauty’s heavenly smile:
Grant only (and I ask no more),
Let love remain that little while.

***

One lovely name adorns my song,
And, dwelling in the heart,
Forever falters at the tongue,
And trembles to depart.

***

On His Seventy-Fifth Birthday

I strove with none; for none was worth my strife,
Nature I loved, and next to Nature, Art;
I warmed both hands before the fire of life,
It sinks, and I am ready to depart.

***

On his Eightieth Birthday

To my ninth decade I have tottered on,
And no soft arm bends now my steps to steady;
She, who once led me where she would, is gone,
So when he calls me, Death shall find me ready.

***

Last Lines

Death stands above me, whispering low
I know not what into my ear:
Of his strange language all I know
Is, there is not a word of fear.

***

On Living Too Long

Is it not better at an early hour
In its calm cell to rest the weary head,
While birds are singing and while blooms the bower,
Than sit the fire out and go starv’d to bed?

 

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LINKS

The Poetry Foundation page on Walter Savage Landor.

Robert Pinsky on a Walter Savage Landor epigram.

An article on Landor from the Oxford University Press blog.

 

 

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Grooks – Brief Poems by Piet Hein

HeinPiet Hein (1905 – 1996) was a Danish scientist, philosopher, mathematician, inventor, designer, author, and poet, often writing under the Old Norse pseudonym “Kumbel” meaning “tombstone”. A philosophy of a close link between the subjectivity of the fine arts and the objective world of science made him one of the most original Danes of the 20th century. He also created a new form of poetry he called ‘Grook‘ (“gruk” in Danish). He defined art as a way of thinking about all subjects, so for him ‘being a poet’ was only one outlet for his astonishing creativity. He asserted in his philosophical writings that the great cultural divide was not between the haves and the have-nots, but between the knows and the know-nots.

After the Second World War, Scandinavian architects, tired of square buildings but cognizant that circular buildings were impractical, asked Piet Hein for a solution. Applying his mathematical prowess to the problem, Piet Hein proposed to use the superellipse which became the hallmark of modern Scandinavian architecture. In addition to the thousands of grooks he wrote, he devised various games: Hex, Tangloids, Tower, Polytaire, TacTix, Nimbi, Qrazy Qube, Pyramystery, and the Soma cube. He advocated the use of the superellipse curve in city planning, furniture making and other realms. He also invented a perpetual calendar called the Astro Calendar and marketed housewares based on the superellipse and superegg.

Piet Hein was a direct descendant of the 17th Century Dutch privateer of the same name. He died in his home on Funen, Denmark in 1996.

 

What is a Grook?

According to Wikipedia, A grook (“gruk” in Danish) is a form of short aphoristic poem. It was initially presented by the Danish poet and scientist Piet Hein, who wrote over 7000 of them, mostly in Danish or English. They have been published in 20 volumes. Some say that the name is short for “GRin & sUK” (“laugh & sigh” in Danish), but Piet Hein said he felt that the word had come out of thin air…Piet Hein’s gruks first started to appear in the daily newspaper “Politiken” shortly after the Nazi Occupation in April 1940 under the signature Kumbel Kumbell. The poems were meant as a spirit-building, yet slightly coded form of passive resistance. The grooks are characterized by irony, paradox, brevity, precise use of language, sophisticated rhythms and rhymes, and an often satiric nature.

From the forties to the sixties, twenty volumes of original collections of grooks were published. There are those who claim Piet Hein wrote over 10,000 of grooks, most in Danish or English, which were published in more than 60 books. One of the first – “Taking fun as simply fun” – remains one of the most famous. Piet Hein called it a pedagogical grook and mentioned it afterwards as a kind of key to all the other grooks. Under the pseudonym Kumbel Kumbell, he had his poems translated into many different languages and has had  more than one and a half million copies printed. Grooks have been used in many different formats. Small porcelain butter platters with a grook painted on them became famous. Hein was also responsible for translations of entire collections of grooks into English as well as Esperanto.

 

 

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Brief Grooks by Piet Hein

THE ROAD TO WISDOM

The road to wisdom?—Well, it’s
plain and simple to express:
Err
and err
and err again,
but less
and less
and less.

***

EXPERTS

Experts have
their expert fun
ex cathedra
telling one
just how nothing
can be done.

***

THAT IS THE QUESTION
Hamlet Anno Domini.

Co-existence
or no existence.

***

MAKING SENSE

Life makes senses
and who could doubt it,
if we have
no doubt about it.

***

OUT OF TIME

(A holiday thought)
My old clock used to tell the time
and subdivide diurnity;
but now it’s lost both hands and chime
and only tells eternity.

***

LIVING IS…

Living is
a thing you do
now or never —
which do you?

***

NAIVE —

Naive you are
if you believe
life favours those
who aren’t naive.

***

 

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***

A MOMENT’S THOUGHT

As eternity
is reckoned
there’s a lifetime
in a second.

***

SMALL THINGS
& GREAT

He that lets
the small things bind him
leaves the great
undone behind him.

***

THOSE WHO KNOW

Those who always
know what’s best
are
a universal pest.

***

SIMILARITY

Commutative Law
No cow’s like a horse,
and no horse like a cow.
That’s one similarity
anyhow.

***

 

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***

REMEDIES’ REMEDIES

Pills are useful
against ills
and against
too many pills.

***

TIMING TOAST

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There’s an art of knowing when.
Never try to guess.
Toast until it smokes and then
twenty seconds less.

***

PROBLEMS

Problems worthy
of attack
prove their worth
by hitting back.

***

ARS BREVIS

There is
one art,
no more,
no less:
to do
all things
with art-
lessness.

***

 

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***

WISDOM IS

Wisdom is
the booby prize
given when you’ve been
unwise.

***

WHAT LOVE IS LIKE

Love is like
a pineapple,
sweet and
undefinable.

***

VITA BREVIS

A lifetime
is more
than
sufficiently long
for people to get
what there is of it wrong.

 

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All text and illustrations are owned by Piet Hein’s estate.

 

LINKS

Introducing the Grook

The Wikipedia page on a Grook.

The Piet Hein website.

Some information on Piet Hien and his Grooks.

A large selection of Grooks by Piet Hein

A selection of Grooks by Piet Hein.

Grooks in English by Piet Hein.

Selected Grooks by Piet Hein.

 

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Pansies – Brief Poems by D. H. Lawrence

D.H._LawrenceD.H. Lawrence (1885-1930) may be best known for his novels, but he also wrote almost 800 poems, many of them quite short as in the tweet-sized selection below. His best-known poems are probably those dealing with nature such as the entrancing “Snake“, which displays some of his most frequent concerns; modern man’s distance from nature and subtle hints at religious and social themes. My own favourite poem of his is “Piano“, a masterpiece of effective nostalgia.

He called one collection of poems Pansies, partly for the simple ephemeral nature of the verse, but also as a pun on the French word panser, to dress or bandage a wound. The first paragraph of his introduction is worth quoting from:

These poems are called ‘Pansies’ because they are rather ‘Pensées’ than anything else. Pascal or La Bruyère wrote their ‘Pensées’ in prose, but it has always seemed to me that a real thought, a single thought, not an argument, can only exist easily in verse, or in some poetic form. There is a didactic element about prose thoughts which makes them repellent, slightly bullying…

Two of the poems in the book, “The Noble Englishman” and “Don’t Look at Me”, were removed from the official edition of Pansies on the grounds of obscenity, which wounded him. (His problems with censors are legendary.) And some of the poems are worth a second glance. As Mark Granier puts it in his essay  What One Note Holds: Writing the Short PoemThe weaker poems in Pansies (and in Lawrence’s Complete Poems) are probably true enough to their time, though hardly less didactic or bullying than equivalent prose thoughts. But the best of Lawrence’s short poems, just a couple of handfuls, are more than casual thoughts; these are perpetually fresh, classics of the genre.

 

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Brief Poems by D. H. Lawrence

GOD

Where sanity is
there God is.

And the sane can still recognize sanity
so they can still recognize God.

***

BELIEF

Forever nameless
Forever unknown
Forever unconnected
Forever unrepresented
yet forever felt in the soul.

***

THE WHITE HORSE

The youth walks up to the white horse, to put its halter on
and the horse looks at him in silence.
They are so silent, they are in another world.

***

NOTHING TO SAVE

There is nothing to save, now all is lost,
but a tiny core of stillness in the heart
like the eye of a violet.

***

THERE ARE TOO MANY PEOPLE

There are too many people on earth
insipid, unsalted. rabbity, endlessly hopping.
They nibble the face of the earth to a desert.

***

SELF PITY

I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.

***

TELL ME A WORD

Tell me a word
That you’ve often heard
Yet it makes you squint
If you see it in print!

***

WILLY WET-LEG

I can’t stand Willy Wet-Leg,
Can’t stand him at any price.
He’s resigned, and when you hit him
he lets you hit him twice.

 

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LINKS

The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence on Google Books.

The Poetry Foundation List of Poems by D. H. Lawrence.

The Wikipedia Page on D. H. Lawrence.

 

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Tailgaters – Uncoupled Couplets – Second Comings

9781931082495Once, in search of Alaska, I took a cruise ship up the inside passage along the North American coastline.  To while away the hours on the boat I went down to the eclectic library where I borrowed a copy of John Hollander’s entertaining selection, American Wits: an Anthology of Light Verse. There I found a selection from William Cole’s Uncoupled Couplets. It was my first introduction to what someone (reputed to be the poet, Miller Williams) named  Tailgaters. A Tailgater is a rhymed couplet in any metre that uses a well known line of poetry followed by a parodic original second line. The inventor of the form is supposed to be the American poet and wit, Richard Armour, whose Punctured Poems: Famous First and Infamous Second Lines (1982) contained a selection, some of which are included below. There are those who would argue that the form has been around even longer, citing a poem by Phyllis McGinley:

When I have fears that I may cease to be,
I have another drink, or two or three.

Further research (see the LINKS section below) introduced me to a range of these poems which, in homage to W. B. Yeats, I prefer to call Second Comings. I am including my own modest introduction to the genre here, based on that celebrated Yeats poem:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The roller-coaster goes higher and higher.

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Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,
Since Playboy ditched its naked centrefold.

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The ceremony of innocence is drowned,
Yeats has taken lessons from Ezra Pound.

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The darkness drops again but now I know
The electricity was bound to go.

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And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Is now the media’s iconoclast.

 

Should you like to include your own contribution, fill in the comment box below.

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Punctured Poems by Richard Armour

Summer is icumeen in;
Mix the tonic and the gin

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Water, water, everywhere;
The plumbing badly needs repair.

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To err is human, to forgive divine.
Some errors I forgive, though, quickly. . . . Mine..

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Jenny kissed me when we met
Not oft such quick results I get.

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I celebrate myself, and sing myself.
My picture’s there, my bust’s upon the shelf.

 

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Uncoupled Couplets by William Cole

When my love swears that she is made of truth
All I can do is blame it on her youth

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Whenas in silks my Julia goes
The outline of her girdle shows.

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Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
But take your little pill each day

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There is a garden in her face
Her dermatologist has the case

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Jenny kissed me when we met
The cold I caught is with me yet.

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When the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces
The rich take off for warmer places

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Tailgaters by J. Patrick Lewis

Leigh Hunt
Jenny kissed me when we met
Drooling like a bachelorette

Robert Herrick
A sweet disorder in the dress
Is evidence that she said yes..

W.H. Auden
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Turn on the gas, I’m out of methadone.

***

First published in Light, 2015

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Tailgaters by Bob McKenty

The art of losing isn’t hard to master
(The Cubs are a perennial disaster).

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Home is the place where, when you have to go there
They make you mow the lawn or shovel snow there.

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Stone walls do not a prison make
(But they deter a prison break).

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If ever two were one, then surely we
Amoebas were. (No longer; now we’re three.)

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My heart leaps up when I behold
The beauty in the centerfold.

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I weep for Adonais. He is dead.
He left me nothing. Weep for me instead.

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Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Use meter, rhyme, and humor when you write.

***

First published in Light, 2015

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Tailgaters by Anthony Harrington

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.
There is, dumbass. It’s called a wrecking ball.

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The time you won your town the race
I lost fifty at the bookie’s place.

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I taste a liquor never brewed
But never wind up wholly stewed.

***

First published in Light, 2015

 

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Tailgaters by Dean Blehert

Fear no more the heat o’ the Sun:
With lotion, bask ‘til you’re well done.

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Had we but world enough and time,
We’d say “I am” and never “I’m”.

xxx

The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
Like readers plodding through an elegy.

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Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
No way!

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She dwelt among the untrodden ways;
Her parents said, “It’s just a phase.”

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When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
Viagra puts the hump back in your heap.

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A shudder in the loins engenders there
Stains that won’t wash out of underwear.

 

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Tailgaters by Bob Mezey

I walk through the long schoolroom questioning;
The kids don’t seem to know a goddamned thing.

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The One remains, the many change and pass.
I am the One; I never went to class.

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They that have power to hurt and will do none
Are missing out on every kind of fun.

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If winter comes, can spring be far behind?
Shelley’s searching question—what a mind.

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I should have been a pair of ragged claws—
Think of the royalties, think of the applause.

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Tailgaters by Ralph La Rosa

A narrow Fellow in the Grass
Exposed his slim—seductive—Ass.

***

Crumbling is not an instant’s Act—
Please be patient. Use some Tact!

***

I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—
Le petit mort—oh—what—a—Ride!

First published as Emily D’s Down and Dirty Tailgaters in Asses of Parnassus, August 2017

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More Tailgaters

Ice Cream Line

I dwell in possibility –
Shall I have two scoops – or three?

Barbara Lydecker Crane

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New Model

Where ignorant armies clash by night,
well-informed armies wait for light.

Esther Greenleaf Murer

***

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I hope the jury buys my lawyer’s lies.

Chris O’Carroll

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LINKS

An article on Tailgaters from Light Poetry Magazine.

Seventeen pages of Tailgaters from the Eratosphere site on Able Muse.

A large selection of Tailgaters from Dean Blehert.

A large selection and discussion of Tailgaters (also called Gwynnlets).

“In Memory of Bill Cole”, a poem by Seamus Heaney.

 

9781931082495

The Book of Questions – Brief Poems by Pablo Neruda

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Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was the pen name and, later, legal name of the Chilean poet and politician Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto. He chose his pen name after Czech poet, Jan Neruda. He is best known for the erotically charged love poems in his collection Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair. In 1971 Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez once called him “the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language.” Neruda always wrote in green ink as it was his personal colour of hope.

During his lifetime, Neruda occupied many diplomatic positions and served a stint as a senator for the Chilean Communist Party. When Conservative Chilean President González Videla outlawed communism in Chile in 1948, a warrant was issued for Neruda’s arrest. Friends hid him for months in a house basement in the Chilean port of Valparaíso. Later, Neruda escaped into exile through a mountain pass near Maihue Lake into Argentina. Years later, Neruda was a close collaborator to socialist President Salvador Allende. When Neruda returned to Chile after his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Allende invited him to read at the Estadio Nacional before 70,000 people.

The Book of Questions was written at the end of Neruda’s life. In November 1972 he resigned his diplomatic position in Paris and returned to Chile. The democratic government of Salvador Allende was plagued by politically motivated strikes, facing shortages of vital foodstuffs and supplies and with the threat of a coup from the right-wing military. Neruda was hospitalized with cancer at the time of the Chilean coup d’état led by Augusto Pinochet. Three days after being hospitalised, he died of heart failure. Controversy continues to this day over the circumstances of his death. Whether he was mistreated by soldiers and died afterwards from a heart attack triggered by the mistreatment, as one rumour suggests, is uncertain. Already a legend in his own lifetime, Neruda’s death reverberated around the world. Pinochet had denied permission to transform his funeral into a public event. However, thousands of grieving Chileans disobeyed the curfew and crowded the streets.

The Book of Questions

The Book of Questions (El libro de las preguntas) is a posthumous work consisting of 316 questions posed by Neruda just months before his death. The book consists of a series of rhetorical questions divided up among 74 untitled poems (each poem contains from 3 to 6 questions). Neruda asks questions about a dizzying range of topics. Some are funny, some are disturbing. All are thought-provoking unanswerable questions in the koan tradition (question/statement in the form of a paradox that disciples of Zen ponder).

For the purpose of this blog and to make the poems tweet-sized, I have discarded the structure of the 74 poems but maintained the enigmatic and intriguing questions.

Book of Questions

 

Brief Poems by Pablo Neruda

Why do leaves commit suicide
When they feel yellow?

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When the convict ponders the light
is it the same light that shines on you?

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Tell me, is the rose naked
or is that her only dress?

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Donde termina el arco iris,
en tu alma o en el horizonte?

Where does the rainbow end,
in your soul or on the horizon?

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Why do trees conceal
the splendor of their roots?

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Who hears the regrets
of the thieving automobile?

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Is there anything in the world sadder
than a train standing in the rain?

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What do they call the sadness
of a solitary sheep?

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If the flies make honey
will they offend the bees?

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Do we learn kindness
or the mask of kindness?

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Who assigns names and numbers
to the innumerable innocent?

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Is it true that a black condor
flies at night over my country?

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How did the abandoned bicycle
win its freedom?

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What do they call a flower
that flies from bird to bird?

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Si todos los rios son dulces
de donde saca sal el mar?

If all rivers are sweet
where does the sea get its salt?

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Where is the center of the sea?
Why do waves never go there?

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Do you have room for some thorns?
they asked the rosebush.

xxx

Que aprendeu a árvore da terra
para conversar com o céu?

What did the tree learn from the earth
to be able to talk with the sky?”

xxx

Where can you find a bell
that will ring in your dreams?

xxx

Are they birds or fish
in these nets of moonlight?

Reprinted from The Book of Questions published by Copper Canyon Press, written by Pablo Neruda, and translated by William O’Daly. Copyright © 2001 by William O’Daly. All rights reserved.

 

Book of Questions

 

LINKS

The Copper Canyon Press page for The Book of Questions.

Translator William O’Daly reads selections from The Book of Questions.

Australian poet M.T.C.Cronin has written a series of responses to Neruda’s questions.

The home page of the translator of Neruda’s poems, William O’Daly.

The Copper Canyon Press.

 

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