Ode to the Book
When I close a book I open life.
I hear faltering cries among harbours.
Copper ignots slide down sand-pits to Tocopilla.Night time.
Among the islands our ocean throbs with fish,
touches the feet, the thighs,the chalk ribs of my country.
The whole of night clings to its shores,
by dawn it wakes up singing as if it had excited a guitar.
The ocean's surge is calling.
The wind calls me and Rodriguez calls,and Jose Antonio--
I got a telegram from the "Mine" Union
and the one I love (whose name I won't let out)
expects me in Bucalemu.
No book has been able to wrap me in paper,
to fill me up with typography,with heavenly imprints
or was ever able to bind my eyes,
I come out of books to people orchards with the hoarse family of my song,
to work the burning metals or to eat smoked beef by mountain firesides.
I love adventurous books,
books of forest or snow, depth or sky
but hate the spider book in which thought has laid poisonous wires
To trap the juvenile and circling fly.
Book, let me go.
I won't go clothed in volumes,
I don't come out of collected works,
my poems have not eaten poems--they devour exciting happenings,
feed on rough weather, and dig their food out of earth and men.
I'm on my way with dust in my shoes
free of mythology: send books back to their shelves,
i'm going down into the streets.
I learned about life from life itself, love
I learned in a single kiss and could teach no one anything
except that I have lived with something in common among men,
when fighting with them,
when saying all their say in my song.
I'm back from my amazing adventures in Andes country. One of my chief aims in going to Chile was to visit the houses of the poet, Pablo Neruda, and this I achieved. You can read all the details of my Chilean adventures on my travel blog at
but now, in refelcting on my journey, I want to write about the Poet's houses and in particular, how it felt to visit those rooms in which he and his beloved Matilde lived and entertained guests.
It was interesting to see the many unusual and eccentric collections of various trinkets and artifacts that Neruda loved to have around him. There was so much colour, objects that would conjur the Muse and spark the imagination. But mostly, to stand in his studies, surrounded by his books and manuscripts, see in his own handwriting (usually always blue or green ink because those were sea colours) his penmanship, the poems he is famous for crafted on the page before publication.
In each of the houses: La Chascona in Santiago, La Sebastiana in Valparaiso, and Isla Negra on the shores of the Pacfic, I stood in his study, touched the chairs he sat on at his desks, felt his presence as I looked around, viewing from there exactly what he would have seen while he was writing. Always it was a pleasant scene, the green of the gardens and city scape of Santiago, the sweeping view over the rooftops to the sea in Valparaiso, the crashing waves of the ocean at Isla Negra. How could one not have been touched by the Muse in such glorious settings?
Pablo Neruda died in September 1973 shortly after his friend Salvadore Allende was killed in the bombing fo the Presidential Palace in Santiago when Augusto Pinochet led the military coup. Neruda had returned to Chile from France because he had cancer. But shortly after the junta, and when Allende was murdered, he died of his illness and, they say, of a broken heart. He is buried at Isla Negra in a simple grave covered by flowers facing the sea. Beside him is his beloved Matilde, who died in 1983. (Neruda was obsessed with the sea although he didn't like to be "on" it. Each of the three houses has a ship motif, even to the creaking floors that give the impression of being aboard a ship.)
Neruda is very much revered in Chile and every Chilean can recite his poems. I thank my chileno friend Anibal for introducing me to the Poet. It was because of him that I went to Chile, and because of Anibal that I desired to visit Neruda's homes. I came away feeling as though I had really got in touch with the Poet and appreciate his beautiful words more than ever before. If you haven't read his work, I encourage you to do so. You can find most of his poems on-line if you google his name. My most favorite collection is "Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair." But I also have a copy of "The Captain's Poems" which he wrote using a nom-de-plume while living on the Isle of Capri in Italy during one of his exiles from Chile. The poems were written for Matilde, his third wife, the one known as "La Chascona" (crazy hair) because of her wild unruly locks.
And it was at that age...Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don't know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
Abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was withut a face
and it touched me.
Pablo Neruda from "Poetry"