Sunday, July 12, 2009

Oh, Pablo!

I have to be honest that I'm not big on poetry. Most of the time, I don't even understand the message the poet is trying to convey, especially if the poem is riddled with metaphors, allusions, and other devices I can't even pronounce. In my elementary days, we were taught that poems had to rhyme, and in high school, I slaved for nights just to write 2 haikus.

I do have a few poetry books though. I have the collected poems of Seamus Heaney, which I feel that you need an advanced degree in literature just to fully appreciate his poems. Once in a while, I go back to my anthology of French poetry by Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimaud, and Stephane Mallarme. If I want a challenge, I read the poems in the original French. I took up courses in French in college, and when I read these poems in their original language, I realize how pathetic my French is.

But my favorite poet will always be Pablo Neruda. In Manila, Neruda can be a polarizing figure. There are those who scoff at the increasing popularity of Neruda among the younger generations. And there are people who read poetry only if it's by Neruda. When Il Postino was shown in theaters years ago, practically every one had those small collections of Neruda's love poems in their tote bags.

I always go back to Neruda's Five Decades: Poems (brilliantly translated by Ben Belitt) when I'm feeling melancholy or just having reader's block. Neruda's poetry is so accessible that everyone can read and enjoy his works, which I think is why his talent is still unparalleled. I feel a certain cadence to his lines, too, a pleasant rhythm if you will. I also admire that his language tends to have a playful mood to it. And Neruda can write about ordinary things and give life to it. One of my favorites is "Poor Fellows" ("Pobres Muchachos"). Read it and tell me that it doesn't evoke vivid imagery and feelings of amusement and wonder.

Poor Fellows

What it takes, on this planet,
to make love to each other in peace:
everyone pries under your sheets,
everyone interferes with your loving.

They say terrible things
about a man and a woman
who, after much milling about,
all sorts of compunctions,
do something unique --
they both lie with each other in one bed.

I ask myself whether frogs
are so furtive, or sneeze as they please,
whether they whisper to each other in
swamps about illegitimate frogs
or the joys of amphibious living.
I ask myself if birds
single out enemy birds
or bulls gossip with bullocks before
they go out in public with cows.

Even the roads have eyes,
and the parks their police,
hotels spy on their guests,
windows name names,
cannons and squadrons debark
on missions to liquidate love --
all those ears and those jaws
working incessantly,
till a man and his girl
have to race to their climax
full-title on a bicycle.