Pablo Neruda, the poet who always wrote in green ink because to him it was the color of esperanza, or ‘hope’ was once described by Gabriel García Márquez as “the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language.” The New Times called him “the most influential, and inventive poet of the Spanish language.” After a full and dynamic life as a poet, diplomat, senator, and political exile, Neruda was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, just two years before his death. He was born in Parral, Chile in 1904 and died in Santiago in 1973.
In a personal Neruda favorite, “Keeping Quiet” from Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon, the poet suggests we take a lesson from nature, with its quiet cycles of dormancy followed by rebirth and the fresh greening of spring, an implication that quiet stillness can be productive. Perhaps a time of stillness, a respite from our restless interference might serve to freshen clouded eyes. Neruda says it this way…
Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
This one time upon the earth,
let’s not speak any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be a delicious moment,
without hurry, without locomotives,
all of us would be together
in a sudden uneasiness.
The fishermen in the cold sea
would do no harm to the whales
and the peasant gathering salt
would look at his torn hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars of gas, wars of fire,
victories without survivors,
would put on clean clothing
and would walk alongside their brothers
in the shade, without doing a thing.
What I want shouldn’t be confused
with final inactivity:
life alone is what matters,
I want nothing to do with death.
If we weren’t unanimous
about keeping our lives so much in motion,
if we could do nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would
interrupt this sadness,
this never understanding ourselves
and threatening ourselves with death,
perhaps the earth is teaching us
when everything seems to be dead
and then everything is alive.
Now I will count to twelve
and you keep quiet and I’ll go.
—translation by Stephen Mitchell
In 1938 Neruda built the house that was to be, until his death a cherished home. Apart from periods of travel and exile, he spent most of his time in the coastal community west of Santiago, given the name Isla Negra, or 'Black Island’ by Neruda for the outcropping of dark rocks offshore. The place became for the poet a kind of spiritual sustenance, a depth easily seen in the work about Isla Negra. The poem below is from a small paperback published in 2000 and titled Isla Negra.
Perhaps this is the house I lived in
when neither I nor earth existed,
when all was moon or stone or darkness,
when still light was unborn.
Perhaps then this stone was
my house, my windows or my eyes.
This rose of granite reminds me
of something that dwelled in me or I in it,
a cave, or cosmic head of dreams,
cup or castle, ship or birth.
I touch the stubborn spirit of rock,
its rampart pounds in the brine,
and my flaws remain here,
wrinkled essence that rose
from the depths to my soul,
and stone I was, stone I will be. Because of this
I touch this stone, and for me it hasn’t died:
it’s what I was, what I will be, resting
from a struggle long as time.
—translation by Dennis Maloney