April 9, 2014

National Poetry Month Blog Tour: The Book of Questions

Chilean-born poet Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) is probably best known for his erotically-charged love poems and his political manifestos (and that is, indeed, how I was introduced to him), but Neruda is also famous for his work with universal paradoxes, like in this collection, aptly named The Book of Questions.

Each poem is literally four to five stanzas of questions.  Existential questions. Questions of perception.   Unanswerable questions.

Although the book is only 74 pages long, I read it over several days, letting the poems linger in my subconscious, percolating.  I also read the stanzas in Spanish (included) because I am learning Spanish.  (Yay, translations!)   Some questions were simpler, some were more complex.  Some of the questions spoke to me immediately - "Do tears not yet spilled wait in small lakes?  Or are they invisible rivers that run toward sadness?"-  Some flew right over my head and I still don't know what they mean.   Let me share a few poems with you.  

And what did the rubies say
standing before the juice of pomegranates?

Why doesn't Thursday talk itself
into coming after Friday?

Who shouted with glee
when the color blue was born?

Why does the earth grieve
when the violets appear?

But is it true that the vests
are preparing to revolt?

Why does spring once again
offer its green clothes?

Why does agriculture laugh
at the pale tears of the sky?

How did the abandoned bicycle
win its freedom?

Some I read over and over, really trying to grasp the magnitude of what Neruda was really saying.


And what importance do I have
in the courtroom of oblivion?

Which is the true picture
of how the future will turn out?

Is it the grain seed
among its yellow masses?

Or is it the bony heart,
that delegate of the peach?

Now here is one that I just did not understand. I even checked the original Spanish version to see if it was a translation issue, but not as far as the actual words, it isn't.  Please explain it to me, if you can.


What are you guarding under your hump?
said a camel to a turtle.

And the turtle replied:
What do you say to oranges?

Does a pear tree have more leaves
than Remembrance of Things Past?

Why do leaves commit suicide
when they feel yellow.


So let's break that down, shall we?

What are you guarding under your hump?
said a camel to a turtle. 

Simple enough.  Then next line:

And the turtle replied:
What do you say to oranges?

Um, what?  

What do oranges have to do with anything?  And the next 2 stanzas seem to not go together with those first two stanzas.  

But perhaps that is Neruda's point.  These questions are not necessarily meant to be understood immediately.  Perhaps the ones I don't understand now are begging to be mulled over and speculated against.  They don't necessarily always appeal to the rational mind, nor the emotional mind.  Neruda dances the imaginary line in between.

As you can see it is definitely not traditional poetry nor for the easily intimidated.  It is a collection that is not just outside the box.  It takes the box, throws it down, and does a cha-cha on it's cardboard head.   But, if you are willing, it will open your eyes, broaden your horizons, and challenge your perceptions about the world around you.  

And, ultimately, isn't that what we want all good writing to do?

National Poetry MonthThe 2014 National Poetry Month: Reach for the Horizon Blog Tour was put together by Serena of Savvy Verse and Wit.  Be sure to check her blog for more posts on poetry by Serena and dozens of other lovely bloggers.

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