The first Neruda thing I ever read was an illustrated edition of Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada, translated by W.S. Merwin (back when I had no idea who W.S. Merwin was). It must have been 1995, 1996, maybe even 1997. I know I read it in Bobst. I remember the illustrations. (But not the illustrator, at least not correctly. For years, I was convinced it was Picasso. It had to be Picasso.)
I remember the way it felt to read poetry like that for the first time. This was not the Sheldon Book of Verse with Mrs Mattam in O'level English. This was not Walter de la Mare. This was not “Casey at the Bat.” This was different and this changed things.
I remember, almost by heart, the story Stephen Dobyns tells in his introduction:
A friend of mine, a Catalan poet, has told me that he once heard Pablo Neruda read his poetry in Venezuela in the 1960s to an audience of well over six hundred people. When Neruda finished, there were requests from the audience. The first was for Poem 20 from Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada. The poem begins in W.S. Merwin’s translation, “Tonight I can write the saddest lines” (Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche). Neruda apologized. He had not brought that particular poem with him.
And then the line I know by heart:
“At which point,” my friend said, “four hundred people stood up and recited the poem to him.”
[Via Giulio Cesare, Santa Marinella]
[venerdì 11 dicembre 2015 ore 22:13:13] [¶]