The captains verses, p.1
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The Captain's Verses




  Los versos del






  Los versos del



  Translated by DONALD D. WALSH



  Pablo Neruda, the poet and activist who is now Chilean ambassador to France, is often held to be the greatest poet of this century writing in any language. He is a fierily political poet, the author of España en el corazón (“Spain in Our Hearts,” 1937), one of the noblest expressions of the agony of the Spanish Republic. He is also a fiery poet of love: Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (“Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair,” 1924), Cien sonetos de amor (“A Hundred Love Sonnets,” 1959).

  Los versos del Capitán is another of Neruda’s volumes of love poetry. In it he writes simply, directly, forcefully, earthily of his love for and his lover’s quarrels with Matilde Urrutia, whom he married in 1955. Perhaps because of the autobiographical nature of the poems, Neruda published them anonymously in 1952. Later, in an “Explanation” prefacing a 1963 edition that acknowledged the work as his own, he wrote (and I translate): “There has been much discussion about the anonymity of this book. What I debated with myself, meanwhile, was whether or not I should remove it from its intimate origin: to reveal its source was to strip bare the intimacy of its birth. And it did not seem to me that such an action would be loyal to the ecstasies of love and fury, to the disconsolate and ardent climate that gave birth to it.

  “In some ways I think that all books should be anonymous. But between removing my name from all my books and restoring it to the most mysterious one, I yielded, finally, though with no great pleasure.

  “Why did I preserve its mystery so long? For no reason and for all reasons, for this and for that, for improper joys, for alien sufferings. When Paolo Rjcci, luminous companion, printed it for the first time in Naples in 1952, we thought that the few copies that he prepared with superb care would disappear and leave no traces in the southern sands.

  “It didn’t turn out that way. And the life that demanded its secret explosion now imposes it on me as the presence of lasting love.

  “And so I present this book with no further explanation, as if it were mine and not mine: it is enough that it should be able to go through the world on its own and grow by itself. Now that I recognize it I hope that its furious blood will recognize me, too.”

  Since Neruda expresses his poetic ideas very simply and directly, it is possible to translate him quite literally with no loss of validity, as will be seen by any reader with a knowledge of the two languages.

  Four of these translations (“In You the Earth,” “The Queen,” “The Potter,” “Night on the Island”) have been published in The Atlantic Monthly and the translator hereby gratefully acknowledges permission to reprint them.

  Madison, Connecticut/November, 1972 D.D.W.

  NOTE: Pablo Neruda died in a hospital in Santiago, Chile on September 23, 1973.




  En ti la tierra / In You the Earth

  La reina / The Queen

  El alfarero / The Potter

  8 de septiembre / September 8th

  Tus pies / Your Feet

  Tus manos / Your Hands

  Tu risa / Your Laughter

  El inconstante / The Fickle One

  La noche en la isla / Night on the Island

  El viento en la isla / Wind on the Island

  La infinita / The Infinite One

  Bella / Lovely One

  La rama robada / The Stolen Branch

  El hijo / The Son

  La tierra / The Earth

  Ausencia / Absence


  El tigre / The Tiger

  El cóndor / The Condor

  El insecto / The Insect


  El amor / Love

  Siempre / Always

  El desvío / The Slip

  La pregunta / The Question

  La pródiga / The Waster

  El daño / The Hurt

  El pozo / The Well

  El sueño / The Dream

  Si tú me olvidas / If You Forget Me

  El olvido / Oblivion

  Las muchachas / Girls

  Tú venías / You Would Come


  El monte y el río / The Mountain and the River

  La pobreza / Poverty

  Las vidas / Lives

  La bandera / The Flag

  El amor del soldado / The Soldier’s Love

  No sólo el fuego / Not Only the Fire

  La muerta / The Dead Woman

  Pequeña América / Little America





  (Los versos del Capitán)





  rosa pequeña,

  a veces,

  diminuta y desnuda,


  que en una mano mía


  que así voy a cerrarte

  y llevarte a mi boca,


  de pronto

  mis pies tocan tus pies y mi boca tus labios:

  has crecido,

  suben tus hombros como dos colinas,

  tus pechos se pasean por mi pecho,

  mi brazo alcanza apenas a rodear la delgada

  línea de luna nueva que tiene tu cintura:

  en el amor como agua de mar te has desatado:

  mido apenas los ojos más extensos del cielo

  y me inclino a tu boca para besar la tierra.






  at times,

  tiny and naked,

  it seems

  as though you would fit

  in one of my hands,

  as though I’ll clasp you like this

  and carry you to my mouth,



  my feet touch your feet and my mouth your lips:

  you have grown,

  your shoulders rise like two hills,

  your breasts wander over my breast,

  my arm scarcely manages to encircle the thin

  new-moon line of your waist:

  in love you have loosened yourself like sea water:

  I can scarcely measure the sky’s most spacious eyes

  and I lean down to your mouth to kiss the earth.


  Yo te he nombrado reina.

  Hay más altas que tú, más altas.

  Hay mas puras que tú, más puras.

  Hay más bellas que tú, hay más bellas.

  Pero tú eres la reina.

  Cuando vas por las calles

  nadie te reconoce.

  Nadie ve tu corona de cristal, nadie mira

  la alfombra de oro rojo

  que pisas cuando pasas,

  la alfombra que no existe.

  Y cuando asomas

  suenan todos los ríos

  en mi cuerpo, sacuden

  el cielo las campanas,

  y un himno llena el mundo.

  Sólo tú y yo,

  sólo tú y yo, amor mío,

  lo escuchamos.


  I have named you queen.
r />   There are taller ones than you, taller.

  There are purer ones than you, purer.

  There are lovelier than you, lovelier.

  But you are the queen.

  When you go through the streets

  no one recognizes you.

  No one sees your crystal crown, no one looks

  at the carpet of red gold

  that you tread as you pass,

  the nonexistent carpet.

  And when you appear

  all the rivers sound

  in my body, bells

  shake the sky,

  and a hymn fills the world.

  Only you and I,

  only you and I, my love,

  listen to it.


  Todo tu cuerpo tiene

  copa o dulzura destinada a mí.

  Cuando subo la mano

  encuentro en cada sitio una paloma

  que me buscaba, como

  si te hubieran, amor, hecho de arcilla

  para mis propias manos de alfarero.

  Tus rodillas, tus senos,

  tu cintura

  faltan en mí como en el hueco

  de una tierra sedienta

  de la que desprendieron

  una forma,

  y juntos

  somos completos como un solo río,

  como una sola arena.


  Your whole body has

  a fullness or a gentleness destined for me.

  When I move my hand up

  I find in each place a dove

  that was seeking me, as

  if they had, love, made you of clay

  for my own potter’s hands.

  Your knees, your breasts,

  your waist

  are missing parts of me like the hollow

  of a thirsty earth

  from which they broke off

  a form,

  and together

  we are complete like a single river,

  like a single grain of sand.


  Hoy, este día fue una copa plena,

  hoy, este día fue la inmensa ola,

  hoy, fue toda la tierra.

  Hoy el mar tempestuoso

  nos levantó en un beso

  tan alto que temblamos

  a la luz de un relámpago

  y, atados, descendimos

  a sumergirnos sin desenlazarnos.

  Hoy nuestros cuerpos se hicieron extensos,

  crecieron hasta el límite del mundo

  y rodaron fundiéndose

  en una sola gota

  de cera o meteoro.

  Entre tú y yo se abrió una nueva puerta

  y alguien, sin rostro aún,

  allí nos esperaba.


  Today, this day was a brimming cup,

  today, this day was the immense wave,

  today, it was all the earth.

  Today the stormy sea

  lifted us in a kiss

  so high that we trembled

  in a lightningflash

  and, tied, we went down

  to sink without untwining.

  Today our bodies became vast,

  they grew to the edge of the world

  and rolled melting

  into a single drop

  of wax or meteor.

  Between you and me a new door opened

  and someone, still faceless,

  was waiting for us there.


  Cuando no puedo mirar tu cara

  miro tus pies.

  Tus pies de hueso arqueado,

  tus pequeños pies duros.

  Yo sé que te sostienen,

  y que tu dulce peso

  sobre ellos se levanta.

  Tu cintura y tus pechos,

  la duplicada púrpura

  de tus pezones,

  la caja de tus ojos

  que recién han volado,

  tu ancha boca de fruta,

  tu cabellera roja,

  pequeña torre mía.

  Pero no amo tus pies

  sino porque anduvieron

  sobre la tierra y sobre

  el viento y sobre el agua,

  hasta que me encontraron.


  When I can not look at your face

  I look at your feet.

  Your feet of arched bone,

  your hard little feet.

  I know that they support you,

  and that your gentle weight

  rises upon them.

  Your waist and your breasts,

  the doubled purple

  of your nipples,

  the sockets of your eyes

  that have just flown away,

  your wide fruit mouth,

  your red tresses,

  my little tower.

  But I love your feet

  only because they walked

  upon the earth and upon

  the wind and upon the waters,

  until they found me.


  Cuando tus manos salen,

  amor, hacia las mías,

  qué me traen volando?

  Por qué se detuvieron

  en mi boca, de pronto,

  por qué las reconozco

  como si entonces, antes,

  las hubiera tocado,

  como si antes de ser

  hubieran recorrido

  mi frente, mi cintura?

  Su suavidad venía

  volando sobre el tiempo,

  sobre el mar, sobre el humo,

  sobre la primavera,

  y cuando tú pusiste

  tus manos en mi pecho,

  reconocí esas alas

  de paloma dorada,

  reconocí esa greda

  y ese color de trigo.

  Los años de mi vida

  yo caminé buscándolas.

  Subí las escaleras,

  crucé los arrecifes,

  me llevaron los trenes,

  las aguas me trajeron,

  y en la piel de las uvas

  me pareció tocarte.

  La madera de pronto

  me trajo tu contacto,

  la almendra me anunciaba

  tu suavidad secreta,

  hasta que se cerraron

  tus manos en mi pecho

  y allí como dos alas

  terminaron su viaje.


  When your hands go out,

  love, toward mine,

  what do they bring me flying?

  Why did they stop

  at my mouth, suddenly,

  why do I recognize them

  as if then, before,

  I had touched them,

  as if before they existed

  they had passed over

  my forehead, my waist?

  Their softness came

  flying over time,

  over the sea, over the smoke,

  over the spring,

  and when you placed

  your hands on my chest,

  I recognized those golden

  dove wings,

  I recognized that clay

  and that color of wheat.

  All the years of my life

  I walked around looking for them.

  I went up the stairs,

  I crossed the roads,

  trains carried me,

  waters brought me,

  and in the skin of the grapes

  I thought I touched you.

  The wood suddenly

  brought me your touch,

  the almond announced to me

  your secret softness,

  until your hands

  closed on my chest

  and there like two wings

  they ended their journey.


  Quítame el pan, si quieres,

  quítame el aire, pero

  no me quites tu risa.

  No me quites la rosa,<
br />
  la lanza que desgranas,

  el agua que de pronto

  estalla en tu alegría,

  la repentina ola

  de plata que te nace.

  Mi lucha es dura y vuelvo

  con los ojos cansados

  a veces de haber visto

  la tierra que no cambia,

  pero al entrar tu risa

  sube al cielo buscándome

  y abre para mí todas

  las puertas de la vida.

  Amor mío, en la hora

  más oscura desgrana

  tu risa, y si de pronto

  ves que mi sangre mancha

  las piedras de la calle,

  ríe, porque tu risa

  será para mis manos

  como una espada fresca.

  Junto al mar en otoño,

  tu risa debe alzar

  su cascada de espuma,

  y en primavera, amor,

  quiero tu risa como

  la flor que yo esperaba,

  la flor azul, la rosa

  de mi patria sonora.

  Ríete de la noche,

  del día, de la luna,

  ríete de las calles

  torcidas de la isla,

  ríete de este torpe

  muchacho que te quiere,

  pero cuando yo abro

  los ojos y los cierro,

  cuando mis pasos van,

  cuando vuelven mis pasos,

  niégame el pan, el aire,

  la luz, la primavera,

  pero tu risa nunca

  porque me moriría.


  Take bread away from me, if you wish,

  take air away, but

  do not take from me your laughter.

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