Poet's Choice

By BY ROBERT PINSKY
Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Chilean Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), one of the world's most popular writers, found his gift early in his prolific career. Ilan Stavans has edited a new, bilingual selection of Neruda, as translated into English over the years by many hands. Among the poems that have influenced poets all over the world is "Tonight I Can Write," published when Neruda was in his 20s. The graceful, penetrating translation is by W. S. Merwin:

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example, "The night is starry

and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance."

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.

I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.

How could one not have loved her great still eyes.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.

And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

What does it matter that my love could not keep her.

The night is starry and she is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.

My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

My sight tries to find her as though to bring her closer.

My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.

The same night whitening the same trees.

We, of that time, are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but how I loved her.

My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.

Another's. She will be another's. As she was before my kisses.

Her voice, her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but maybe I love her.

Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms

my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer

and these the last verses that I write for her.

A love song and an artistic credo, resembling ordinary speech yet extraordinary in its leaps and turns, the young man's poem is characteristic of Neruda's lifelong audacity and directness.

(Pablo Neruda's poem "Tonight I Can Write" can be found in

"I Explain a Few Things: Selected Poems," edited by Ilan Stavans. Farrar Straus Giroux. Copyright 2007 by Pablo Neruda

and Fundaci┬┐n Pablo Neruda.)

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