Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda Poems (Copper Canyon, $23) brings together 21 previously unpublished works by the Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda. The book also features photographs of handwritten drafts — including one that was scribbled on a menu — and detailed notes about how the pieces, discovered by archivists cataloguing Neruda’s papers, relate to the poet’s established work. These documents, along with the poems (some of them fragments), translated by Forrest Gander, provide insights into the writing and its familiar themes — love, poetry and the strength and beauty of the people and landscape of Neruda’s native Chile. The book — made possible in part by a Kickstarter campaign by its nonprofit publisher — provides new glimpses of the poet, who died in 1973. In one poem, Neruda addresses his younger self and urges, “all right, young man, now/ listen:/ hang on/ keep your silence/ until the words/ ripen/ in you.” In another, he sounds delightfully cranky as he acquiesces to life with a telephone and its impositions: “I prostrated myself whenever the ringing/ of that horrid despot demanded/ my attention.” Perhaps the most fascinating writing focuses on early space flight, positing that the venture “. . . conquered an inanimate heaven,/ depositing in those altitudes/the seed/ of our kind.” This brief visit with Neruda ends all too soon, yet reminds one why his work still matters .
Seamus Heaney’s Book VI of the Aeneid (FSG, $23) is so fresh and compelling that those who have never enjoyed this classic may want to give it another try. Heaney nearly completed his translation of the book, a key portion of Virgil’s epic poem, just before his death in 2013. Heaney deftly highlights the dramatic tension of the opening passages, where the warrior Aeneas travels to the cave of the Sibyl to beseech her for one face-to-face meeting in the underworld with his dead father, Anchises. She warns him that he must find a golden bough and complete two other tasks before he can descend with any hope of returning. The language Heaney employs — a skillful mix of poetic phrasing and plainspokenness — gives the narrative a wonderful immediacy as Aeneas is ferried across the river Styx into the afterlife, where he passes tortured souls, the guilty being scourged, those who lived virtuously and those who dwell in joy. Finally, Aeneas meets his delighted father, who says, “I always trusted that your sense of right/ Would prevail and keep you going to the end./ And am I now allowed to see your face,/ My son, and hear you talk, and talk to you myself?” Other translations peak at this point and quickly lose momentum as the father recounts a long list of souls who will be reborn as Aeneas’s descendants and glorify the warrior’s name. But Heaney shifts the emphasis here, making the prophecies — Aeneas’s reason to keep fighting — feel as important as the reunion. The result is an interpretation that shows why the ancient text is both timely and timeless.
Through more than a dozen collections, C.D. Wright pushed the bounds of imagination as she explored desire, loss and physical sensation. Her posthumously published book, ShallCross (Copper Canyon, $23) features seven poem sequences that show her tremendous range in style and approach. As she considers, among other topics, some dark intuitions about human nature, she also nudges readers to question who is telling the story and where one’s thought can lead. Wright, who died in January, believed “it is a function of poetry to locate those zones inside us that would be free, and declare them so.” She explores parts of the psyche that may be disconcerting to some readers, but those who persist will be rewarded by the final lines of the book’s closing piece: “From a Tree of Tomorrows/ Don’t shut it I said We lack for nothing/ Indissoluably connected/ Across the lines of our lives/ The once the new the then and again.” It’s no wonder Wright, who won a National Book Critics Circle Award for her 2011 collection “One With Others,” has been praised for the singularity of her voice.
Elizabeth Lund writes about poetry every month for The Washington Post.
Translated by Forrest Gander
Copper Canyon. 163 pp. $23