Saturday, November 26, 2011

In answer to the shrouded heart

by Pablo Neruda

To whoever is not listening to the sea
this Friday morning, to whoever is cooped up
in house or office, factory or woman
or street or mine or dry prison cell,
to him I come, and without speaking or looking
I arrive and open the door of his prison,
and a vibration starts up, vague and insistent,
a long rumble of thunder adds itself
to the weight of the planet and the foam,
the groaning rivers of the ocean rise,
the star vibrates quickly in its corona
and the sea beats, dies, and goes on beating.

So, drawn on by my destiny,
I ceaselessly must listen to and keep
the sea's lamenting in my consciousness,
I must feel the crash of the hard water
and gather it up in a perpetual cup
so that, wherever those in prison may be,
wherever they suffer the sentence of the autumn,
I may be present with an errant wave,
I may move in and out of windows,
and hearing me, eyes may lift themselves,
asking "How can I reach the sea?"
And I will pass to them, saying nothing,
the starry echoes of the wave,
a breaking up of foam and quicksand,
a rustling of salt withdrawing itself,
the grey cry of seabirds on the coast.

So, through me, freedom and the sea
will call in answer to the shrouded heart.

(Translation by Alastair Reid)

It's interesting to think of this - the poet's obligation.  I think very often we writers feel that we are writing into a void, that we are spending our days making things that no one, or few, outside our circles will read. We are even quite possibly creating worlds and writing hundreds of pages that won't even be published, pouring our brokenheartedness, our joys, and our sorrows and all our keen observances, into these works.  

"Whatever you do will be insignificant," said Gandhi, "but it is very important that you do it."  And here is John Keats in a letter he wrote on October 17, 1818:  "I feel assured I should write from the mere fondness and yearning I have for the Beautiful even if my night's labours should be burnt every morning and no eye ever shine on them."  

Maybe it is your obligation to observe the winter light, or the singing of snow, its silence and sparkle.  Maybe your obligation is to remember a childhood filled with delight or betrayal, or both.  Your obligation may be to create worlds for others to step into, so they might experience something of them as well.  It's very easy to forget our obligation. But we are, obligated - to those who are cooped up (even if we, too, are the ones cooped up!) and to those whose hearts, as Neruda says, are shrouded. We are obligated to hear their call, their cry, and also our own inner calling.  

I return often to an idea I wrote about in an earlier post - the thought that every single day is a microcosm of our entire life. How you live a single day is how you live your life.  And if this is so, then I will live my day looking for beauty, though it is insignificant, though no eye ever will shine on those things I write, and see, and make.  


  1. This is why blogs, especially ones like yours, are wonderful. A busy person,involved in one's own day, sits down for a break, and gets to enter the sea of humanity in a peculiarly intimate way, while remaining at a respectful distance, and finds the world out there is good. I would not have imagined listening to the sea, nor looked at pomegranate seeds, had it not been for your blog.


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