Pure Poetry #15: Pablo Neruda

Pure Poetry Week(s):

#1 – 2/23/2011 – Intro & Def Poetry Jam, by Riese
#2 – 2/23/2011 – Eileen Myles, by Carmen
#3 – 2/23/2011 – Anis Mojgani, by Crystal
#4 – 2/24/2011 – Andrea Gibson, by Carmen & Katrina/KC Danger
#5 – 2/25/2011 – Leonard Cohen, by Crystal
#6 – 2/25/2011 – Staceyann Chin, by Carmen
#7 – 2/25/2011 – e.e. cummings, by Intern Emily
#8 – 2/27/2011 – Louise Glück, by Lindsay
#9 – 2/28/2011 – Shel Silverstein, by Intern Lily & Guest
#10 – 2/28/2011 – Michelle Tea, by Laneia
#11 – 2/28/2011 – Saul Williams, by Katrina Chicklett Danger
#12 – 3/2/2011 – Maya Angelou, by Laneia
#13 – 3/4/2011 – Jack Spicer, by Riese
#14 – 3/5/2011 – Diane DiPrima, by Sady Doyle
#15 – 3/6/2011 – Pablo Neruda, by Intern Laura

I liked Pablo Neruda from the moment I heard that he wrote a book called “20 Love Poems and a Desperate Song.” It was a while before I actually read any of his poems, but he was worth the wait.

Tus Pies

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.

Your Feet

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.

Because the thing is, not all the good poetry is in English. People have said all kinds of beautiful things in thousands of languages. The good news is that we have translations. The bad news is that there are some things that don’t travel well from one language to another.  For me, that means learning other languages, even if it’s just a little bit. Por ejemplo:

Libro de las Preguntas

Echan humo, fuego y vapor
Las o de las locomotoras?

En qué idioma cae la lluvia
Sobre ciudades dolorosas?

Qué suaves sílabas repite
El aire del alba marina?

Hay una estrella más abierta
Que la palabra amapola?

Hay dos colmillos más agudos
Que las sílabas de chacal?

Do the o’s of the locomotive
cast smoke, fire and steam?

In which language does rain fall
over tormented cities?

At dawn, which smooth syllables
does the ocean air repeat?

Is there a star more wide open
the the word poppy?

Are there two fangs sharper
than the syllables of jackal?

I know what poppies and jackals are, but I wouldn’t have any idea what he was doing with the words if I didn’t look at them in Spanish. Just because I like this poem, let’s look at my favorite section.


Pero es verdad que se prepara
La insurrección de los chalecos?Por qué otra vez la primavera
Ofrece sus vestidos verdes?

Por qué ríe la agricultura
Del llanto pálido del cielo?

Cómo logró su libertad
La bicicleta abandonada?

But is it true that the vests
are preparing to revolt?why does spring once again
offer its green clothes?

Why does agriculture laugh
at the pale tears of the sky?

How did the abandoned bicycle
win its freedom?

Can’t you just see the bicycle flying down the road? Other things you might want to know about Pablo Neruda are that he named himself that, he only wrote in green ink, he wrote odes to lots of things (his socks, the artichoke, big tunas), and he supported the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War. Spanish Republicans are not like American Republicans, they were the ones against Franco, who was about as oppressively right-oriented as you can get.

If you like what you see, don’t stop with Mr. Neruda. I would recommend Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer and Wislawa Szymborska. The limits of your language don’t have to mean the limits of your world.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!


Laura is a tiny girl who wishes she were a superhero. She likes talking to her grandma on the phone and making things with her hands. Strengths include an impressive knowledge of Harry Potter, the ability to apply sociology to everything under the sun, and a knack for haggling for groceries in Spanish. Weaknesses: Chick-fil-a, her triceps, girls in glasses, and the subjunctive mood. Follow the vagabond adventures of Laura and her bike on twitter [@laurrrrita].

Laura has written 308 articles for us.


  1. So. Many. Feelings.
    He has a poem, sonnet, ode for all my hearts yearnings and infinate aches.

  2. This is my favorite poem. It’s wayyy better in Spanish but it sounds nice in English.

    Soneto LXVI

    No te quiero sino porque te quiero
    y de quererte a no quererte llego
    y de esperarte cuando no te espero
    pasa mi corazón del frío al fuego.

    Te quiero sólo porque a ti te quiero,
    te odio sin fin, y odiándote te ruego,
    y la medida de mi amor viajero
    es no verte y amarte como un ciego.

    Tal vez consumirá la luz de Enero,
    su rayo cruel, mi corazón entero,
    robándome la llave del sosiego.

    En esta historia sólo yo me muero
    y moriré de amor porque te quiero,
    porque te quiero, amor, a sangre y fuego.

    Sonnet 66

    I do not love you – except because I love you;
    I go from loving to not loving you,
    from waiting to not waiting for you
    my heart moves from the cold into the fire.

    I love you only because it’s you
    I love; I hate you no end, and hating you
    bend to you, and the measure of my changing love for you
    is that I do not see you but love you blindly.

    Maybe the January light will consume
    my heart with its cruel
    ray, stealing my key to true calm.

    In this part of the story I am the one who
    dies, the only one, and I will die of love because I love you,
    because I love you, Love, in fire and in blood.

  3. I’ve never been able to pick a “favourite” Neruda poem. It’s because they’re all so beautiful and perfect in each way.
    But my first one – my first Neruda poem – was Tonight I can write the saddest lines. And so it is the most special in that fluttery box in my chest. Because when he said this, he said what it sometimes feels like to be a living thing:

    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.

  4. Pablo Neruda
    I love that he chose his own name, it’s a poem in itself.
    I have a soft spot for Chilean revolutionary poets who write poems that describe the lesbian U-Haul syndrome so well:


    Don’t go far off, not even for a day, because —
    because — I don’t know how to say it: a day is long
    and I will be waiting for you, as in an empty station
    when the trains are parked off somewhere else, asleep.

    Don’t leave me, even for an hour, because
    then the little drops of anguish will all run together,
    the smoke that roams looking for a home will drift
    into me, choking my lost heart.

    Oh, may your silhouette never dissolve on the beach;
    may your eyelids never flutter into the empty distance.
    Don’t leave me for a second, my dearest,

    because in that moment you’ll have gone so far
    I’ll wander mazily over all the earth, asking,
    Will you come back? Will you leave me here, dying?

    a huge thank you, AS, for Pure Poetry Week, for rekindling my love for poetry. Can we please talk about Walt Whitman next? His poetry changed the course of my life.

  5. Creo que tengo que aprender español ahora, en lugar de utilizar un traductor como habitual.

  6. ok, so, if you do a post on Edna St. Vincent Millay next, you will officially have written about all my favorite poets now. WHY DO YOU KNOW ME AUTOSTRADDLE

  7. My love of Pablo Neruda got me into Cambridge (particularly the 20th poem in Veinte Poemas). And also makes me very sad I gave up Spanish. Why did I do that?

  8. Nerudas poem “La muerta” is featured in one of my favourite movies: Truly Madly Deeply.
    Totally makes me wanna cry.
    Also love “El viento en la isla”.

    I love to read bilingual books with his poems, as my spanish isn’t that good and reading translations in danish, english and german and comparing the images they evoke gives me a feeling of coming closer to what he wrote in spanish. :)

  9. These poems are so beautiful. I just wish they had the same impact when translated in to English.

  10. I first learned who Pablo Neruda was via the film “Il Postino”. I am pretty much in debt to that movie because of the intro to Neruda.

    I study foreign languages & I know I’ve “gotten” the language once I quit thinking how I’d say something in English. I like the fact that not everything can be translated into English 100% though – it reminds me that the world is bigger than it sometimes seems. I don’t know…

  11. mmm neruda. no puedo esperar hasta yo soy una maestra de español. quiero que mis estudiantes futuros agradecen la poesía de la lengua que les enseño a ellos.

  12. I definitely gave my girlfriend a book of Pablo Neruda’s poems for Valentine’s Day. Love love love this.

  13. This one made me love him forever:

    I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.
    Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.
    Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day
    I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps.

    I hunger for your sleek laugh,
    your hands the color of a savage harvest,
    hunger for the pale stones of your fingernails,
    I want to eat your skin like a whole almond.

    I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body,
    the sovereign nose of your arrogant face,
    I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes,

    and I pace around hungry, sniffing the twilight,
    hunting for you, for your hot heart,
    like a puma in the barrens of Quitratue.

  14. hello ladies!!

    If you are into Chilean poetry let me recommend you our first Nobel Prize (Neruda got it in 1971) GABRIELA MISTRAL.

    She was a lesbian and wrote wonderful poems :)

  15. The first time I heard a Pablo Neruda poem was when a beautiful Spanish woman recited this one to me. Naturally, it remains one of my favorites.

    I like for you to be still: it is as though you were absent,
    and you hear me from far away and my voice does not touch you.
    It seems as though your eyes had flown away
    and it seems that a kiss had sealed your mouth.

    As all things are filled with my soul
    you emerge from the things, filled with my soul.
    You are like my soul, a butterfly of dream,
    and you are like the word Melancholy.

    I like for you to be still, and you seem far away.
    It sounds as though you were lamenting, a butterfly cooing like a dove.
    And you hear me from far away, and my voice does not reach you:
    Let me come to be still in your silence.

    And let me talk to you with your silence
    that is bright as a lamp, simple as a ring.
    You are like the night, with its stillness and constellations.
    Your silence is that of a star, as remote and candid.

    I like for you to be still: it is as though you were absent,
    distant and full of sorrow as though you had died.
    One word then, one smile, is enough.
    And I am happy, happy that it’s not true.

  16. I first heard of Pablo Neruda while watching Rent… with my mom.
    Had to look him up. Love his poetry, in Spanish, and the English too. <3

  17. Honestly, I cannot even handle Pablo Neruda. He is so amazing.
    There is a movie (I think it’s called The Post Man) about his work and another fictionalized love story. It’s set in Italy; it has some of the most beautiful scenes.

  18. Dear GOD, I can’t even begin to express my love for Neruda.

    Well. Maybe I could. With a love sonnet by Neruda.

    I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read “Extravagaria”. I highly recommend it. Well translated, side by side English and Spanish.

    I’ve long said that if it were socially acceptable to be covered, head to toe, in tattoos, I’d cover myself in Neruda.


  19. Annie mentioned Il Postino– they are recently turning
    it into an opera, I hear– but there is also, for all of you adorers of Neruda, a wonderful project called Red Poppy: they are working on a documentary of the great poet, and have also come out with a collection from a variety of translators called the “Essential Neruda”, published by City Lights. It’s interesting to keep up with, and they will occasionally post associated San Francisco art house events, and general Pablo info: http://www.redpoppy.net/pablo_neruda.php
    Enjoy! -Lorena

Comments are closed.