Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Pablo Neruda: I’m explaining a few things

You will ask: where are the lilacs?
and the poppy-covered metaphysics?
and the rain repeatedly spattering
its words and drilling them full
of apertures and birds?

I'll tell you all the news.

I lived in a neighborhood
of Madrid, with bells,
with clocks and trees.

From there you could look out
over the dry face of Castille,
like a leather ocean.
                        My house was called
the house of flowers, because
everywhere
geraniums exploded: it was
a beautiful house
with dogs and children.
                        Remember, Raul?
Remember, Rafel?                         
                       Federico, do you remember
from under the ground
my balconies on which
the light of June drowned flowers in your mouth?
                       
                        Brother, my brother!
Everything
loud with big voices, the salt of merchandise,
piles of throbbing bread,
the stalls of my suburb of Arguelles with its statue
like a drained inkwell in a swirl of hake:
oil flowed into spoons,
a deep baying
of feet and hands swelled in the streets,
meters, liters, the sharp
measure of life,
                         fish stacked,
the texture of roofs with a cold sun in which
the weather vane is fatigued,
the fine, frenzied ivory of potatoes,
waves of tomatoes rolling down to the sea.
 
And one morning everything was burning
And one morning the bonfires
leapt from the earth
devouring people,
and since then fire,
gunpowder since then,
and since then, blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars giving blessings
as they came through the sky to kill children,
and through the streets the blood of children
ran simply, without fuss, like the blood of children.

Jackals that jackals would despise,
stones that dry thistles would spit out,
vipers that vipers would hate!

Facing you I have seen the blood
of Spain rise
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives!

Treacherous
generals:
see my dead house,
look at broken Spain:

but from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers,
and from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes,
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the targets of your hearts.
 
And you'll ask: why doesn't his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land?

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
The blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
In the streets!
--

Translation copyright 2019 Michael Simms. 

Michael Simms would like to thank Paola de Santiago Hass
for her suggestions on this translation.

EXPLICO ALGUNAS COSAS
Preguntaréis: Y dónde están las lilas?
Y la metafísica cubierta de amapolas ?
Y la lluvia que a menudo golpeaba
sus palabras llenándolas
de agujeros y pájaros?
 
Os voy a contar todo lo que me pasa.
 
Yo vivía en un barrio
de Madrid, con campanas,
con relojes, con árboles.
 
Desde allí se veía
el rostro seco de Castilla
como un océano de cuero.
Mi casa era llamada
la casa de las flores, porque por todas partes
estallaban geranios: era
una bella casa
con perros y chiquillos.
Raúl, te acuerdas?
Te acuerdas, Rafael?
Federico, te acuerdas
debajo de la tierra,            
te acuerdas de mi casa con balcones en donde
la luz de Junio ahogaba flores en tu boca?
Hermano, hermano!
Todo
eran grandes voces, sal de mercaderías,
aglomeraciones de pan palpitante,
mercados de mi barrio de Argüelles con su estatua
como un tintero pálido entre las merluzas:
el aceite llegaba a las cucharas,
un profundo latido
de pies y manos llenaba las calles,
metros, litros, esencia
aguda de la vida,
pescados hacinados,
contextura de techos con sol frío en el cual
la flecha se fatiga,
delirante marfil fino de las patatas,
tomates repetidos hasta el mar.
 
Y una mañana todo estaba ardiendo
Y una mañana las hogueras
salian de la tierra
devorando seres,
y desde entonces fuego,
pólvora desde entonces,
y desde entonces sangre.
Bandidos con aviones y con moros,
bandidos con sortijas y duquesas,
bandidos con frailes negros bendiciendo
venían por el cielo a matar niños,
y por las calles la sangre de los niños
corría simplemente, como sangre de niños.
 
Chacales que el chacal rechazaría,
piedras que el cardo seco mordería escupiendo,
víboras que las víboras odiaran!
 
Frente a vosotros he visto la sangre
de España levantarse
para ahogaros en una sola ola
de orgullo y de cuchillos!
 
Generales
traidores:
mirad mi casa muerta,
mirad España rota:
 
pero de cada casa muerta sale metal ardiendo
en vez de flores,
pero de cada hueco de España
sale España,
pero de cada niño muerto sale un fusil con ojos,
pero de cada crimen nacen balas
que os hallarán un dia el sitio
del corazón.
 
Preguntaréis por qué su poesía
no nos habla del sueño, de las hojas,
de los grandes volcanes de su país natal ?
 
Venid a ver la sangre por las calles.
venid a ver
la sangre por las calles,
venid a ver la sangre
por las calles!

Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto (1904 – 1973), better known by his pen name and, later, legal name Pablo Neruda, was a Nobel Prize winning Chilean poet, diplomat and politician. Neruda became known as a poet when he was 13 years old, and wrote in a variety of styles, including surrealist poems, historical epics, overtly political manifestos, a prose autobiography, and passionate love poems. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. 

“I’m Explaining a Few Things” (Explico Algunas Cosas), one of his best known poems, originally appeared in Neruda’s collection Spain in the Heart (1937), which he wrote to express sympathy with the Republican cause during the Spanish Civil War. Neruda was the Chilean consul in Spain when the war began. Reportedly, the book was printed by Republican troops at the battlefront using improvised presses.

Source: University of Chile

Included in Vox Populi for educational purposes only. Commercial use is prohibited except by permission of the Pablo Neruda Foundation.

Pablo Neruda as a young man (Wikimedia)

2 comments on “Pablo Neruda: I’m explaining a few things

  1. Andrea Hollander
    August 7, 2019

    Fine translation, Mike. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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