On words.

6 11 2009

Words are my subject tonight. Words, and perhaps moreover the feeling of words. So many thoughts, fleeting, come to me this time of year. It’s hard to separate them all, moving together the way they do, going everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Tonight, in the relative dark of a room lit only by the fire, I heard Pablo Neruda’s words.

This is unusual.

Long ago, someone brought Pablo Neruda to me, assuring me that these were great words and were worth my attention. I had little ear for poetry then and even less use for it, though I hardly realized the latter at the time. I read them without seeing, heard them without listening. It wasn’t intentional. It was all I could do at the time. Still, I think I was grateful then for a gift I knew was meaningful, even if I didn’t know why.

Tonight I know why. Somewhere between the heartache of never having loved, and the scars of having lost, I gained an ear for poetry. I’m not sure just when or where, but a few years ago reading the words of Robert Frost became an incredibly important ritual to me. Somewhere in the rambling depths of my own annals, I wrote the words “I think today calls for a little Frost” and I have not found a day since that does not match those words. Not long ago, having misplaced my now-treasured collection of Frost, I picked up a beautifully bound edition of Leaves of Grass. If you don’t know, the similarities between Frost and Whitman are as follows: Both are American poets. That’s it. The free verse was too free for my taste at the time, and I read a handful pages without ever absorbing a word.

Not so the second time I opened the book. With each small blade I picked, a new, richly illustrated picture opened before me, and I found that though I had never read them before, the words all felt familiar. Leaves of Grass has taken its place beside the Complete Works of Robert Frost. Neither is a substitute for the other, but they make glorious companions.

Tonight, reaching across years and worlds so broad and vast that my own memories of them seem alien, 7 words spoke themselves in my head.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

I knew them before their echo died in my head, though I did not know what came next, and had to look.

Write, for example, the night is shattered and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance.

The night wind resolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

I loved her and sometimes she loved me too.

It’s worth pointing out that I’m not sad. But the closeness of Neruda’s words matches the closeness I felt in the moment. Something hushed, like dimly lit rooms on a bitter cold night, and quiet music. Like the sound of a library, late in the afternoon, on a rainy day. Like a big building with many doors and few people. A closeness with no echoes, no distractions, where the space of an eternity might pass between breaths or between your face and a page. Or very blue eyes you seem to recognize from out of time.

In those moments do we remember something missed from our past? Or do we remember something lost of ourselves?

Reprinted below without permission of any kind, is Pablo Neruda’s “Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines.” I post it to everyone, and to myself.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example,’The night is shattered
and the blue stars 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, and 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 shattered 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 searches for her as though to go to her.
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. Like my kisses before.
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.