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If You Forget Me -- Pablo Neruda

Guest poem sent in by Anustup Datta who writes:

Aseem's poem [Poem #1409] reminded me of Joni Mitchell's voice and the way it
sparkles like a dry white wine in a crysal goblet, so I had to go back and
listen to River again after a long time. Coincidentally, I was reading Neruda's
poetry just yesterday, and I came across this gem, which I don't think we have
run -
(Poem #1410) If You Forget Me
 I want you to know
 one thing.

 You know how this is:
 if I look
 at the crystal moon, at the red branch
 of the slow autumn at my window,
 if I touch
 near the fire
 the impalpable ash
 or the wrinkled body of the log,
 everything carries me to you,
 as if everything that exists:
 aromas, light, metals,
 were little boats that sail
 toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

 Well, now,
 if little by little you stop loving me
 I shall stop loving you little by little.

 If suddenly
 you forget me
 do not look for me,
 for I shall already have forgotten you.

 If you think it long and mad,
 the wind of banners
 that passes through my life,
 and you decide
 to leave me at the shore
 of the heart where I have roots,
 that on that day,
 at that hour,
 I shall lift my arms
 and my roots will set off
 to seek another land.

 if each day,
 each hour,
 you feel that you are destined for me
 with implacable sweetness,
 if each day a flower
 climbs up to your lips to seek me,
 ah my love, ah my own,
 in me all that fire is repeated,
 in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
 my love feeds on your love, beloved,
 and as long as you live it will be in your arms
 without leaving mine.
-- Pablo Neruda
        (translated by Donald S. Walsh)

This is vintage Neruda - with all the passion and fickleness of desire. The
underlying melancholy is beautifully brought out by the conversational style
(a la Mir Taqi Mir) - the conceit could have been metaphysical had it not
been for the pain inherent in every verse. This is love that is hurting,
that has been hurt in the past, and yet is open to being hurt again. There
is surrender (and renunciation), but how different from, for instance,
Juliet's youthful optimism in surrender -

        "Three words, dear Romeo, and good night indeed.
        If that thy bent of love be honourable,
        Thy purpose marriage, send me word to-morrow,
        By one that I'll procure to come to thee,
        Where and what time thou wilt perform the rite;
        And all my fortunes at thy foot I'll lay
        And follow thee my lord throughout the world."

            - Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II.

A really moving poem, the more for being tender and unpretentious. I think
Madonna recites this in the "Il Postino" soundtrack, incidentally.

For those who care about things like the original Spanish, here it is -

        "Si Tu Me Olvidas"
        By Pablo Neruda

        Quiero que sepas
        una cosa.

        Tú sabes cómo es esto:
        si miro
        la luna de cristal, la rama roja
        del lento otoño en mi ventana,
        si toco
        junto al fuego
        la impalpable ceniza
        o el arrugado cuerpo de la leña,
        todo me lleva a ti,
        como si todo lo que existe:
        aromas, luz, metales,
        fueran pequeños barcos que navegan
        hacia las islas tuyas que me aguardan.

        Ahora bien,
        si poco a poco dejas de quererme
        dejaré de quererte poco a poco.

        Si de pronto
        me olvidas
        no me busques,
        que ya te habré olvidado.

        Si consideras largo y loco
        el viento de banderas
        que pasa por mi vida
        y te decides
        a dejarme a la orilla
        del corazón en que tengo raíces,
        que en esa día,
        a esa hora
        levantaré los brazos
        y saldrán mis raíces
        a buscar otra tierra.

        si cada día,
        cada hora,
        sientes que a mí estás destinada
        con dulzura implacable,
        si cada día sube
        una flor a tus labios a buscarme,
        ay amor mío, ay mía,
        en mí todo ese fuego se repite,
        en mí nada se apaga ni se olvida,
        mi amor se nutre de tu amor, amada,
        y mientras vivas estará en tus brazos
        sin salir de los míos.


59 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

SKSN Lopezsantiago Adelita said...

This poem can be wuite confusing? Im not really a big poetry fan...but
this poem is beautiful..but confusinf.

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that's the beauty of it: complexity.

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Anonymous said...

I do not find this to necessarily be the voice of a hurt lover, but rather an honest voice of love. There is no true love that is one-sided. This is a direct appeal of what it means to be loved and love another. In truth, if one stops for a second loving you, then your love too will die, slowly, but just the same. The parasitic delicacy of love is what makes it beautiful and haunting and at times impossible. Neruda refuses to let people off easily. Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is about romance, and this poem, more about reality, of what it is to love. So yes, in this way, Shakespeare is writing about the innocence of our ideas of love. I find Neruda's poem much more evocative for its forthrightness and perception than Juliet's promise to become a wife.

Anonymous said...

This poem brings me to tears. I am so grateful that I understand both languages. Both versions make me cry. This is art at its finest.

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Anonymous said...

Perhaps my fave Pablo Neruda Poem ever! THank you for the translation & the connection with Shakespeare (my #1 literary hero.) xx

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