Reading the Poem ‘Body of a Woman’ by Pablo Neruda


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‘Body of a Woman’ by Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) and his poetry need no special introduction. Torchbearer of the poetry of protest in the 20th century, this great Chilean poet was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. A poet-activist and diplomat, the following few lines as quoted in The Paris Review in 1971 and available on express a lot about Neruda’s poetry of ‘action’:

“I have never thought of my life as divided between poetry and politics,” Pablo Neruda said in his September 30, 1969, acceptance speech as the Chilean Communist Party candidate for the presidency. “I am a Chilean who for decades has known the misfortunes and difficulties of our national existence and who has taken part in each sorrow and joy of the people. I am not a stranger to them, I come from them, I am part of the people. I come from a working-class family . . . I have never been in with those in power and have always felt that my vocation and my duty was to serve the Chilean people in my actions and with my poetry. I have lived singing and defending them.”

This needs to be mentioned that though in 1970, Neruda was nominated as a candidate for the Chilean presidency, but he ended up giving his support to Salvador Allende, who later won the election and was inaugurated in 1970 as the first democratically elected socialist head of state.

Described as "the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language’ by Gabriel García Márquez, Neruda became famous as a teenage poet for his frankly passionate love poems collected in the 1924 poetry collection Veinte poemas de amor y una canciòn desesperada (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair), before acquiring a cult status as a poet of resistance and revolution. Today, under our series KAVITA RAVIVAAR/ कविता रविवार/THE SUNDAY POEM, we reproduce his ‘Body of a Woman’, which is the Poem I of the collection Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, which still remains his largest read book. When a new edition of the book was brought out on the sale of its one million copies, it carried a ‘Foreword’ from Neruda for the celebratory edition, wherein he wondered:

“I really don’t understand what it’s all about—why this book, a book of love-sadness, of love-pain, continues to be read by so many people, by so many young people. Truly, I do not understand it. Perhaps this book represents the youthful posing of many enigmas; perhaps it represents the answers to those enigmas. It is a mournful book, but its attractiveness has not worn off.”

This poem explores Neruda’s two most prominent themes of love and nature, and his continuous likening of woman with earth.--Kumar Vikram

‘Body of a Woman’

Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs,
you look like a world, lying in surrender.
My rough peasant's body digs in you
and makes the son leap from the depth of the earth.

I was alone like a tunnel. The birds fled from me,
and night swamped me with its crushing invasion.
To survive myself I forged you like a weapon,
like an arrow in my bow, a stone in my sling.

But the hour of vengeance falls, and I love you.
Body of skin, of moss, of eager and firm milk.
Oh the goblets of the breast! Oh the eyes of absence!
Oh the roses of the pubis! Oh your voice, slow and sad!

Body of a woman, I will persist in your grace.
My thirst, my boundless desire, my shifting road!
Dark river-beds where the eternal thirst flows
and weariness follows, and the infinite ache.

Pablo Neruda (English translation by W S Merwin)

Poem Courtesy:

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