Saturday, 31 October 2015

Twenty Love Poems & A Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda

Twenty Love Poems & A Song of Despair
by Pablo Neruda

Summary: The Chilean Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was probably the greatest and certainly the most prolific of twentieth-century Latin American poets. He brought out his first collection at the age of seventeen, and quickly developed an assured and distinctive poetic voice. His third book, Veinte Poemas de Amor y una Cancion Desesperada - Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair- was published in 1924 and attracted international acclaim. It remains one of the most celebrated and admired books of erotic poetry published in the last hundred years, with over a million copies sold worldwide. Neruda was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1971.
This book was...well, a major disappointment.

So, here's the thing about me and poetry: when I love it, I really, really love it. I adore it obsessively with every fibre of my being and the words of my favourites get stuck rattling around in my head and I can't seem to shake them. Poetry... It can be so amazingly beautiful, but when I dislike it? I sort of dislike it with that same intense passion.

Unfortunately, this was one of the times where I found myself passionately disliking it. That surprised me to be honest, because I've heard a lot of praise for Neruda and I've seen quotes from his work floating around on the internet and liked them...that's why I picked this book up (that, and a minor case of cover lust -- not sure why really, but I adore this cover).

His poems were kind of -- mediocre? They were repetitive and annoying, they used way too many similes (often bad similes and ones that just don't go well together). The poems were more cringe-worthy than romantic, and they often seemed more about his admiration and obsession with breasts than about love. None of the poems struck a cord with me or made me feel anything.

Okay, that's a lie. One of them did. The one at the end called "Tonight I Can Write" -- the problem with that is, the quotes I've seen on the internet and liked were from that and it gave me these expectations for what his poetry would be like...but it was the odd one out, one jewel in a pile of grey rocks (it's the one that goes "I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.").

I think part of the problem is that some of his poems just don't translate well/the translation was bad. I mean, his writing isn't really my cup of tea in general, but I do think that a lot was lost in translation making the poems seem worse than they were and had I been able to read them in the original language, perhaps I'd have found more beauty in them.

(For example, there's this line in one of them where he compares a woman's breasts to white snails. Yes, snails. That's just -- I admit, I laughed when I read it. Then I googled it, because lolwhut? But, apparently in the original version, the word he used translated more accurately to "shells" -- shells are a bit more of a romantic comparison than snails are, right?)

So...yeah, this book disappointed me a lot. I can acknowledge the literary merit in Neruda's works, but they're just not my kind of thing at all and I think the translation snuffed out any potential spark I might've found in his words. I'd rate this 1 star out of 5 (the 1 star being for "Tonight I Can Write").


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