Oct/Nov 2016 Reviews & Interviews

A Fine Book In Every Regard

Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda Poems
Pablo Neruda.
Copper Canyon Press. 2004. 210 pp.
ISBN 978-1-55659-494-6.

Review by Gilbert Wesley Purdy

Buy now from Amazon! "Not all of these poems are entirely finished," Forest Gander informs us in his meandering Prologue to Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda Poems. In the endnotes our intuitions are verified. Their typographical arrangement suggests that they are generally Odas that for one or another reason did not make the final cut. In those notes we are informed that they were indeed found interspersed among papers associated by-and-large with the mid to late 1950s.

By that time, Pablo Neruda had become the most famous poet and champion-of-the-common-man in the world. He was an international figure. The demands on his time forced him to adopt a new mode of composition in the odd moments that might come available. In the Introduction, it is Darío Oses who reminds us of the representative details:

Sometimes Neruda wrote on the menus or musical programs of ships he was traveling on, his lines taking shape between appetizers, main courses, wines and desserts.

His inner reserves of poetry proved to be inexhaustible. Though the time for original conception and painstaking revision would never again be available, he would be able to draw on those reserves for the rest of his life. The new style of the Odas, with their short lines, often containing a single word, and their simple ear-borne rhythms, would make him the inspiration for yet another revolutionary new style of poetry. For all that might have been lost to the necessities placed upon him, they were also the source of some of his most memorable images.

Here in Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda Poems the reader is permitted to "drill down" into the process of the odes, English versions in the first half of the volume, the Spanish originals in the second and notes to bring up the rear. At the same time, she or he is privileged to witness at close quarters the relationship between the poet's life and his poems.

A number of the pages on which the poems were jotted have been digitized and included by way of illustrations. The photograph of carved figureheads at the end of Gander's Prologue presumably shows us Neruda's cherished collection at the house on Isla Negra. The manuscript pages alone make this a special volume.

But nothing makes Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda Poems more special than the poems themselves. The big-hearted humor of number "11" reminds us of much we love in Neruda's poetry:

If they put
a boat
near a Chileno,
he jumps in...

And, of course, the ladies are remembered every bit as lovingly (if not more):

...the Chilena
is a crazy woman
with mutinous eyes...

It is impossible not to love these people and their victory over the harsh Chilean life.

His memory of the struggles of his younger self, in number "7," is the memory of a Chilean campesino facing long odds.

...in life you'd better be
a good stoker,
and honest stoker, don't presume
you'll be master of the pen...

...you must
dirty your hands...

The journey will be difficult. There is little likelihood that he will succeed. "Toughen up," he advises.

...take a walk
over the sharp stones
then come back

He has personally lived the struggle he portrays in the world around him and is more than a little surprised that he somehow made it through.

In number "15" (dedicated to his beloved and intimate friend "The Andes") there is the deft synesthetic touch the Neruda brought to bear time and again in his poems.

...yellow flowers
pour gold fragrance
into the earth's
old scars...

The reader feels almost as soothed as the scarred earth.

It is difficult to understand why the poem that goes under the number "12" wasn't published. It compares with the poet's finest from the time. The confusion of an extremely busy and too often chaotic life may have been to blame.

Whether or not one or more of these poems is final draft, these texts can only be considered a treasure by poetry fans and by Neruda fans in particular. The poet's process, the end notes that place each poem in context, the photos of his handwritten manuscript pages, this peek behind the curtain of his daily life, are all of the utmost interest and significance to scholar and general reader alike. Copper Canyon has packaged it all with the utmost care. The hardcover volume that has been released to this point is beautifully produced, the covers constructed from heavy boards, the spine covered with heavy blue cloth, the binding sewn. The materials throughout are of the highest quality. Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda Poems is a fine book in every regard.


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