Suddenly I saw the environs intensely
populated, with steely forms
,
mouths like cutting edges,
lightning-bolts of submerged silver,
fish in mourning, ogive-fish,
fish of a gilt-nailed firmament,
fish with flashing polka dots,
fish criss-crossing like chills,
a white velocity, a thin science
of circulation
, the oval mouths
of havoc and growth
.

The hand or waist was handsome,
which, surrounded by a fugitive moon,
saw the fishery denizens teeming,
a humid river elastic with lives,
an increment of stars along the scales,
seminal opal disseminated
on the murky ocean's bedsheet
.

He saw the silver stones that bit him burn,
banners of a tremulous treasure,
and he submitted his blood as he descended
to the devouring depths,
suspended from mouths that circle
his torso with sanguinary rings

until, dishevelled and divided,
like an oozing stem, he is the escutcheon
of the tide
, a suit pounded
by amethysts
, a wounded inheritance
under the sea
, on the numerous tree.

The Fish and the Drowned Man by Pablo Neruda
from Canto general (1950), translated by Anthony Kerrigan.

Pablo Neruda, Selected Poems, a bi-lingual edition edited by Nathaniel Tarn, translated by Anthony Kerrigan, W.S. Merwin, Alastair Reid and Nathaniel Tarn, with an introduction by Jean Franco.
Penguin Books, 1975.


Canto general is Chilean poet Pablo Neruda's masterpiece, the full-flowering of his maturity as a poet and human being. For the first time, while he was serving as Chilean counsul in Barcelona and Madrid, the South American genius experienced a community of other poets who lived among the people, who relished the simple pleasures of simply living. The fifteen sections that comprise Canto general, of which this is one example, celebrate all that life can be, always reminding the reader that man's fate lies in his own hands, the product of good honest work.

It was in Spain during the 30's that Neruda became irrevocably politicized (though he claimed not to be a political poet), and as a result, he lost his government job. He wrote:

"Treacherous
generals:
see my dead house,
look at broken Spain:
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers."

(I'm Explaining a Few Things)

It took the poet twelve years to compose the epic true story of the Americas that is the Canto general, and by the year of its completion, 1950, Neruda had become a militant. He moved from house to house, constantly threatened with arrest, protected always by the people whose voice he had learned to call his own.

His poems were written to be read aloud,
and this one for some reason makes me think of Everything2.

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