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The Sea and the Bells


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Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) held diplomatic posts in Asian and European countries. After joining the Communist Party, Neruda was elected to the Chilean Senate but was forced to live in exile in Mexico for several years. Eventually he established a permanent home on Isla Negra. In 1970 he was appointed as Chile's ambassador to France; in 1971 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. William O'Daly is one of the most celebrated translators of the poetry of Pablo Neruda. He lives in California.


In this bilingual collection, the late Nobel laureate establishes immediate intimacy with poems that are at once deeply personal, expansive and universal. Neruda does not embellish but keeps the purity of his emotions intact, lending the verses majestic and understated beauty. The spareness of the language allows greater access to the feelingNeruda hides nothing. Love, death, solitude and phenomena of nature are addressed candidly and with appropriate combinations of sadness and celebration. Neruda's respect for his identity as a Chilean poet surfaces frequently; lines between politics and war and personal relationships often blur. Using the bell as a symbol of the contradiction of life (``pure sound with emptiness at its center''), Neruda assures with grace and wisdom that paradox is unavoidable and a necessary part of growth and fulfillment: ``this is my loneliness: / . . . that I am a part / of winter, /of the same flat expanse that repeats /from bell to bell, in wave after wave, /and from a silence like a woman's hair, / a silence of seaweed, a sunken song.'' (October)

With the exception of the darker surrealism of the 1930s, Nobel Prize-winning poet Neruda's work was consistently life-affirming, even to his last days. Translated by Belitt, no stranger to Neruda, the ``late and posthumous poems'' display an exhilarating variety. These poems attest to Neruda's warmth, profundity, and humility, as they take us back to an infancy dominated by marine and mineral symbols and ultimately to our common death: ``Is there anything in the world sadder/ than a motionless train in the rain?'' The simplicity is so deceptive that any extra word from the translator easily ruins the effect. Neruda's last book, The Sea and the Bells (portions of which appear in Late and Posthumous Poems ) is appropriately melancholy but never lugubrious. The poems are, in fact, haunting and often darkly luminous: ``The earth with its leafy name/ in its theater of black walls.'' Those who can read the original will want to compare translations by Belitt and O'Daly of ``Pedro es el cuando'' to see how each translator both succeeds and errs. Both books are highly recommended. Ivan Arguelles, Univ. of California, Berkeley, Lib.

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