The poetry of a revolution: In memory of chile

Forty years ago (11/09/1973), chile’s revolution was brought to a violent close by the intervention of the country’s military, with the support and connivance of local and international capitalist interests.  Thousands would die, and many more would be imprisoned, tortured and forced into exile.  The radical beauty of chile’s revolution, however incomplete it proved to be, is testified to by its continuing resonance in chile’s and other countries’ histories, until our own present.  In celebration of that beauty, there is perhaps no more fitting a voice than that of Neruda, who sung of poetry as revolution and of revolution as poetry.

Oda a la poesia

Pablo Neruda


Cerca de cincuenta años


contigo, Poesía.

Al principio

me enredabas los pies

y caía de bruces

sobre la tierra oscura

o enterraba los ojos

en la charca

para ver las estrellas.

Más tarde te ceñiste

a mí con los dos brazos de la amante

y subiste

en mi sangre

como una enredadera.


te convertiste

en copa.



ir derramándote sin consumirte,

ir entregando tu agua inagotable,

ir viendo que una gota

caída sobre un corazón quemado

y desde sus cenizas revivía.

Pero no me bastó tampoco.

Tanto anduve contigo

que te perdí el respeto.

Dejé de verte como

náyade vaporosa

te puse a trabajar de lavandera,

a vender pan en las panaderías,

a hilar con las sencillas tejedoras,

a golpear hierros en la metalurgia.

Y seguiste conmigo

andando por el mundo,

pero tú ya no eras

la florida

estatua de mi infancia.



con voz férrea.

Tus manos

fueron duras como piedras.

Tu corazón

fue un abundante

manantial de campanas,

elaboraste pan a manos llenas,

me ayudaste a no caer de bruces,

me buscaste


no una mujer,

no un hombre,

sino miles, millones.

Juntos, Poesía,


al combate, a la huelga,

al desfile, a los puertos,

a la mina,

y me reí cuando saliste

con la frente manchada de carbón

o coronada de aserrrín fragante

de los aserraderos.

Y no dormíamos en los caminos.

Nos esperaban grupos

de obreros con camisas

recién lavadas y banderas rojas.


Y tú, Poesía,

antes tan desdichadamente tímida,

a la cabeza


y todos

se acostumbraron a tu vestidura

de estrella cotidiana,

porque aunque algún relámpago delató tu familia

cumpliste tu tarea,

tu paso entre los pasos de los hombres.

Yo te pedí que fueras

utilitaria y útil,

como metal o harina,

dispuesta a ser arado,


pan y vino,

dispuesta, Poesía,

a luchar cuerpo a cuerpo

y a caer desangrándote.


Y ahora,


gracias, esposa,

hermana o madre

o novia,

gracias, ola marina,

azahar y bandera,

motor de música,

largo pétalo de oro,

campana submarina,




tierra de cada uno

de mis días,

vapor celeste y sangre

de mis años,

porque me acompañaste

desde la más enrarecida altura

hasta la simple mesa

de los pobres,

porque pusiste en mi alma

sabor ferruginoso

y fuego frío,

porque me levantaste

hasta la altura insigne

de los hombres comunes,


porque contigo

mientras me fui gastando

tú continuaste

desarrollando tu frescura firme,

tu ímpetu cristalino,

como si el tiempo

que poco a poco me convierte en tierra

fuera a dejar corriendo eternamente

las aguas de mi canto.



Ode to Poetry

Pablo Neruda

(Translated by Alastair Reid)


Almost fifty years

walking along

with you, poetry.

At the beginning

you tripped me up

and I fell on my face

on the dark ground

or I buried my eyes

in a pool

to see the stars.

Later on you embraced me

with both arms, like a lover.


you changed into a drink.



it was

to pour you out without draining you,

to make free with your inexhaustible water,

seeing always that one drop

could fall on some burned -out heart

bringing it to life from its ashes.


that still was not enough for me. I had gone so far with you

that I'd lost respect for you.

I'd stopped seeing you

as an elusive nymph.

I put you to work as a washerwoman,

selling bread in the bakeries,

spinning with simple weavers,

breaking ore in the iron mines.

And you came with me,

wandering through the world,

but now you were no longer

the flower-bearing

statue of my childhood.


Now you

were speaking

with a strong voice.

Your hands were

hard, like stones.

Your heart was

an overflowing

source of bells,

you made bread with

abundant hands,

you kept me from

falling on my face,

you found me


not just a woman,

not just a man,

but thousands,


Together, poetry,

we went

to the struggle, to the strike,

to the marches, to the harbours,

to the mine,

and I laughed when you came out

with your forehead smudged with coal

or sprinkled with the fragrant sawdust

at the sawmill.

We no longer slept by the roadside.

Groups of labourers waited for us,

workers with clean shirts

and red sashes.


And you, poetry,

once so painfully shy and awkward,

now moved

to the forefront

and everyone grew familiar with

what you wore, an everyday star;

for although odd flashes of lightning

would sometimes betray your origins,

you fulfilled your task,

your steps mixed with the steps of men.


I asked you to be

practical and useful

like metal or flour,

ready to become a plough, a tool,

bread and wine,

prepared, poetry,

to enter the struggle, hand to hand,

and to fall bleeding.

And now, poetry,

my thanks – wife,

sister, mother

or lover,

thankyou, wave of the sea,

blossom and flag,

mechanism of music,

broad petal of gold,

underwater bell,

bottomless granary;


ground of

every one of my days,

celestial air, and blood

of my growing years;

because you came with me

from the most rarefied heights

to the uncomplicated table

of poor people,

because you lodged in my being

the taste of iron

and cold fire,

because you raised me up

to the glowing heights

of ordinary men,

poetry, because with you

while I went on using myself up

you kept on

unwinding your everlasting freshness,

the inspiration of glass,

as if time,

which bit by bit was turning me into earth,

would allow my singing to go on endlessly

like running water.


(The English translation is quoted from the New England Review (1978-1982), Vol. 1, N°1, Autumn 1978, Middlebury College Publications)


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