Lifting a Wineglass
My close ones,
Love stories surround us. If we look for them, we never have to look far. Look for the hands held, the sandwich cut in half, the hair strands brushed aside. Look for a walk on the beach with a dog, the love story in the missing, pieces subject to the comings and goings of water and the weather. Here is the 22nd Sonnet of Neruda’s Cien Sonetos de Amor, including a letter he wrote to Matilde.
Hold a guitar. Lift a wineglass. Be a love story.
Pablo Neruda to Matilda Urrutia
Translated by Stephen Tapscott
My beloved wife, I suffered while I was writing these misnamed “sonnets”; they hurt me and caused me grief, but the happiness I feel in offering them to you is vast as a savanna. When I set this task for myself, I knew very well that down the right sides of sonnets, with elegant discriminating taste, poets of all times have arranged rhymes that sound like silver, or crystal, or cannonfire. But – with great humility – I made these sonnets out of wood; I gave them the sound of that opaque pure substance, and that is how they should reach your ears. Walking in forests or on beaches, along hidden lakes, in latitudes sprinkled with ashes, you and I have picked up pieces of pure bark, pieces of wood subject to the comings and goings of water and the weather. Out of such softened relics, then, with hatchet and machete and pocketknife, I built up these lumber piles of love, and with fourteen boards each I built little houses, so that your eyes, which I adore and sing to, might live in them. Now that I have declared the foundations of my love, I surrender this century to you: wooden sonnets that rise only because you gave them life.
Love, how often I loved you without seeing -
without remembering you –
not recognizing your glance, not knowing you, a gentian
in the wrong place, scorched by the hot noon
but I loved only the smell of the wheat.
Or maybe I saw you, imagined you lifting a wineglass
in Angol, by the light of the summer’s moon;
or were you the waist of that guitar I strummed
in the shadows, the one that rang like an impetuous sea?
I loved you without knowing I did; I searched to remember you
I broke into houses to steal your likeness;
though I already knew what you were like. And, suddenly,
when you were there with me I touched you, and my life
stopped: you stood before me, you took dominion like a queen:
like a wildfire in the forest, and the flame is your dominion.