Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

#30 Neruda Retold: Fable of the Mermaid

Sometimes mermaid stories are about an ugly side of the relationships between men and women. Here, I followed Poefusion’s prompt to make a new poem by adding lines of my own between the lines of this mermaid poem by Pablo Neruda, still one of my favorite poets.

What was learned? That poets work in tight levels of meaning. I went online to post my version and discovered another Poetfusion poet, Gautami Tripathi, also working with a Neruda poem. Ha! And then I traveled up to La Sebastiana to walk through Pablo Neruda’s home here in Valparaiso, Chile. No photographs were allowed, but my eyes are full of this wonderfully creative space.

You can read Pablo Neruda's original version here: Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks

"Neruda Retold: Fable of the Mermaid"

All those men were there inside,
as if they were waiting
when she came in totally naked.
They had been drinking: they began to spit
and laugh as if they had been given a toy.
Newly come from the river, she knew nothing.
She was as perfect as the moon.
She was a mermaid who had lost her way, and
the smell of the sea filled the room.
Their insults flowed down her gleaming flesh.
Obscenities drowned her golden breasts.
Not knowing tears, she did not weep tears.
Not knowing clothes, she did not have clothes.
They blackened her with burnt corks and cigarette stubs,
and rolled around laughing on the tavern floor
until one by one, they became quiet.
She did not speak because she had no speech.
Her eyes were the colour of distant love
shaming the men before her.
Her twin arms were made of white topaz
that burned those who touched her.
Her lips moved, silent, in a coral light
scream and the room was empty of life.
Suddenly she went out by that door.
Entering the river, she was cleaned,
shining like a white stone in the rain,
and without looking back, she swam again
swam towards the deep sea, swam towards life.


  1. Hello Beth~ Your poem is great. I wish my readers could see this one. You and Gautami made good use of Pablo's poems. And, how exciting you were able to go visit where he lived for this inspiration. Well done. Have a nice night.

  2. Neruda is one of my favorite poets too. And I've always liked this one but was always rather disturbed by it as well, her vulnerability and inability to defend herself. I like your take on it, 'scream and the room was empty of life.' I'm not sure if it means she simply spoke up for herself or she took mermaid revenge in some way, but it gives her more satisfying spunk for sure.