Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

'O' is for Oblivion . . .

The poetry prompt from NaPoWriMo for Day 16 (“O”) asks us to look up a poem written by a poet in another language. The first poet I think of is Pablo Neruda and I found his poem, “No Hay Olvido” (There is no forgetting . . . ), a perfect “O” as olvido can also mean oblivion.

Our task: to look only at the poem in its original language and to attempt to translate it. And so I began, Spanish phrases turning to English. When I compared my translation to the translation offered online, I learned again that each language has its own patterns of expression, how difficult it is to translate poetry, that very private language; and that perhaps those who translate take license with the original that a casual reader cannot see. 

Here is my poem, for once I visited Santiago, Chile, where we spent an afternoon at Neruda's house, La Chascona, so named for his red-haired wife. 

For Pablo Neruda

You have written "No Hay Olvido," 
there is no forgetting,
but that I cannot do, for I remember well
your house in Santiago, overlooking Bellevista.
For one brief afternoon, we imagined
your respite here, in this multi-level
house built around a garden.
We strolled through nearly empty rooms
filled with colorful glass, Chinese
and Indian art, Bauhaus furniture,
a breathtaking wooden sculpture of two mermaids.
We read your penciled-marked poems
preserved under glass,
those passionate, surreal poems,
fragments of a life between countries,
perpetually in exile;
your great sad eyes saw
political commitments tested,
too much revolution and death.
Yet your poems speak for you,
even in green ink, they speak
of love and hope.

A stanza from Neruda's poem, "No Hay Olvido":

Si me preguntáis en dónde he estado
debo decir “Sucede”.
Debo de hablar del suelo que oscurecen las piedras,
del río que durando se destruye:
no sé sino las cosas que los pájaros pierden,
el mar dejado atrás, o mi hermana llorando.
Por qué tantas regiones, por qué un día
se junta con un día? Por qué una negra noche
se acumula en la boca? Por qué muertos?

My translation:

If you ask me where I have gone,
I must say we have come to the place 
where things die.
I would speak of the ground that obscures stone,
Of the river destroying itself:
I only know those things the birds have lost,
the sea leaves behind,
or my sister crying.
Why all these places?
Why does one day join itself with the next?
Why does a black night pile up
in the mouth?
Why is there death? 

Mural of Pablo Neruda near La Chascona

Read what others have written to celebrate April, National Poetry Month:
Poetry prompt from NaPoWriMo at

1 comment:

  1. It looks like you have enough Spanish to translate fairly accurately.
    I like the connection you drew between "forgetting" and "oblivion". I never thought of it, but forgetfulness can be likened to sending a thought or memory into oblivion.
    "OLVIDAR" (to forget) was one of my favorite verbs in Spanish class.