Ode to Walt Whitman

Samuel Hollyer’s steel engraving of Walt Whitman based on a daguerreotype by Gabriel Harrison (original lost). Published in 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass

 
 

I do not remember
at what age
nor where:
in the great damp South
or on the fearsome
coast, beneath the brief
cry of the seagulls,
I touched a hand and it was
the hand of Walt Whitman.
I trod the ground
with bare feet,
I walked on the grass,
on the firm dew
of Walt Whitman.
During
my entire
youth
I had the company of that
hand,
that dew,
its firmness of patriarchal
pine, its
prairie-like expanse,
and its mission of
circulatory peace.
Not
disdaining
the gifts
of the earth,
nor the copious
curving of the column’s
capital,
nor the purple
initial
of wisdom,
you taught me
to be an American,
you raised
my eyes
to books,
towards
the treasure
of the grains:
broad,
in the clarity
of the plans,
you made me see
the high
tutelary
mountain. From
subterranean
echoes,
you gathered
for me
everything;
everything that came forth
was harvested by you,
galloping in the alfalfa,
picking poppies for me,
visiting
the rivers,
coming into the kitchens
in the afternoon
But not only
soil
was brought to light
by your spade:
you unearthed
man,
and the
slave
who was humiliated
with you, balancing
the black dignity of his
stature,
walked on, conquering
happiness.
To the fireman
below,
in the stoke-hole,
you sent
a little basket
of strawberries.
To every corner of your
town
a verse
of yours arrived for a visit,
and it was like a piece
of clean body,
the verse that arrived,
like
your own fisherman beard
or the solemn tread of your
acacia
legs.

 
 

Pablo Neruda

Ode to Federico García Lorca

Federico García Lorca (left) and Chilean poet Pablo Neruda

 
 

If I could weep with fear in a lonely house,
if I could pluck out my eyes and eat them,
I’d do it for your mourning orangetree voice
and for your poetry that flies up shouting.

For they paint the hospitals blue for you,
and the schools and maritime districts grow,
and the wounded angels are covered with feathers,
and the nuptial fish are covered with scales,
and the hedgehogs go flying to heaven:
for you the tailorshops with their black membranes
fill with spoons and with blood,
swallow torn ribbons, kill themselves with kisses,
and dress in white.

When you fly dressed in peach,
when you laugh with a laugh of hurricane rice,
when you flap your arteries and teeth to sing,
your throat and your fingers,
I could die for the sweetness you are,
I could die for the crimsom lakes
where you live in the midst of Autumn
with a fallen charger and a bloodied god,
I could die for the graveyards that pass at night
like ashen rivers, with water and graves,
between muffled bells:
rivers dense as dormitories
of sick soldiers, that suddenly swell
towards death in rivers with marble numbers
and rotten garlands, and funeral oils:
I could die from seeing you at night
watching the drowned crosses pass,
afoot and weeping,
because you weep before the river of death,
abandoned and wounded,
you weep weeping, your eyes filled
with tears, with tears, with tears.

At night, desperately alone, if I could gather
forgetfullness, shadow and smoke
above railroads and steamships,
with a black funnel,
chewing the ashes,
I’d do it for the tree in which you grow,
for the nests of golden waters you unite,
and for the net that covers your bones
telling you the secret of the night.

 
 

Neruda, Lorca and other guests of a party in Buenos Aires (Argentina). 1934

 
 

Cities with damp onion fragrance
wait for you to pass singing hoarsely,
and silent boats of sperm pursue uyou,
and green swallows nest in your hair,
and snails and weeks too,
furled masts and cherrytrees
circle definitively when your pale head with fifty eyes
and your mouth of submerged blood appear.

If I could fill the mayors’ posts with soot
and throw down watches, sobbing,
it would be to watch: when at your house
summer arrives with broken lips,
a crowd arrives in death-watch clothes,
regions of sad splendor arrive,
dead plows and poppies arrive,
gravediggers and horsemen arrive,
planets and maps of blood arrive,
divers covered with ash arrive,
masqueraders dragging virgins
pierced with large knives arrive,
hospitals, ants, roots, springs and veins arrive,
the night arrives with the bed on which
a lonely Hussar dies among the spiders,
a rose of hatred and pins arrives,
a yellowed embarkation arrives,
a windy day with a child arrives,
I arrive with Oliverio and Norah,
Vicente Aleixandre, Delia,
Maruca, Malva Marina, María Luisa y Larco,
la Rubia, Rafael, Ugarte,
Cotapos, Rafael Alberti,
Carlos, Bebé, Manolo Altolaguirre, Molinari,
Rosales, Concha Méndez,
and others I’ve forgotten.
Come to what crowns you, youth of health,
gay butterfly, youth pure
as a black lightning perpetually free;
and talking between ourselves.
now, when no one is left among the rocks,
let us speak simply, as you are, as I am:
what are the verses for, if not for the dew?
What are the verses for, if not for this night
in which a bitter dagger finds us out, for this day,
for this twilight, for this broken corner
where the beaten heart of man prepares to die?

Over everything at night,
at night there are many stars,
all within a river
like a ribbon beside the windows
of houses filled with poor people.

Someone they know has died,
maybe they’ve lost their jobs in the offices,
in the hospitals, in the elevators, in the mines;
they endure their purpose stubbornly, wounded,
and there’s purpose and weeping everywhere:
while the stars flow on in an endless river
there is much weeping in the windows,
the thresholds are worn by the weeping,
the bedrooms are soaked by the weeping
that comes in the shape of a wave to corrode the carpets.

Federico,
you see the world, the streets,
the vinegar,
the farewells in the stations
where the smoke lifts its decisiive wheels
toward where there is nothing but some
separations, stones, iron tracks.

There are so many people asking questions everywhere.
There’s the bloodied blind man, and the angry man,
the discouraged man,
the miserable man, the tree of fingernails,
the thief with envy riding his back.

Life’s like this, Federico; here you have
the things my friendship can offer you,
from a melancholy manly man.
Already you’ve learned many things by yourself,
and slowly you will be learning more.

 

Pablo Neruda

(This poem was written in 1935, a year before Lorca was murdered by the Spanish Nationalistic forces)