ISLA NEGRA: A Notebook by Pablo Neruda

ISLA NEGRA: A Notebook

Email this review


Written in 1962-63, anticipating Neruda's 60th birthday in 1964, these notebooks--named for the poet's home village--begin autobiographically and thereafter, through five books, continue primarily in that mode. There are recurring personal motifs: the mother who died at Neruda's birth; his railroad-man father; the discovery of sex and poetry (""I wheeled with the stars./ My heart broke loose with the wind""). And then comes politics--""pain, pain, the bread of man""--with Neruda as an exile (""we breathe air through a wound""), as a student of the Spanish Civil War (most especially in the ""Cruel Fire"" book), as a diplomat and a Chilean senator: ""I came to lay my burning hand/ on the dry book/ to set it on fire and have it burn."" True, much of the poetry here is not the best Nernda; the entire third book (""The Hunter After Roots"") is weak and strained; and the longest poem in the whole series--a denunciation of Stalin--is a writhing attempt at self-distancing by a life-long, loyal Communist. Yet there is also brilliant verse in the collection, especially as judiciously translated by Alastair Reid--whose versions are much less frilly than those in Ben Belitt's 1967 selection from the Notebooks. (The standouts: ""Tides""; ""At Last There Is No One,"" a poem of death from ""Critical Sonata,"" the final book; and ""Night""--""I go into the black air./ Night's on the move,/ patience in its foliage,/ shifting/ its great space."") And though this sequence, diluted by its miscellaneous character, is denied intense poetic concentration, it does offer all of Neruda's qualities, arranged and abounding: the passions and crimes, the images and hungers.

Pub Date: Dec. 30th, 1981
ISBN: 0374517347
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux