Pablo Neruda Explains a Few Things

I read in the news on Friday that in Madrid they are renaming the streets that carry Francoist names – high time. The same afternoon, Sophisticated Young Lady came home for the weekend from university (where she reads Spanish and History) and reminded me of a poem that I haven’t heard for decades… and certainly never read in the original until last Friday night. So today we’ll remember the Spanish Civil War…

Pablo Neruda explica algunas cosas

El viernes leí en las noticias que en Madrid van a dar nombres sustituivos para calles con nombres franquistas – ya es hora. La misma tarde, La Señorita Sofisticada volvió a casa de la universidad (donde estudia español y historia) para visitarnos para el fin de semana y me recordó a una poema que no había oído hace décadas… y seguramente no he leído en lo original nunca hasta la noche del viernes pasado. Así que hoy recordamos la guerra civil española…

With this poem:

You are going to ask: and where are the lilacs?
and the poppy-petalled metaphysics?
and the rain repeatedly spattering
his words and drilling them full
of apertures and birds?

I’ll tell you all the news.

I lived in a suburb,
a suburb of Madrid, with bells,
and clocks, and trees.

From there you could look out
over Castille’s dry face:
a leather ocean.
My house was called
the house of flowers, because in every cranny
geraniums burst: it was
a good-looking house
with its dogs and children.
Remember, Raúl?
Eh, Rafael?
Federico, do you remember
from under the ground
my balconies on which
the light of June drowned flowers in your mouth?
Brother, my brother!
Everything
loud with big voices, the salt of merchandises,
pile-ups of palpitating bread,
the stalls of my suburb of Arguelles with its statue
like a drained inkwell in a swirl of hake:
oil flowed into spoons,
a deep baying
of feet and hands swelled in the streets,
metres, litres, the sharp
measure of life,
stacked-up fish,
the texture of roofs with a cold sun in which
the weather vane falters,
the fine, frenzied ivory of potatoes,
wave on wave of tomatoes rolling down the sea.

And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings —
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children’s blood.

Jackals that the jackals would despise,
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate!

Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives!

Treacherous
generals:
see my dead house,
look at broken Spain:
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers,
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes,
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull’s eye of your hearts.

And you’ll ask: why doesn’t his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land?

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
The blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
In the streets!
(Pablo Neruda: I’m Explaining a Few Things)
Guernica by Pablo Picasso (via Wikipedia). The original painting can be seen in the Museo de la Reina Sofia in Madrid.

Con este poema:

Preguntaréis: Y dónde están las lilas?
Y la metafísica cubierta de amapolas?
Y la lluvia que a menudo golpeaba
sus palabras llenándolas
de agujeros y pájaros?

Os voy a contar todo lo que me pasa.

Yo vivía en un barrio
de Madrid, con campanas,
con relojes, con árboles.

Desde allí se veía
el rostro seco de Castilla
como un océano de cuero.
Mi casa era llamada
la casa de las flores, porque por todas partes
estallaban geranios: era
una bella casa
con perros y chiquillos.
Raúl, te acuerdas?
Te acuerdas, Rafael?
Federico, te acuerdas
debajo de la tierra,
te acuerdas de mi casa con balcones en donde
la luz de junio ahogaba flores en tu boca?
Hermano, hermano!
Todo
eran grandes voces, sal de mercaderías,
aglomeraciones de pan palpitante,
mercados de mi barrio de Argüelles con su estatua
como un tintero pálido entre las merluzas:
el aceite llegaba a las cucharas,
un profundo latido
de pies y manos llenaba las calles,
metros, litros, esencia
aguda de la vida,
pescados hacinados,
contextura de techos con sol frío en el cual
la flecha se fatiga,
delirante marfil fino de las patatas,
tomates repetidos hasta el mar.

Y una mañana todo estaba ardiendo
y una mañana las hogueras
salían de la tierra
devorando seres,
y desde entonces fuego,
pólvora desde entonces,
y desde entonces sangre.
Bandidos con aviones y con moros,
bandidos con sortijas y duquesas,
bandidos con frailes negros bendiciendo
venían por el cielo a matar niños,
y por las calles la sangre de los niños
corría simplemente, como sangre de niños.

Chacales que el chacal rechazaría,
piedras que el cardo seco mordería escupiendo,
víboras que las víboras odiaran!

Frente a vosotros he visto la sangre
de España levantarse
para ahogaros en una sola ola
de orgullo y de cuchillos!

Generales
traidores:
mirad mi casa muerta,
mirad España rota:
pero de cada casa muerta sale metal ardiendo
en vez de flores,
pero de cada hueco de España
sale España,
pero de cada niño muerto sale un fusil con ojos,
pero de cada crimen nacen balas
que os hallarán un día el sitio
del corazón.

Preguntaréis por qué su poesía
no nos habla del sueño, de las hojas,
de los grandes volcanes de su país natal?

Venid a ver la sangre por las calles,
venid a ver
la sangre por las calles,
venid a ver la sangre
por las calles!

(Pablo Neruda: Explico algunas cosas)

I don’t believe in analysing poems to death, so I will limit myself to the minimum explanation here:

  • Pablo Neruda was a Chilean poet who served as ambassador in Spain in 1936 when the Spanish Civil War broke out.
  • His house in Madrid served as a meeting place for friends: Raúl González Tuñón (an Argentinian poet), Rafael Alberti (a Spanish poet), and Federico García Lorca (a Spanish poet and playwright who was killed by Francoist militias in Granada in the beginning of the civil war).

No creo en explicar poems hasta matar la poesía. Así que os doy una explicación mínima: 

  • Pablo Neruda era un poeta chileno que servía de embajador en España en 1936 al estallido de la guerra civil.
  • Solía quedarse con amigos en su casa en Madrid: con Raúl González Tuñón (un poeta argentino), Rafael Alberti (un poeta español) y Federico García Lorca (un poeta y dramaturgo español que fue asesinado por los franquistas en Granada al principio de la guerra civil).
You might also like / Quizá también te gusta: 
⇒ Lorca's Bones: Can Spain Finally Confront its Civil-War Past? in the New Yorker
⇔ Federico García Lorca: Impresiones y paisajes

In Memoriam: Azure Window (La Ventana Azul)

The Azure Window in Dwejra Bay on the Maltese island of Gozo made headlines last week – not for a good reason. The rock formation, one of the most popular tourists sights on the small island, has disappeared without a trace during a storm.

I had the good fortune to see it when it was still there – so for today’s Mediterranean theme, a few photos of the Azure Window in memoriam (click photos to enlarge):

In Memoriam: La Ventana Azul

La Ventana Azul en la bahía de Dwejra en la isla de Gozo en Malta salió en las noticias la semana pasada – y no por una buena razón. Esta formación rocosa, uno de los más populares lugares de interés turístico en la isla pequeña, ha desaparecido sin dejar un rastro durante una tormenta.

Tuve la suerte de verla cuando todavía estaba allí – así que para el tema del Mediterráneo de hoy, algunas fotos de la Ventana Azul in memoriam (haz clic en las fotos para ampliar):

Although nothing now is left of the Window, not even the stacks that had seemed pretty solid before last week, Dwejra Bay is still well worth a visit if you’re at all interested in fossils. There are many fossils in clear view all over the surface of the limestone, from the Miocene and the Oligocene periods. In fact, it’s difficult to avoid treading on them! The boat trip through the rock tunnel out to sea presumably continues as well.

A pesar de que ya nada queda de la Ventana, ni siquiera las pilas que parecían bastante sólido antes de la semana pasada, la bahía de Dwejra todavía vale la pena de visitar, si te interesan los fósiles. Hay muchos fósiles sobre la superficie de la piedra caliza, desde los períodos de Mioceno y Oligoceno. De hecho, es difícil evitar pisar sobre ellos! Además, supongo que todavía se pueda hacer también el viaje en un bote a través del túnel de roca hacia el mar.

All photos taken at the end of October in 2015. Todas las fotos son del final de octubre en 2015.

You may also like / Quizá también te gusta:
Gozo on Paleontica

Rest in Peace? The Wandering Remains of Christopher Columbus

¿Que en paz descanse? Los restos errantes de Cristóbal Colón

The other day I was reading the Rough Guide to Andalucía, and I came across this:

The dispute about Christopher Columbus‘s birthplace – claimed by both Italy and Spain – is matched by the labyrinthine controversy surrounding the whereabouts of his remains.

I thought it sounded promising, so I read on.

El otro día estaba leyendo la Rough Guide de Andalucía, y me topé con esto:

La disputa sobre el lugar de nacimiento de Cristóbal Colón – reclamada tanto por Italia como por España – está acompañada por la controversia laberíntica que rodea el paradero de sus restos.

Pensé que sonaba prometedor, así que seguí leyendo.

Continue reading “Rest in Peace? The Wandering Remains of Christopher Columbus”

Sun-Drenched

I don’t know about you but at around this time of the year, I invariably reach the point when I could murder for sunshine, flowers and the ability to go out without a coat.

(Not to mention it’s Monday.)

So what we need right now is a little sunshine:

Wishing you all a happy sunny Monday! (Click on the images to enlarge.)

The Lament of King Roderick (La lamentación de don Rodrigo)

In the early 19th century, several English poets, among them Lord Byron, Walter Scott¹ and the poet laureate Robert Southey, were inspired by old Spanish historical ballads. Someday I will explore this topic in more detail but today, I’m merely sharing an excerpt from a ballad known as The Defeat of King Roderick.

A principios del siglo XIX, varios poetas ingleses, entre ellos Lord Byron, Walter Scott¹ y Robert Southey, eran inspirados por viejas baladas históricas españolas. Algún día voy a explorar este tema con más detalle pero hoy sólo estoy compartiendo un extracto de una balada conocida como La Derrota de Don Rodrigo (Los huestes de don Rodrigo).

King Roderick with is troops in the battle of Guadalete / El rey Don Rodrigo arengado a sus tropas en la batalla de Guadalete (Bernardo Blanco) [public domain via Wikipedia]
King Roderick with his troops in the battle of Guadalete / El rey Don Rodrigo arengado a sus tropas en la batalla de Guadalete (Bernardo Blanco) [public domain via Wikipedia]
Continue reading “The Lament of King Roderick (La lamentación de don Rodrigo)”

Under Italian Influence: The Queen’s House in Greenwich

Today I’m going to depart a little from the usual topics to share instead some photos of the Queen’s House in Greenwich – built by one of England’s greatest architects, Inigo Jones. If you wonder why we’re looking at an English building on Mediterranean Monday, it’s because:

  1. The Queen’s House is the first pure, classical, Italianate building in England – which to English eyes at the time must have looked shockingly foreign
  2. Inigo Jones was heavily influenced by the classical architecture he saw in Italy in 1613-14, and in particular by the Italian architect Andrea Palladio
  3. It’s beautiful

Continue reading “Under Italian Influence: The Queen’s House in Greenwich”

The Case for the Elgin Marbles

I was reading Keats last night:

My spirit is too weak – mortality
Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep,
And each imagined pinnacle and steep
Of godlike hardship tells me I must die
Like a sick eagle looking at the sky.
Yet ’tis a gentle luxury to weep
That I have not the cloudy winds to keep
Fresh for the opening of the morning’s eye.
Such dim-conceived glories of the brain
Bring round the heart an undescribable feud;
So do these wonders a most dizzy pain,
That mingles Grecian grandeur with the rude
Wasting of old time – with a billowy main –
A sun – a shadow of a magnitude.

(On Seeing the Elgin Marbles by John Keats)

I have to say it threw me a bit. Not quite as easy as “Then I felt like some watcher of the skies / When a new planet swims into his ken” (On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer also by John Keats). In fact, after much mulling over what some of the phrases actually meant, I had to seek enlightment from Mr Anglo-Saxonist who upon reading it pronounced that it was s**t poem and there was no need to rack my brains about what it meant. (He particularly objected to the sick eagle.) Well, I wouldn’t go quite as far but I have to agree: not one of Keats’s best. Nevertheless I do like the last few lines, in particular:

… mingles Grecian grandeur with the rude
Wasting of old time…

Which is why today we’re going to talk about some Greek grandeur and the rude wasting of old time.

Continue reading “The Case for the Elgin Marbles”

My Love-Hate Relationship with Caravaggio

the_taking_of_christ-caravaggio_c-1602-detail-caravaggio
Caravaggio (detail from The Taking of Christ)

For today’s Mediterranean theme, we’ll take a painter. From a Mediterranean country, clearly. He’s a painter I cannot be indifferent to: I either hate his pictures – or love them.

Continue reading “My Love-Hate Relationship with Caravaggio”

Spain in Black & White II (España en blanco y negro II)

No comment.  Sin comentarios. 

(Click on the images to enlarge. Haz click en las imágenes para ampliar.)

You may also like / Quizás también te gusta:Spain in Black & WhiteTales of the AlhambraVenice in Black & White

This also doubles as my entry to Cee's Black & White Photo Challenge this week!

The Roman Theatre of Mérida

The Extremadura region (in the west, bordering Portugal) is not a part of Spain that’s particularly overrun by tourists. But although it hasn’t got beaches, it’s still well worth a visit for anyone who’s at all interested in history, in architecture or indeed, for anyone who’d just like to holiday somewhere beautiful and atmospheric without the crowds.

Continue reading “The Roman Theatre of Mérida”

Mérida in the Extremadura

Mr Anglo-Saxonist hates beaches – in general – and overcrowded Spanish beaches in particular. Which is why, despite of us having visited Spain three times so far, we’ve never yet been down the Mediterranean coast. On the other hand his dislike of beach holidays led us to visit a small town in the west of Spain which, quite simply, blew our minds.

Continue reading “Mérida in the Extremadura”

Sappho: Midnight Poem (Fragment 48)

The Temple of Poseidon at night. Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Temple of Poseidon at night. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Back in the winter of 570 BC or thereabouts, on the island of Lesbos, an elderly Greek woman wrote:

Δέδυκε μεν ἀ σελάννα
καὶ Πληΐαδες, μέσαι δὲ
νύκτες πάρα δ᾽ ἔρχετ᾽ ὤρα,
ἔγω δὲ μόνα κατεύδω.

Which has been translated as (one of the many translations):

Continue reading “Sappho: Midnight Poem (Fragment 48)”

Amun-Ra Sailing Under the Starry Sky

My second favourite profession I would have gone for if I had the choice when I was young? Marine archaeologist.

I just mention this because in the past half-year I was haunting the now closing Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds exhibition of the British Museum which told the story of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus, two cities that sank into the Mediterranean Sea (in Aboukir Bay, previously only known to me as the place where Nelson defeated the French). The site is being excavated by the team of Franck Goddio – the marine archaeologist who seems to get to excavate all the best sunken things in the world. (This is envy speaking.)

Continue reading “Amun-Ra Sailing Under the Starry Sky”

A Petrarch Sonnet (Venice Balcony at Night)

A few weeks ago, when I was writing about Egyptian poetry, I made the point that reading poetry in translation is a deceptive exercise since you’re not reading the same poem that poet had, in fact, penned. You might like the translation but quite possibly would not like the original or vice versa. A sonnet by Petrarch today in two different English translations will serve to illustrate the same point… and the Venetian balcony at night will serve to illustrate the sonnet.

Hace unas semanas, cuando escribió sobre la poesía egipcia, he señalado que leer poesía en traducción es un ejercicio engañoso, porque no estás leyendo el poema que el poeta, de hecho, había escrito. Así que te puede gustar la traducción, pero lo original no, y viceversa. Hoy un soneto de Petrarca con dos traducciones ingleses servirá para ilustrar la misma idea… y el balcón de Venecia servirá para ilustrar el poema. El texto original italiano está abajo de los versiones ingleses si quieres leerlo – no hay que hablar italiano para apreciar la cadencia bella del idioma de Petrarca. (También puedes encontrar un enlace abajo para la traducción española.)

Continue reading “A Petrarch Sonnet (Venice Balcony at Night)”

Dark Earth’s Far-Seen Star: Delos Through the Eyes of Pindar

There is a line by Pindar, a fifth-century-B.C. Greek poet, in which he describes the island of Delos, one of the most barren and inhospitable of all Greek islands, as ‘the dark earth’s far-seen star’:

Hail, god-reared daughter of the sea,
earth-shoot most dear to bright-haired Leto’s children,
wide earth’s immoveable marvel,
who of mortals art called Delos,
but of the blessed gods in Olympus the dark earth’s far-seen star…

Dark earth’s far-seen star – the island as seen from above by the gods, glowing with light in the dark sea – is one of those memorable phrases that turned the famous Roman poet Horace into one of Pindar’s life-long fans. Sadly, not much else of this Procession Song survives today (you’ve just read half of what there’s left).

Continue reading “Dark Earth’s Far-Seen Star: Delos Through the Eyes of Pindar”

Venice According to Canaletto: The Doge’s Palace (Then & Now)

Venice, the ultimate tourist destination, was already popular as far back as the 16th and 17th century: it was one of the obligatory stops on the so-called Grand Tour, when wealthy young men – principally English – travelled for a few years in Europe to complete their education. The Grand Tour was, in a manner of speaking, a posher and lengthier forerunner of the modern gap year. Or – if we’re less charitable – of the package holiday. In any case, the Grand Tourists invariably wound up in Italy; and we owe them a number of varyingly entertaining travel accounts as well as far too many paintings of young Englishmen posing in togas in front of well-known Italian landmarks.

Continue reading “Venice According to Canaletto: The Doge’s Palace (Then & Now)”