Monday, May 10, 2010

Pablo Neruda, "The Separate Rose"

(Copper Canyon Press, 1985)

One of eight unpublished manuscripts discovered on Neruda's desk at the time of his death in 1973, "The Separate Rose" is a poem cycle sketching both a vacation and a central modern dissonance. Having visited Easter Island in the late 60s, already sick with cancer, Neruda produced the manuscript as a meditative commentary on the experience. He divides the poem headings between "Man" and "The Island" - essentially, he contrasts the pure, venerable island and its deep, timeless mythology with "man" as harried, preoccupied, fleeting, sick and, ultimately, an unhappy tourist. The result is a poem cycle without resolution; Neruda deftly lays out the paradoxes of tourism, not the least of which is that of becoming superficially acquainted with deep time. Nonetheless, the two voices of the cycle often resonate. For instance, the island he paints is, like the man of the metropolis, bereft of the old gods. Such resonances account for his deep affinity for the island, even while he notes its indifference to him.

There's an exhaustion and something approaching cynicism here, but one still finds Neruda's lust for life if one digs. Even when, as one finds in the "Man" poems, his subject matter is his own disappointment and loneliness, Neruda is still Neruda. If a self-consciously "late" work can pull this off, then the creator is peerless.

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