I love all things, not because they are passionate or sweet-smelling but because…all bear the trace of someone’s fingers on their handle or surface, the trace of a distant hand lost in the depths of forgetfulness. (Ode to Common Things)
I have my mother-in-law to thank for my introduction to Pablo Neruda. She gave my husband a copy of Ode to Common Things for Christmas years before we met. The note on the faceplate tells of her unplanned trip into the bookstore and the distinct feeling she had that the book was meant to be with Nathan, that there were messages within he needed to hear. I have no doubt of it. There were messages in it that I needed to hear. Messages of magic in the mundane. Neruda elevated all the small things that make our lives wonderful, all the things that we overlook, and brought them to life. He exalts the tomato and the onion, a bar of soap and a pair of scissors, a violin and a table. What other poet has been able to make such commonplace things sparkle with meaning? His ability to breathe beauty into the givens was incredibly refreshing and sparked my own versions of the Odes. Through his eyes I saw my ordinary life in new ways.
From having been born so often/I have salty experience/like creatures of the sea/with a passion for stars/and an earthy destination (Autumn Testament)
Neruda’s other works also acknowledge the commonplace and hint at the deep desire we have for a place to belong. The poems seem to speak of the chaos around us and our grasping to make order in the midst of it. Perhaps because Neruda was denied the solitude that most writers have, his poems are laced with a deep sense of longing both for peace and for love. He was not a philosophical poet, but an opinionated one, always seeking to connect with everyday people and their passions. His sparse words paint breathtaking images of loneliness and longing, revealing the emotions that lie in all of our hearts and connecting us to one another through words.
Lost in the forest, I broke off a dark twig and lifted its whisper to my thirsty lips; maybe it was the voice of the rain crying, a cracked bell, or a torn heart. (100 Love Sonnets)
Reading Neruda makes me feel, simple as that. He awakens feelings that have been pushed aside in accordance with societal expectations. He reminds us of desire, longing, passion for something more, something meaningful even in the midst of the humdrum. He exalts our daily moments to something almost godlike. We are not simply sleeping in our beds. We are reminded that life and death occur there. Our beginning and our end, stretched out on a mattress that has seen a thousand sleeps. Neruda reminds us that it is all important. It all matters because it is life, and life matters.
Let’s try and avoid death in small doses,
reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing. (The Eternal Return)
Because of Pablo Neruda, I learned to cherish my moments. Because of Pablo Neruda, I saw beauty in a different light. Because of Pablo Neruda, I found ee cummings and Roberto Bolano. Because of Pablo Neruda, I am the writer I am today.