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from the October 2013 issue

Ode to Jean Arthur Rimbaud

this October
you will turn
a hundred,
harrowing friend.
May I speak
to you?
I’m alone,
through my window
the Pacific breaks
its eternal threatening thunder.

It is night.

The burning firewood throws
over the oval
of your old portrait
a fugitive ray.
You are a child
of twisted locks,
sour mouth.
I apologize
if I talk to you
the way I am, the way
I trust you would be today, 
if I talk of marine water
and of burning firewood,
of simple things and simple beings.

They tortured you
and burnt your soul,
they imprisoned you
in the walls of Europe
and furiously   
you would bang
the doors.
And when you were
able to depart 
you were injured,
injured and mute,

Quite soon, other poets
a raven, a swan,
a willow,
a lyre’s petal,
you left behind a ghost
who curses
and spits
and walks
without direction,
without fixed address,
without number,
through the streets of Europe,
returning to Marseille, 
with African sand
in his shoes,
like a shiver,
with his pockets broken,

It is not true
you stole the fire,
you ran
with celestial fury
and with an ultraviolet
chest of stones
from hell,
it is not so,
I don’t believe it,
you we denied
simplicity, the house,
you were rejected,
doors were closed for you,
and therefore you flew,
irate archangel,
to remote
and coin by coin,
sweating and bleeding
your height
you wanted
to accumulate the necessary
for simplicity, for the key,
for the virtuous wife,
for the son,
for your chair,
bread and beer.

In your time
over the spider webs
as an umbrella
the twilight was shutting down
and oil blinkered
You passed by the Commune,
red child,
and your poetry gave
blazes of fire
still ascending while it punishes
the walls
used in executions.
With eyes
like a dagger
you drilled
the decayed
war, the wandering
cross of Europe.
That is why today, with a distance
of one hundred years,
I invite you
to the simple 
truth unattained
by your hurricane-shaped forehead,
I invite you to America,
to our rivers,
to the breath of the moon
over the cordillera,
to the emanation
of workers,
to the extended homeland
of the people,
to the electrified
Volga River
with grape bunches and wheat shoots,
to what man
conquered without mystery,
with force
and blood,
with one hand and with the other,
with millions
of hands.

You were driven crazy,
Rimbaud, you were condemned
and hastened
into hell.
You deserted the germ’s
cause, you buried
the flame
and in desert-like solitude
you served
your sentence.
Today it is simpler, we are
countries, we are
guaranteeing the growth of poetry,
the distribution of bread, the patrimony
of oblivion. Now  
you would not be

Excerpted from All the Odes: A Bilingual Edition by Pablo Neruda, edited by Ilan Stavans, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. © 2013 by Pablo Neruda and Fundación Pablo Neruda. Introduction © 2013 by Ilan Stavans. All rights reserved.

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