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'The Lost Neruda' Can Now Be Found In 'Then Come Back'

Apr 19, 2016
Originally published on May 31, 2016 3:11 pm

Back in 2014, archivists were combing through Pablo Neruda's files when they came upon some previously unpublished works. Those writings by the Nobel prize-winning Chilean poet will soon be released in English in Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda. Forrest Gander, the Brown University professor who translated the poems into English, likens the discovery to finding a trove of new sketches by Michelangelo.

One of the poems was inspired by a visit to the Soviet Union in the early 1960s. Neruda got to meet Soviet cosmonauts and wrote a poem about space travel. Here's an excerpt:

It occurs to me

that the light was fresh then,

that an unwinking star

journeyed along

cutting short and linking

distances

their faces unused

to the awesome desolation,

in pure space

One of the things that made Neruda so beloved was that he wrote exquisite poems about grandiose themes like the cosmos and human nature, but he also found wonder in the mundane. He penned odes to a tomato, wine, a pair of socks. Gander says Neruda was deeply influenced by the accessible poetry of Walt Whitman.

"Whitman's sense of democratic poetics is very influential," says Gander. "And in Neruda's private library he has multiple copies of Leaves of Grass and other Whitman titles."

The other poems in the book come down from space to delve into more earthly topics, like Neruda's love for wife and muse, Matilde Urrutia. This one, handwritten and dated 1959-1960, is dedicated to her. Here's an excerpt:

Never alone, with you

over the earth,

crossing through fire.

Never alone.

With you in the forests

finding again

dawn's

stiff arrow,

the tender moss

of spring

With you

in my struggle,

not the one I chose

but

the only one.

The last line of the poem ends with a comma — which makes you wonder whether it's actually a work in progress. And that raises a larger question — one that often comes up when work is published posthumously: Did Neruda want these to be read by the world? Gander says when he first heard about the new poems he thought they were going to be terrible. Then he read them in Spanish and changed his mind.

"They are really terrific poems," he says. "I mean, he was a great poet. So even the drafts and unfinished poems are really thrilling."

Gander thinks Neruda was so prolific, he simply lost track of these poems. They can be found again in Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda, which comes out on May 1.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Imagine finding a trove of lost sketches by Michelangelo. That's what one expert and translator calls the recent discovery of unpublished works by Pablo Neruda, the late Chilean poet. They'll be released soon in English. NPR's Jasmine Garsd introduces us to some of the poems.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Archivists from the Neruda Foundation in Chile were coming through the legendary poet's files a couple of years ago when they discovered the works. One of the poems was inspired by a visit to the Soviet Union in the early 1960s. Neruda got to meet Soviet cosmonauts, and he wrote this untitled poem about space travel. This excerpt is read by Forrest Gander, the professor at Brown University who translated the poems into English.

FORREST GANDER: (Reading) It occurs to me that the light was fresh then, that an un-winking star journeyed along, cutting short and linking distances, their faces unused to the awesome desolation in pure space. Among astral bodies polished and glistening like grass at dawn, something new came from the earth.

GARSD: One of the things that made Neruda so beloved was that he wrote exquisite poems about grandiose themes like the cosmos and human nature, but he also found wonder in the mundane. He penned odes to a tomato, wine, a pair of socks. Gander says Neruda was deeply influenced by the accessible poetry of Walt Whitman.

GANDER: Whitman's sense of democratic poetics is very influential. And in Neruda's private library, he has multiple copies of "Leaves Of Grass" and other Whitman titles.

GARSD: The other poems in Neruda's new book come down from space to delve into more earthly topics like Neruda's love for wife and muse Matilde Urrutia. This one, handwritten and dated 1959-1960, is dedicated to her. Here's an excerpt.

GANDER: (Reading) Never alone with you in the forests, finding again dawn's stiff arrow, the tender moss of spring, with you in my struggle - not the one I chose but the only one.

GARSD: The poem ends with a comma, leading to the question of whether it's actually a work in progress. And that raises a larger question, one that often comes up when work is published pompously. Did Neruda want these to be read by the world? Gander says when he first heard about the new poems, they thought they were going to be terrible. Then he read them in Spanish and changed his mind.

GANDER: They're really terrific problems. I mean, he was a great poet, so even the drafts and unfinished poems are really thrilling.

GARSD: Gander thinks Neruda was so prolific he simply lost track of these poems. They can be found again in the book "Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda" which comes out May 1. Jasmine Garsd, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.