‘Toward an Impure Poetry’ by Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda was a Chilean Nobel Laureate, famous for his surrealist and passionate love poems, along with historical epics and political manifestos. He was regarded as the “the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language” by another South American Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

There have been two schools of thought regarding what poetry should stand for and who it should be written for. While one school says poetry should be for the elites, or it should be “pure”, the other school, that Pablo Neruda believed in, felt poetry should be “impure” or depicting the blunt realities of life. This belief of his can be observed throughout his body of work, using metaphors and imageries that are drawn from every day things.

Here is the essay he wrote on why poetry should be impure.

It is good, at certain hours of the day and night, to look closely at the world of objects at rest. Wheels that have crossed long, dusty distances with their mineral and vegetable burdens, sacks from the coal bins, barrels, and baskets, handles and hafts for the carpenter’s tool chest. From them flow the contacts of man with the earth, like a text for all troubled lyricists. The used surfaces of things, the wear that the hands give to things, the air, tragic at times, pathetic at others, of such things—all lend a curious attractiveness to the reality of the world that should not be underprized.

In them one sees the confused impurity of the human condition, the massing of things, the use and disuse of substance, footprints and fingerprints, the abiding presence of the human engulfing all artifacts, inside and out.

Let that be the poetry we search for: worn with the hand’s obligations, as by acids, steeped in sweat and in smoke, smelling of the lilies and urine, spattered diversely by the trades that we live by, inside the law or beyond it.

A poetry impure as the clothing we wear, or our bodies, soup-stained, soiled with our shameful behavior, our wrinkles and vigils and dreams, observations and prophecies, declarations of loathing and love, idylls and beasts, the shocks of encounter, political loyalties, denials and doubts, affirmations and taxes.

The holy canons of madrigal, the mandates of touch, smell, taste, sight, hearing, the passion for justice, sexual desire, the sea sounding—willfully rejecting and accepting nothing: the deep penetraion of things in the transports of love, a consummate poetry soiled by the pigeon’s claw, ice-marked and tooh-marked, bitten delicately with our sweatdrops and usage, perhaps. Till the instrument so restlessly played yields us the comfort of its surfaces, and the woods show the knottiest suavities shaped by the pride of the tool. Blossom and water and wheat kernel share one precious consistency: the sumptuous appeal of the tactile.

Let no one forget them. Melancholy, old mawkishness impure and unflawed, fruits of a fabulous species lost to the memory, cast away in a frenzy’s abandonment—moonlight, the swan in the gathering darkness, all hackneyed endearments: surely that is the poet’s concern, essential and absolute.

Those who shun the “bad taste” of things will fall flat on the ice.

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The Penguin India Blog

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