A Love Story from HarryLou
Sometime in 2017 I received a surprising gift of a small book of Pablo Neruda’s love poems. The gift was from someone who has a history of support and generous gifts but the book of poems was quite uncharacteristic and I was delighted.
Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto was born in Chile in 1904. He began writing poetry at the age of thirteen, later legally changed his name to Pablo Neruda and in 1971 received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Neruda was known as the poet-diplomat. He was active in the Chilean Communist party, served in many diplomatic positions and died in 1973 during the overthrow of the democratically elected government of his friend Salvador Allende in a brutal military coup. The coup was backed by the United States CIA and lead by General Agusto Pinochet who remained the Dictator of Chile for 17 years.
Although I was familiar with Neruda’s significant love for his homeland and its people and his suspected—but still not conclusively proven—murder during Chile’s coup, I had never delved into his poetry. The gift of the lovely, small book with its pink and metallic copper cover excited me and led me to wonder, first, who was this woman who Neruda showered with his love poems.
Following are the second and third stanzas from Neruda’s poem Night on the Island:
Perhaps very late
Our dreams joined at the top or at the bottom,
up above like branches moved by a common wind,
down below like red roots that touch.
Perhaps your dream
drifted from mine
and through the dark sea
was seeking me
when you did not yet exist,
when without sighting you
I sailed by your side,
and your eyes sought
bread, wine, love, and anger—
I heap upon you
because you are the cup
that was waiting for the gifts of my life.
I found a used book online, My Life with Pablo Neruda, by Matilde Urrutia, his lover, muse, wife and widow with whom he had shared the last twenty-two years of his life. A musician and teacher when she encounters Neruda, Urrutia was not an experienced writer but drawing from her journals, she was compelled to tell the story of her love and life with Neruda and the aftermath of the coup. She became despised by the new government and exiled in her own country.
Before I returned to the love poems, I immersed myself in Matilde’s story, pulled in by her direct and unassuming conversational way. For a moment, far away in time, I lived the complications, joys and heartbreak of their time together, even becoming intimate with their houses filled with the fine and everyday objects that Neruda loved and collected.
As I was falling in love with Neruda, a chance visit for a summer weekend by a young friend gave me another gift. When thanking me for the visit, she sent me a CD—Neruda by Luciana Souza—in which Souza sets 11 Neruda poems to music. I listened and kept the liner notes near my morning coffee spot and grew to love these poems. Four additional Neruda books came my way for Christmas that year. Ode to Common Things contains earthy and profound reflections inspired by Neruda’s robust and tender love of common things. Ode to the table, Ode to the chair, Ode to a pair of socks, for instance, are some of the poems I read to our good friend, not a reader of poetry, but a sensitive handyman and fixer of anything broken.
When I find in poetry or literature something expressed that is akin to my relationship to nature and my experience of the phenomenological world, I sometimes memorialize the experience and a moment in my personal history, by giving titles to the work which are lines or phrases from a particular passage.
Tomorrow will come on its green footsteps is a phrase from Neruda’s Sonnet 49, one of the poems sung by Luciana Souza. The entire line reads Tomorrow will come on its green footsteps; no one can stop the river of the dawn. This beautiful line has inspired the title for a new cycle of works, beginning with a series of small watercolors entitled Tomorrow will come on its green footsteps.
Image above (detail repeated):
Tomorrow will come on its green footsteps #2, 2018
Watercolor on Sennelier paper, 18 x 4 in.
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Additional works from the series can be seen at