Pablo Neruda
"Ode to the Sea"

translated from the Spanish by Linh Dinh


ODA AL MAR

Aquí en la isla
el mar
y cuánto mar
se sale de sí mismo
a cada rato,
dice que sí, que no,
que no, que no, que no,
dice que si, en azul,
en espuma, en galope,
dice que no, que no.
No puede estarse quieto,
me llamo mar, repite
pegando en una piedra
sin lograr convencerla,
entonces
con siete lenguas verdes
de siete perros verdes,
de siete tigres verdes,
de siete mares verdes,
la recorre, la besa,
la humedece
y se golpea el pecho
repitiendo su nombre.
Oh mar, así te llamas,
oh camarada océano,
no pierdas tiempo y agua,
no te sacudas tanto,
ayúdanos,
somos los pequeñitos
pescadores,
los hombres de la orilla,
tenemos frío y hambre
eres nuestro enemigo,
no golpees tan fuerte,
no grites de ese modo,
abre tu caja verde
y déjanos a todos
en las manos
tu regalo de plata:
el pez de cada día.

Aquí en cada casa
lo queremos
y aunque sea de plata,
de cristal o de luna,
nació para las pobres
cocinas de la tierra.
No lo guardes,
avaro,
corriendo frío como
relámpago mojado
debajo de tus olas.
Ven, ahora,
ábrete
y déjalo
cerca de nuestras manos,
ayúdanos, océano,
padre verde y profundo,
a terminar un día
la pobreza terrestre.
Déjanos
cosechar la infinita
plantación de tus vidas,
tus trigos y tus uvas,
tus bueyes, tus metales,
el esplendor mojado
y el fruto sumergido.

Padre mar, ya sabemos
cómo te llamas, todas
las gaviotas reparten
tu nombre en las arenas:
ahora, pórtate bien,
no sacudas tus crines,
no amenaces a nadie,
no rompas contra el cielo
tu bella dentadura,
déjate por un rato
de gloriosas historias,
danos a cada hombre,
a cada
mujer y a cada niño,
un pez grande o pequeño
cada día.
Sal por todas las calles
del mundo
a repartir pescado
y entonces
grita,
grita
para que te oigan todos
los pobres que trabajan
y digan,
asomando a la boca
de la mina:
"Ahí viene el viejo mar
repartiendo pescado".
Y volverán abajo,
a las tinieblas,
sonriendo, y por las calles
y los bosques
sonreirán los hombres
y la tierra
con sonrisa marina.
Pero
si no lo quieres,
si no te da la gana,
espérate,
espéranos,
lo vamos a pensar,
vamos en primer término
a arreglar los asuntos
humanos,
los más grandes primero,
todos los otros después,
y entonces
entraremos en ti,
cortaremos las olas
con cuchillo de fuego,
en un caballo eléctrico
saltaremos la espuma,
cantando
nos hundiremos
hasta tocar el fondo
de tus entrañas,
un hilo atómico
guardará tu cintura,
plantaremos
en tu jardín profundo
plantas
de cemento y acero,
te amarraremos
pies y manos,
los hombres por tu piel
pasearán escupiendo,
sacándote racimos,
construyéndote arneses,
montándote y domándote
dominándote el alma.
Pero eso será cuando
los hombres
hayamos arreglado
nuestro problema,
el grande,
el gran problema.
Todo lo arreglaremos
poco a poco:
te obligaremos, mar,
te obligaremos, tierra,
a hacer milagros,
porque en nosotros mismos,
en la lucha,
está el pez, está el pan,
está el milagro.




Ode to the Sea

Here on the island
the sea
and so much sea
overflowing,
relentless,
it says yes, then no,
then no, no, no,
then yes, in blue,
in foam, with gallops,
it says no, again no.
It cannot stay still,
my name is sea, it repeats
while slamming against rocks
but unable to convince rocks,
then
with seven green tongues
of seven green dogs,
of seven green tigers,
of seven green seas,
it smothers rocks, kisses rocks,
drenches rocks
and slamming its chest,
repeats its name.
O sea, you declare yourself,
O comrade ocean,
don’t waste time and water,
don’t beat yourself up,
help us,
we are lowly
fishermen,
men of the shore,
we’re cold and hungry
and you’re the enemy,
don’t slam so hard,
don’t scream like that,
open your green trunk
and give all of us
on our hands
your silver gifts:
fish every day.

Here in each house,
we all crave it
whether it’s of silver,
crystal or moonlight,
spawn for the poor
kitchens on earth.
Don’t hoard it,
you miser,
coldly rushing like
wet lightning
beneath your waves.
Come, now,
open yourself
and leave it
near our hands,
help us, ocean,
deep green father,
end one day
our earthly poverty.
Let us
harvest your lives’
endless plantation,
your wheat and eggs,
your oxes, your metals,
the wet splendor
and submerged fruits.

Father sea, we know already
what you are called, all
the seagulls circulate
your name on the beaches:
now, behave yourself,
don’t shake you mane,
don’t threaten anyone,
don’t smash against the sky
your beautiful teeth,
ignore for a moment
your glorious history,
give to every man,
to every
woman and to every child,
a fish large or small
every day.
Go out to every street
in the world
and distribute fish
and then
scream,
scream
so all the working poor
could hear you,
so they could say,
sticking their heads
into the mine:
“Here comes the old man sea
to distribute fish.”
And they’ll go back down
into the darkness,
smiling, and on the streets
and in the forests,
men and the earth
will smile
an oceanic smile.
But
if you don’t want it,
if you don’t care for it,
then wait,
wait for us,
we must worry, first
we must try to solve
and straighten out
human affairs,
the biggest problems first,
then all the others,
and then
we’ll enter you,
we’ll chop the waves
with a knife made of fire,
on an electric horse
leaping over foam,
singing
we’ll sink
until we touch the bottom
of your guts,
an atomic thread
will guard your shank,
we’ll plant
in your deep garden
trees
of cement and steel,
we’ll tie
your hands and feet,
on your skin man will walk,
spitting,
yanking in bunches,
building armatures,
mounting and taming you
to dominate your spirit.
All this will occur
when us men
have straighten out
our problem,
the big,
the big problem.
We’ll slowly
solve everything:
we’ll force you, sea,
we’ll force you, earth
perform miracles,
because in our very selves,
in the struggle,
is fish, is bread,
is the miracle.


• • •


Pablo Neruda wrote some of the most memorable poems of the 20th century, "Walking Around' immediately comes to mind, and some of the most forgettable, such as his ode to Stalin. Although a poet should always be judged by his best works, and not by his mistakes, there are certain Neruda poems that could neither be admired wholeheartedly nor completely ignored, since they are both wonderful and awful. The first half of "Oda al mar," where the speaker is pleading with an anthropomorphic sea to feed the masses, is charming and exhilarating, but it turns bizarre when he threatens to dump concrete into the ocean, spit at it, ride it like a horse, force it to serve mankind. Neruda's Soviet faith in a bright technological future places him squarely in the 20th century. Like Marinetti, Pound and every other writer, great or mediocre, he could only belong to his time, of course, but no more so than in this great, shitty poem. Since it was published in 1954, man has tamed the ocean, the earth, and then some. Like a gang of angry frat boys after a meth and tequila party, we've trashed our entire habitat. Our problems, ourselves.

Linh Dinh was born in Vietnam in 1963, came to the US in 1975, and has also lived in Italy and England. He is the author of two collections of stories, Fake House (Seven Stories Press 2000) and Blood and Soap (Seven Stories Press 2004), and four books of poems, All Around What Empties Out (Tinfish 2003), American Tatts (Chax 2005), Borderless Bodies (Factory School 2006) and Jam Alerts (Chax 2007). His work has been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007 and Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, among other places. Linh Dinh is also the editor of the anthologies Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (Seven Stories Press 1996) and Three Vietnamese Poets (Tinfish 2001), and translator of Night, Fish and Charlie Parker, the poetry of Phan Nhien Hao (Tupelo 2006). Blood and Soap was chosen by the Village Voice as one of the best books of 2004. His poems and stories have been translated into Italian, Spanish, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese and Arabic, and he has been invited to read his works all over the US, London, Cambridge and Berlin. He has also published widely in Vietnamese.