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Book Review – On the Blue Shore of Silence: Poems of the Sea by Pablo Neruda

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In honor of National Poetry Month, I've chosen to review a book that was published a couple of years ago to celebrate Pablo Neruda's centenary.  It's a wonderful book, rich in art and poetry that any Neruda lover would be proud to have in their collection.

Of all the Neruda anthologies that I have read, this is by far the most eloquent tribute to his love of the sea and his home on Isla Negra in Chile. The English translation is done by Alastair Reid, Mr. Neruda’s favored translator, and it flows as naturally as does the Spanish original. I speak both languages and it is always such a pleasure to see a translation so elegantly done.

The artwork by Santa Barbara artist and writer Mary Heebner is as sumptuous as Pablo Neruda's poetry and truly reflects the feel of the ocean. Her paintings capture the mood of each poem perfectly and add to the emotion of his words. The description of her process is poetic in itself.   "I saturated large sheets of fibrous Japanese paper with puddles of bluish-gray pigment. Hidden shapes emerged from these little seas of color. I used paint and strands of tapa cloth to suggest elements of human form." (See her site for further viewing of all the Isla Negra paintings and her amazing collages).

It is I believe the only anthology that has focused solely on his poems of the sea. The book is bilingual, with the text in Spanish on one page and English on the other. It contains my favorite of Neruda’s poems, The Soliloquy of the Waves.  The starting lines convey so much feeling of loneliness and loss.

Yes, but here I am alone.
A wave
builds up,
perhaps it says its name, I don't understand,
it mutters, humps in its load
of movement and foam
and withdraws. Who
can I ask what it said to me?
Who among the waves.
can I name?

Feel the drama in "It Is Born":

Here I came to the very edge
where nothing at all needs saying,
everything is absorbed through weather and the sea,
and the moon swam back,
its rays all silvered,
and time and again the darkness would be broken
by the crash of a wave,
and every day on the balcony of the sea,
wings open, fire is born,
and everything is blue again like morning.

Can't you almost smell the ocean?  Feel the morning air on the balcony?  I can.  I always love it when poetry is so well done that you can sense the world the poet lives in.

The presentation is absolutely beautiful and every page is both a feast for the eyes and food for the soul. Even the typeset and Neruda’s name on the dust jacket painted in a blurry sea blue reflect the ocean that the poems are about.

Pablo Neruda has been a favorite poet of mine for many, many years and this stunning book is a wonderful addition to my collection of his anthologies. It is a beautiful piece to celebrate his centenary.

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