That time when I moved among happenings
in the midst of my mournful devotions; that time
when I cherished a leaflet of quartz,
at gaze in a lifetime’s vocation.
I ranged in the markets of avarice
where goodness is bought for a price, breathed
the insensate miasmas of envy, the inhuman
contention of masks and existences.
I endured in the bog-dweller’s element; the lily
that breaks on the water in a sudden
disturbance of bubbles and blossoms, devoured me.
Whatever the foot sought, the spirit deflected,
or sheered toward the fang of the pit.
So my poems took being, in travail
retrieved from the thorn, like a penance,
wrenched by a seizure of hands, out of solitude;
or they parted for burial
their secretest flower in immodesty’s garden.
Estranged to myself, like shadow on water,
that moves through a corridor’s fathoms,
I sped through the exile of each man’s existence,
this way and that, and so, to habitual loathing;
for I saw that their being was this: to stifle
one half of existence’s fullness like fish
in an alien limit of ocean. And there,
in immensity’s mire, I encountered their death;
Death grazing the barriers,
Death opening roadways and doorways.
“The Poet” from General Song, 1950
Published in Selected Poems of Pablo Neruda
Edited and translated by Ben Belitt
Copyright © Fundación Pablo Neruda, 2009
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