Pablo Neruda on Poetry
It is worth one’s while, at certain hours of the day or night, to scrutinize useful objects in repose: wheels that have rolled across long, dusty distances with their enourmous loads of crops or ore, charcoal sacks, barrels, baskets, the hafts and handles of carpenters’ tools. The contacts these objects have had with man and earth may serve as a valuable lesson to a tortured lyric poet. Worn surfaces, the wear inflicted by human hands, the sometimes tragic, always pathetic, emanations from these objects give reality a magnetism that should not be scorned.
Man’s nebulous impurity can be perceived in them: the affinity for groups, the use and obsolescence of materials, the mark of a hand or a foot, the constancy of the human presence that permeates every surface.
This is the poetry we are seeking, corroded, as if by acid, by the labors of man’s hand, pervaded by sweat and smoke, reeking of urine and of lillies soiled by diverse professions in and outside the law.
A poetry as impure as a suit or a body, a poetry stained by food and shame, a poetry with wrinkles, observations, dreams, waking, prophecies, declaration of love and hatred, beasts, blows, idylls, manifestos, denials, doubts, affirmations, taxes.
The sacred law of the madrigal and the decrees of touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing, the desire for justice and sexual desire, the sound of the ocean, nothing deliberately excluded, a plunge into unplumbed depths in an access of ungovernable love. And the poetic product will be stamped with digital doves, with the scars of teeth and ice, a poetry slightly consumed by sweat and war. Until one achieves a surface worn as smooth as a constantly played instrument, the hard softness of rubbed wood, or arrogant iron. Flowers, wheat, and water also have that special consistency, the same tactile majesty. But we must not overlook melancholy, the sentimentalism of another age, the perfect impure fruit whose marvels have been cast aside by the mania for pedantry: moonlight, the swan at dusk, “my beloved,” are, beyond question, the elemental and essential matter of poetry. He who would flee from bad taste is riding for a fall.