Book Review: Winter Garden

Winter Garden, by Pablo Neruda, translated by William O’Daily

I am no stranger to reading poems [1], and this is the second book of the poet’s that I have read.  This particular book was posthumously published from a written manuscript of the poet’s after he died of cancer as his nation’s leftist government was soon to be overthrown.  Given that the poet was Chile’s ambassador to France at the time, and was in exile from his beloved Isla Negra, this book is taken as a book that expresses a feeling of exile and silence and an awareness of his approaching death.  It is therefore an instructive case of what a poet thinks about and reflects about as the time of his end rapidly approaches.  Most writers can be expected to show their natures in the face of death, and this book has a feeling of late autumn and approaching winter that shows the author bravely facing his death and demise, if without as much hope as one would expect.  There is a genuine sense of beauty and melancholy with these works, and that makes this a decent book of poetry to read, despite the gulf that separates the worldview of the author and I on a great many subjects.

This particular book is a short one written as a diglot with the poet’s native Chilean Spanish on the left and the English translation on the right.  Overall there are twenty poems that take up about 70 pages or so.  As might be expected for a poet who felt most at home on a quiet and somewhat remote island, a great deal of this poem reflects on nature–the ocean, birch trees, a beloved but dead dog that is dealt with strikingly unsentimentally, as well as images of forests and the titular winter garden.  Even when the author talks about something as joyful as homecoming he strikes a mournful tone:  “I am a man of so many homecomings / that form a cluster of betrayals / and again, I leave on a frightening voyage / in which I travel and never arrive anywhere: / my single journey is a homecoming (41).”  These are not happy poems, and the author appears to write them without any sort of hope in an afterlife or a better life afterwards.  He even seems to anticipate that his death will be a time of eating because of the various organisms that will feed off of his decaying body.  It is an altogether gloomy and dark collection of works.

Of course, Pablo Neruda being who he is, he could not resist a few political comments that detract from the quality of this work because they remind the reader that the poet has an uncongenial political worldview, as when he speaks about Nixon and shows his spleen.  One wonders whether the poet, and those who publish and market his works, are aware that not everyone is friendly to the leftist viewpoint of the author and who find the poet’s stridency off-putting.  Perhaps people are used to being in an echo chamber where they do not have to face the withering criticism of those who have different views of the world and for whom a poet like this can be enjoyed and appreciated only with a sense of caution and wariness because of the awareness that the poetical and the political are never too far apart when it comes to many writers, myself included.  As this writer is one whose political viewpoint is unworthy of a great deal of respect or praise, and as he appears to have no faith in resurrection or a better world to come, this book is a gloomy example of the poetry of those who write without hope.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to Book Review: Winter Garden

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Collected Poems Of Emily Dickinson | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: The Selected Poems Of Donald Hall | Edge Induced Cohesion

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