Neruda, Pablo

Chile, (1904-1973)

Bestiary

  1. If only I could converse with fowls
  2. Or oysters or with iguanas,
  3. With foxes in the dark wood,
  4. Or with model penguins;
  5. With the ewes on the downs —
  6. Impassive and wooly pets —
  7. Or with draught horses;
  8. If I could argue it out with cats;
  9. If only the hens could hear me!
  10.  
  11. I never thought of chatting with elegant creatures.
  12. My curiosity does not extend to the opinion of wasps
  13. Or to that of pampered brood mares;
  14. They settle differences by flying into a rage
  15. Or by racing for the colors.
  16. I want to talk with flies
  17. And bitches with new puppies;
  18. I want to whisper into the ears of snakes.
  19.  
  20. When I acquired feet to walk with
  21. Through triple nights now past,
  22. I tracked the dogs of the night,
  23. Those seedy tourists that travel trotting in silence
  24. Hurrying on to nowhere in particular.
  25. I dogged them for many hours,
  26. But they had their suspicions,
  27. And so those hapless, callous dogs
  28. Lost their chance to tell their sad stories
  29. And to run in the Street of the Specters
  30. With their tails and their shame.
  31.  
  32. I have always been curious about rabbits
  33. With their erotic reputation.
  34. Whose salacious whispers stir those genital ears?
  35. Their life is continuous procreation
  36. Without making novenas to St. Francis;
  37. They have no time to listen to foolishness,
  38. But only to mount and mount again
  39. With indefatigable operation.
  40. I want to speak with the rabbit,
  41. For I love his desultory ways.
  42.  
  43. Laid out in tedious paragraphs
  44. The spider is wasted on irksome scientists
  45. Who see him through flies’ eyes,
  46. And describe him as carnivorous,
  47. Lustful, faithless, sex-mad, lascivious.
  48. Such descriptions simply reflect
  49. Their own natures, as I see it.
  50. The spider is really an engineer,
  51. A divine watchmaker,
  52. Detested by narrow minds
  53. on account of a couple of flies.
  54. I want to chat with the spider;
  55. I want her to spin me a star.
  56.  
  57. I am quite interested in fleas
  58. And I let them bite me for hours.
  59. They are perfect, ancient Sanskrit beasts.
  60. They are mechanical and know nothing of appeal.
  61. They don’t bite to find food.
  62. They only bite so they can spring.
  63. They are the delicate leapers of this world,
  64. Acrobats in a most charming and sensible circus.
  65. Let them prance across my skin
  66. And reveal their motives;
  67. Let them tarry for my blood.
  68. I hope someone introduces me to them,
  69. For I do so want to be intimately acquainted.
  70. I want to know who I can rely on.
  71.  
  72. I never could form a relationship with ruminants.
  73. Yet I chew my own cud; so their indifference is a puzzle to me.
  74. This is a matter I will have to take up
  75. While grazing with the cows and steers
  76. Or while laying plans with the bulls.
  77. Some way I am going to know
  78. All these intestinal things
  79. That are hidden within like fantasy lovers.
  80.  
  81. What do pigs think of dawn?
  82. They cannot make incantations,
  83. But they may buoy it up with their huge pink bodies.
  84.  
  85. Pigs defend the dawn while birds eat up the night.
  86.  
  87. In the dawning when the world is deserted
  88. And the spiders are sleeping,
  89. People, dogs and the wind are sleeping,
  90. The pig grunts and it grows light.
  91.  
  92. I wish to converse with the pigs.
  93.  
  94. Soft, sonorous, hoarse frogs!
  95. I always wanted to be frog for the day.
  96. I always love the pond,
  97. Its blades thin as tracery,
  98. A floating green canopy world
  99. Where the frogs are lords of the sky!
  100.  
  101. The serenade of the frogs enters my dreaming
  102. And nudges it.
  103. Its entrance is like the vines climbing
  104. The balcony of my boyhood
  105. Upward to stalk the nipples of my cousin
  106. And beyond, to the jasmine constellations,
  107. Twisting in the inky sky of the Southern Cross.
  108. And now that the moment has passed,
  109. They can’t anymore question me about the heavens.
  110.  
  111. I don’t think I know frog talk yet;
  112. It is so raucous.
  113. How, then, can I be a poet, if this is true?
  114. What do I know yet of the multiple
  115. Geographies in the night?
  116.  
  117. In this universe that hums
  118. in silence I wish to make more
  119. connections through different idioms and ways
  120. to signify; I want to be familiar
  121. in this world.
  122.  
  123. Everyone has relied on the gauche
  124. explanations offered by sharp
  125. capitalists and women who work
  126. from lists. But I wish to speak to
  127. many things, and I will not move from this
  128. planet before I know
  129. what I came here
  130. to seek, before I track down this business to its end.
  131. Human company is not enough; I must go much
  132. further afield and much nearer
  133. to home.
  134.  
  135. So, my friends, I must depart
  136. For a conversation with the horse.
  137. Excuse me, please, poetic Muse;
  138. And pardon me, professor:
  139. My schedule this week is
  140. filled with attending a mass of babble.
  141.  
  142. What was that cats’ name?

Editor’s Note:

This translation is by Thomas Worthen, Ph.D., Associate Professor Emeritus, Dept. of Classics, University of Arizona. For the original Spanish, try the Neruda Poetry Concordance.

© Pablo Neruda. Bestiario / Bestiary. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World (1965).

About the Poet:

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was the pen name and, later, legal name of the Chilean poet and politician Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto. He chose his pen name after Czech poet Jan Neruda.
Neruda wrote in a variety of styles including surrealist poems, historical epics, overtly political manifestos, a prose autobiography, and erotically-charged love poems.

In 1927, Neruda began his long career as a diplomat in the Latin American tradition of honoring poets with diplomatic assignments. He served in Burma, Ceylon, Argentina, Spain, Mexico, France and was later elected to the Chilean Senate and joined the Communist Party.

Neruda won the International Peace Prize in 1950, the Lenin Peace Prize and the Stalin Peace Prize in 1953, and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez once called him “the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language.” [DES-03/12]

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