Roa Lynn and Patrick Morgan.

Forrest Gander has a wonderful account at Literary Hub of translating Neruda, starting by describing his reluctance to take on the task: “It’s not that I don’t love Neruda, but given the attention he’s justly received […] I’ve wanted to champion terrific lesser-known and more contemporary Latin American writers in translation.” I’ll leave you to discover most of the details at the link (a sample: “There’s an ode to Neruda’s wife’s ear that depends upon a conceit that most Chileans today wouldn’t fathom, since few remember the 1940s vernacular for abalone: ‘little ears of the sea'”) and just quote the anecdote he himself ends with:

But it might be fun to consider a single poem, the oddest in the collection, the one that gave the Spanish-language editors fits. A typed version of this poem, dated June 1968, was found in a filing cabinet with some conference papers. Subsequently, a handwritten version turned up.

It begins: “Roa Lynn and Patrick Morgan / were moored in these waters.” In the next lines, Lynn and Morgan sail off “to sea or to hell” while the dark river bearing “grief and blubbering” and all the particulars of our tumultuous world rushes toward us carrying—what else is it carrying? Something remarkable, we gather from the last lines. For the editors of the Spanish edition, this is an apocalyptical poem and the names Roa Lynn and Patrick Morgan refer to two of the ships’ figureheads that Neruda collected and fondly nicknamed Jenny Lind and Captain Morgan. How Jenny Lind became Roa Lynn and why the famous pirate Captain (Henry) Morgan changed his name to Patrick remain unexplained. But to make matters a little less clear, the editors add a series of curious etymological details, starting with the information that “roa,” in some language, may be a nautical term for the prow of a ship.

Two marvelous interventions solve the riddle of the poem for us. First, a Mexican journalist and reviewer of the Spanish edition of these lost poems bothered to google the perplexing names Roa Lynn and Patrick Morgan. He discovered both names in a May 1968 Argentine weekly. Here’s my translation of the full newspaper notice:

POETS. Unintentionally but notably, the Buenos Aires Herald recently acted as matchmaker: an interview published two weeks ago has culminated in a marriage. When Patrick Morgan read, on April 13th, the tale told by North American poet Roa Lynn Lanou, who spoke of herself, her country, and the Brazilian favela where she lived for a while, Morgan asked his secretary to find her phone number. “I’m going to marry that girl, I said to my secretary,” Morgan, sales manager for Brassovora and an occasional versifier, remembers saying. “My secretary answered I must be crazy.” But that wasn’t the case, clearly. On March 16th, Patrick and Roa met each other in the Golf Club in Palermo; after lunch, they read her poems and “spent the afternoon reciting Shakespeare.” On Friday the 19th, the day Roa was supposed to leave for Chile, the lovers took off to Montevideo, where they were married. On Monday the 22nd, Roa moved into her new residence, a house in the North Barrio of the capital. On Tuesday, she rushed a cable of 30 words to her parents in Ohio, telling them the news.

Isn’t that a gas? What makes it especially piquant for me is that I was living in Buenos Aires then, and we subscribed to the Herald (as did pretty much all the English-speakers in town), and I may very well have read that interview at the time. Thanks, Trevor!


  1. The marriage probably didn’t last, because in 1970, Roa L Lanou is recorded as having wed Phili B Flamm in Connecticut. The surname may itself have been an office-truncation of “La Nou”

  2. David Marjanović says

    *lightbulb* Haliotis! So that’s what abalone is!

  3. aha, Russian official calque from Latin is exactly this: “Little sea ears”

  4. According to Roa Lynn writing in the New Yorker:

    In June, 1968, I was living in Buenos Aires with Patrick, an Anglo-Argentine businessman whose passion was poetry. In the daylight hours, he was a senior executive at a foodstuffs conglomerate known especially for its English-style mustard. At night, and on weekends, he wrote sonnets and villanelles, many of which were published in literary journals in England. I thought that Patrick should experiment with free verse, and told him so, but he did not depart from meter and rhyme.

    Even though I had won a minor U.S. poetry contest, my own efforts were mostly being rejected, but Patrick admired the energy of my poems. I was inspired by walking urban streets and by the lives of poets who had committed suicide. Patrick and I didn’t copy each other’s styles. We delighted in each other, but I can’t say it was love—at least, not from my side.

    I can’t remember whether it was Patrick or I who first got the idea that we should have Pablo Neruda write an introduction to a joint collection of our poems.

    The rest describes her journey to see Neruda and the dramatic journey back. They never did the joint collection. The poem was only found again in 2014.

    It doesn’t sound like they were married.

  5. 8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars Neruda’s poem about me

  6. According to Roa Lynn writing in the New Yorker

    Ah, so that’s “her own version of the events” and “her story to tell,” which Gander was so cagey about! Thanks for finding it and passing it on; it’s quite a story.

  7. I was a bit startled by this, in the first sentence of the article:

    ” It’s not that I don’t love Neruda, but given the attention he’s justly received—he’s the only Nobel Prize winner in literature many people can name -”

    Are there really that many people who have heard of Pablo Neruda but not of Winston Churchill?
    (Shaw, Kipling, Solzhenitsyn and Hemingway, yes, maybe.)

  8. I don’t think it’s that people haven’t heard of Winston Churchill so much as that his name wouldn’t come to mind if you asked them about Nobel Prize winners in literature.

  9. January First-of-May says

    And that the sentence in question was written before Bob Dylan joined that list – he’s a lot more connected to the “literature” areas of fame than Churchill, and probably nearly as famous already.

    (For what it’s worth, the only Nobel Prize winner in literature that I can immediately think of is Solzhenitsyn; I even had to google Dylan – I remembered that some musician got it, but not which exactly.)

  10. If one divides writers into these categories:
    1. Haven’t heard of them.
    2. Didn’t know they wrote.
    3. Sure they didn’t win the Nobel.
    4. Not sure whether they won the Nobel.
    5. Sure they won the Nobel.

    I interpret Gander as meaning there are many people for whom category 5 contains only Neruda; in which case Churchill et al may be in category 2, 3, or 4 rather than 1.

    There are lots of Irish people for whom category 5 is { Yeats, Joyce, that poet from Derry that just died }.

  11. Heh. I imagine there are lots of Russians for whom it’s { Bunin, Pasternak, Sholokhov, Solzhenitsyn, Brodsky, and that Belarusian woman who does the interviews }.

  12. Being able to name Nobel prize winners is too low a standard for Languagehat surely.

    We read them too.

    Next time when someone asks me if I read anything written by a Nobel Prize winner in literature, I’ll just recite:

    Roa Lynn and Patrick Morgan
    Were moored in these waters…

  13. I’m hardly likely to forget Henrik Pontoppidan, though I forgot his date (1917) and never read a word of him. For my wife it was Knut Hamsun (1920), though she forgot his name and remembered him as “the author of Hunger“, which she read at age 17 and was “completely blown away by”.

  14. I felt the same way when I read it.

  15. the 1940s vernacular for abalone: ‘little ears of the sea’

    There are only around 20 days a year when the law allows you to go down to the shoreline on the English Channel Island of Guernsey in search of a prized mollusc that, when French was the dominant language here until the late 19th Century, was known as oreille de mer (sea ear) – though one engaging variation dubbed it “Venus Ear”.

    Now known as ormer, this is the most northerly member of the abalone family, with dozens of global cousins found in places as far apart as Senegal, Australia, Japan and California. But only in the Channel Islands are they gathered by hand off the seashore – and wrapped in a host of rules.

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