I was listening to Fresh Air the other day and was riveted by a segment on mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who died last summer (bio, New Yorker piece by Charles Michener); not only was her voice gorgeous, but an excerpt from Sings Peter Lieberson: Neruda Songs sent me back to the poem (set by her husband, Peter Lieberson), Neruda’s Soneto XLV, whose beginning is heard on the program. Spanish is not one of my favorite languages for poetry, but there are exceptions, and Neruda is one of them, particularly his youthful [Veinte canciones de amor y una canción desesperada and the later] Cien sonetos de amor; through some poetic alchemy, reading even a few lines of these sonnets can make my chest swell with the unbearable urgency of the kind of passionate love we are most likely to experience in our late teens or early twenties. Here is the text of the poem she sang:

No estés lejos de mí un solo día, porque cómo,
porque, no sé decirlo, es largo el día,
y te estaré esperando como en las estaciones
cuando en alguna parte se durmieron los trenes.
No te vayas por una hora porque entonces
en esa hora se juntan las gotas del desvelo
y tal vez todo el humo que anda buscando casa
venga a matar aún mi corazón perdido.
Ay que no se quebrante tu silueta en la arena,
ay que no vuelen tus párpados en la ausencia:
no te vayas por un minuto, bienamada,
porque en ese minuto te habrás ido tan lejos
que yo cruzaré toda la tierra preguntando
si volverás o si me dejarás muriendo.

If you don’t read Spanish, the Stephen Tapscott translation seems to be all over the internet, for instance here; it’s not bad, but it doesn’t have remotely the same effect as the original.

Totally unrelated except that it also has to do with music, of a sort, but I just ran across this on MetaFilter (from a thread on piano virtuosity) and wanted to share: if you’ve never experienced John Cage’s 4’33” in performance, here‘s a Google Video record of a 2004 performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra (described here); if you get in the spirit of it and pay attention to the sounds around you, you may find it surprisingly compelling. In any event, it’s a treat to watch the audience respond!


  1. Kári Tulinius says

    What are your favorite languages for poetry? (And if you could elucidate why, that would be fabulous)

  2. I’d say English and Russian. They both have a wide variety of textures, including a certain meatiness and crunchiness that to me are required for real stick-to-your-ribs poetry. The Romance languages (again, to me) are mellifluous in a way that makes it easy to be pretty but hard to be powerful. Obviously, this is all purely personal and subjective, much like preferring meat to fish or John to Paul.

  3. Jonathan Mayhew says

    Neruda’s Cien sonetos de amor was published in 1959. (The poet was born in 1904.) Not too youthful! Of course the work Veinte canciones de amor y una canción desesperada is very popular, and was published when Neruda was only 20.

  4. D’oh! I was thinking of the Veinte canciones, of course. Good catch.

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