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“La Reina/The Queen”

I have named you queen.

There are taller than you, taller.

There are purer than you, purer.

There are lovelier than you, lovelier.

But you are the queen.

 

When you go through the streets

No one recognizes you.

No one sees your crystal crown, no one looks

At the carpet of red gold

That you tread as you pass,

The nonexistent carpet.

 

And when you appear

All the rivers sound

In my body, bells

Shake the sky,

And a hymn fills the world.

 

Only you and I,

Only you and I, my love,

Listen to me.

 

I think I mentioned that Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (Day 12 :”Keeping Quiet”) was known for his love poetry, so I wanted to offer you an example of it, especially in contrast to Byron’s poem from yesterday.

To a romantic in the 19th century, to be in love was to be blind, at least vocally. Love and devotion were most properly expressed through hyperbole and exaggeration. But when the Romantic Era ended, so too did the necessity to claim things that couldn’t possibly be true. While poets and writers still enhanced the qualities of their beloveds, there was usually an element of realism as well.

What I love about this poem is the romantic realism of the narrator. There are certainly taller, lovelier, purer women, but she is his queen. When she walks by, no one notices her royal presence, which is just fine with him. For when she appears, his whole realm, body and soul, celebrates her arrival – “a hymn fills the world.” (I can’t imagine a more generous compliment.)

I imagine the final stanza delivered in a whisper, as the poet softly urges his beloved to believe in her own majesty. When she looks around the ordinary world, in a mirror, or on the streets, she will find nothing to indicate that she’s anything special, but don’t believe it, he begs her. In his kingdom, she is the queen.

 

“La Reina”

Yo te he nombrado reina.
Hay más altas que tú, más altas.
Hay más puras que tú, más puras.
Hay más bellas que tú, hay más bellas.
Pero tú eres la reina.
II.
Cuando vas por las calles
nadie te reconoce.
Nadie ve tu corona de cristal, nadie mira
la alfombra de oro rojo
que pisas donde pasas,
la alfombra que no existe.
III.
Y cuando asomas
suenan todos los ríos
en mi cuerpo, sacuden
el cielo las campanas,
y un himno llena el mundo.
IV.
Sólo tú y yo,
sólo tú y yo, amor mío,
lo escuchamos.

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“Keeping Quiet”

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

 

Pablo Neruda was a 20th century Chilean poet, diplomat and Nobel Prize winner. He is most famous for his love poetry, but was deeply involved in politics as well.

Instead of spreading out the two poems about war and peace, I wanted to join O’Tuama’s poem with Neruda’s. One counts the cost of violence; one offers a solution. It may be a fantastic one we are tempted to scoff at, but still, he creates an inviting picture of what the world might look like if we simply went silent together. A count of twelve? It’s a place to start. Would it accomplish anything? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. It’s never been done. Who knows how it might affect our global consciousness to have all 7 billion of us make a choice to be at peace for a period of time, however brief?

But I will move away from the “woo woo” aspect of the poem and get to the nitty-gritty of it, because eventually Neruda does get to the root of the problem, the cause of the violence, war, and aggression that haunts our world. Perhaps” If we were not so single-minded/ about keeping our lives moving,/ and for once could do nothing,” it “might interrupt this sadness/ of never understanding ourselves.”

It’s a simple, but great wisdom to understand that “hurt people hurt people,” and that “if we do not transform our pain, we will transmit it,” usually to the most vulnerable people around us, our children and spouses, our employees and those on the margins who serve our needs. And don’t forget all the ways we daily declare war on ourselves for some minor “transgression” that any one else could easily forgive. This is the sadness we would face in our “count up to twelve,” but as badly as it might hurt, it wouldn’t hurt as nearly as badly as we’re hurting the world and everyone in it by refusing to face it. Neruda’s reference to the resurrection mystery embedded at the heart of the universe,”when everything seems dead/and later proves to be alive,” is the wisdom we must seek when seeking for peace.

While I can’t offer you a recording of Neruda reading this poem, I can suggest you listen to the one of my favorite Buddhist teachers, Sylvia Boorstein, read it to a live audience. Her warm, husky voice is soothing and wise. She makes me believe that “Keeping Quiet” might just be a possibility.

P.S. As I was getting ready to hit publish, I saw that Parker Palmer, a Quaker activist, author and teacher, had just published this same poem in his blog on On Being. Apparently, something in the universe is calling many of us toward this radical idea.