Poem of the Week | May 22, 2017

 This week, we are excited to feature a translation by Michael Straus. Straus lives in Mountain Brook, Alabama. He has written on Greek poetry and drama as well as theology, and been published in scholarly journals including Leeds International Classical Studies and The Scottish Journal of Theology. He has recently completed the first English translation of Pablo Neruda’s long poem, Las Uvas y el Viento/Grapes and the Wind, from which this is excerpted.

Author’s note:

I was first introduced to Neruda’s poem Las Uvas y el Viento/Grapes and the Wind while an exchange student in high school in Santiago, Chile. I attended an experimental school run by the University of Chile during the heady period of freedom shortly before the election of Salvador Allende, an era that came swiftly to an end with the CIA-supported coup that overthrew him. The poem was written in the 1950s, when Neruda was forced into political exile from his country due to his membership in the Communist Party. The work is laced with the politics of the era, but is at the same time a lyrical love song to his country from afar. The work’s passion and imagery have stayed with me since my time in Chile and I finally found the time to undertake a translation, the poem never having previously been translated into English. This excerpt, though brief, captures much of the heart of the poem – Neruda’s sense of loss, even betrayal, coupled with his expectations for a renewed future.


I left my country


I crossed the cordillera on horseback.


A petty tyrant, a fast dancer sold
my homeland metal and minerals and all
and filled with walls and prisons
dawn’s domain.
I left through throats clawed
by nature, galloping
beneath the silence of a dark grove,
dovecotes of a sudden hurled out of
snowdrifts, frozen feathers,
a purity of power:
and quickly land and trees
became harsh foes and scars,
quickly turned into wooden cutwaters,
impenetrable thickness
woven like a cathedral
between the leaves,
or a colossus of slippery salt,
or a toothless belt of stone.


Yet more, I descended quickly
the steep-sloping land,
and the horsemen
with their axes opened the road,
where the vertiginous god of a new river
overflowing with swords waited,
launching its hidden music
over the thicket.

Pablo Neruda ©1954
Heirs of Pablo Neruda and Fundación Pablo Neruda ©1999
Trans. Michael Straus ©2016