For many of us our introduction to the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda came through the pink book of 100 Love Sonnets translated by Stephen Tapscott. I discovered Neruda at the same time my own romance blossomed with the one who would become my wife. I noticed that Tapscott’s translation glossed over words and expressions, often rearranging words and images to construct his idea of poetic, so my wife and I began our own translations. This is the opening sonnet. I’ve also included the original Spanish as well as the recent translation by Gustavo Escobedo whose “100 Love Sonnets” is far superior to Tapscott.
Matilde, the name of a plant or a rock or a wine,
which is born of the earth, and enduring;
a word in whose growth the dawn breaks,
In that name sail ships of wood
surrounded by the swarms of blue fire;
those letters are water to the river,
which overcome my barren heart.
hidden as a tunnel’s door,
speaking with the sweetness of the earth!
O invade me with your mouth,
search me, if you wish, with your midnight eyes,
but in your name let me navigate, let me rest.
-tr. by Bethany and Remy Wilkins
Matilde, a name for a plant, stone or wine,
for some enduring thing born of the earth.
The light of lemons comes from this word’s spring,
and bursts forth with this word’s summer.
Wooden ships swiftly sail about this name
surrounded by swarms of sea-blue fire,
and those letters are the waters of a river
spilling, pouring into my burnt-out heart.
O name discovered behind unruly ivy
like the door to a secret tunnel
leading to the scent of the world!
Oh, invade me with your scalding mouth,
Peer into me, if you wish, with your nocturnal eyes,
but let me sail and sleep… in your name.
-tr. Stephen Tapscott
Matilde, nombre de planta o piedra o vino,
de lo que nace de la tierra y dura,
palabra en cuyo crecimiento amanece,
en cuyo estío estalla la luz de los limones.
En ese nombre corren navíos de madera
rodeados por enjambres de fuego azul marino,
y esas letras son el agua de un río
que desemboca en mi corazón calcinado.
Oh nombre descubierto bajo una enredadera
como la puerta de un túnel desconocido
que comunica con la fragancia del mundo!
Oh invádeme con tu boca abrasadora,
indágame, si quieres, con tus ojos nocturnos,
pero en tu nombre déjame navegar y dormir.
Matilde, name of a plant or stone or wine,
of what is born of earth and lasts,
word, which in growing, dawns,
in whose summer the light of the lemon bursts.
In that name wooden ships sail
surrounded by hives of deep blue fire,
and those letters are the water of a river,
that empties out onto my parched heart.
Oh name discovered under a climbing vine,
like the door of an unknown tunnel
that leads to the fragrance of the world!
Oh invade me with your scalding mouth,
search me if you like, with your nocturnal eyes,
but allow me to sail and sleep upon your name.
-tr. by Gustavo Escobedo