100 Love Sonnets : Pablo Neruda : Sonnet 18

XVIII

Through mountains you move as moves the breeze
or as the sudden stream from under snow
or your hair flaring, yes, flickering,
the high banners of an enraptured sun.

All the light of the Caucasus falls over your body
whirling like liquid in a bowl
in which the water changes shape and song
as with the river’s every open move.

Through the mountain flows the old warrior’s road
and below –shining fiercely like a sword–
the water, between the walls of the valley’s hands

until you receive from the forests, suddenly,
the branch of lightning, stroke of blue flowers,
the precious arrow of the forest’s smell.

by Pablo Neruda
tr by Bethany Wilkins and Remy Wilkins

[Click here for the original version and another translation]

Click below for a bad translation and some criticism :

Bad translation : Stephen Tapscott

You move through the mountains like a breeze,
like a quick stream dropping form under the snow:
your hair in its thickness throbs like the high
adornments of the sun, repeating them for me.

All the light of the Caucasus falls across your body
like a little vase, infinitely refractive,
in which the water changes clothes and sings
with every motion of the distant river.

The old warrior road winds through the hills, and, below,
the old army fortifications: the water they hold
in the mineral hands shines fierce as a sword:

till the woods send toward you
suddenly a sprig -a lightening bolt- of a few blue flowers,
the strange-wild arrow of their forest smell.

The passage that is most difficult about this sonnet is in the second line of the second stanza: como en una pequena vasija interminable. Tapscott ends up saying something absurd, light falls across your body like a vase falls across your body. Not only is this a clunky simile it also sounds a bit painful.

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5 thoughts on “100 Love Sonnets : Pablo Neruda : Sonnet 18

  1. It may not be a strictly literal translation, but it isn’t clunky. The light isn’t like a vase, the body is. This might be a case of letting the line break or lack of punctuation influence the interpretation.

    Your body is like a little vase, infinitely…

    yeah.

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