Riding the wave

Pablo Neruda

To A Ship's Figurehead

From the sands of Magellan we salvaged you, exhausted
voyager, immobile
beneath the storm your sweet twofold breast so many times
defied dividing itself between your nipples.

We lifted you again over the Southern waters, but now
you were the passenger in darkness, of angles, one
with the wheat and the metal you guarded
on the wide water, enveloped by oceanic night.

Today you are mine, goddess whom the giant albatross
grazed with its wingspan extended in flight,
like a cloak of music conducted in rain
by your blind wandering eyelids of timber.

Rose of the sea, bee more pure than dream,
almond-woman who from the roots
of a holm-oak peopled with cantos
made yourself form, force of the nest-filled foliage,
mouth of tempests, delicate sweetness,
that could go conquering the light with its thighs.

When the angels and the queens born with you,
covering themselves with moss, slumbered, fated
to the immobility the dead guard with honour,
you climbed to the narrow prow of the ship
and angel and queen and wave, you were the earthís tremor.
Manís shudderings climbed to your
noble tunic with its apple-wood breast.
while your lips oh sweetness! were moistened
by other kisses worthy of your wild mouth.
Beneath strange nights your waist let
fall the pure burden of the ship into the waves
cutting a path through the sombre extent
of overturned flame, of phosphorescent honey.
The wind opened its bag of tempests,
the unbound metal of its groans,
and the light at dawn received you trembling
in the ports, kissing your moist diadem.

Sometimes the trembling vessel heeled
when you halted your path through the sea,
like a heavy fruit that breaks off and falls,
a dead mariner whom the spume,
and the pure motion of time and ship, receive.
And you alone among all the faces
submerged by menace, plunged into barren sadness,
received the scattered salt-brine on your mask,
and your eyes retained the salty tears.
More than one wretched life slipped from your arms
into an eternity of funereal waters,
and the touch of the dead and the living
wore away your heart of ocean timber.

Today we have salvaged your form from the sand.
Finally you were destined for my eyes.
You slumber, perhaps, a slumberer, perhaps you are dead, a dead one:
your motion has finally forgotten the sighing
and the wandering splendour has ceased its journey.
Anger of ocean, blows of the heavens have circled
your proud head with cracks and fissures,
and your face rests like a conch,
with wounds that mark your swaying brow.

For me your beauty holds all of the perfume,
all of the wandering corrosion, all its dark night.
And in your raised breast of lamp or of goddess,
swelling turret, immobile love, life lives.
Salvaged, you sail with me, until that day
in which they let fall what I am into the spume.

(From 'Canto general', translation A.S.Kline © 2000).

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