My Trip to Pablo Neruda’s House

I think the greatest pleasure of knowing Spanish (besides being able to speak to my family) is the ability to read Pablo Neruda’s poetry in its original language. A few weeks ago I was in Chile and Argentina for work and had an afternoon off in Santiago before returning to Canada. Rather than sit in the airport for 8 hours, I decided to head into the city for a quick lunch and then went to Pablo Neruda’s house (one of three in Chile), La Chascona.


I had been to La Chascona and La Sebastiana (Neruda’s house in Valparaiso) before and within those walls lie the ghosts of Neruda’s love, passion and spirit. As ridiculous as it is to write, the house is magical.

la-chascona - Armoire
This narrow dining room was built to have a nautical feel. Within the armoire is a secret passage that leads upstairs to a spare bedroom.

La Chascona was built for Neruda’s mistress, Matilde Urrutia and she was the inspiration for the love poems found in The Captain’s Verses. Throughout the house is their two initials, superimposed on each other:

The P is for Pablo, the M is for Matilda, against the waves of the sea.

This painting of Matilda is by famous Mexican painter, Diego Rivera and contains three faces, Matilda as the public singer, the lover Neruda knew and Neruda himself:

If you look closely, in Matilda’s hair at the right side of the painting is Neruda’s profile.

A local Toronto writer, Jacqueline Valencia, rewrote James Joyce’s Ulysses by hand, with the intention that rewriting the text connects you to it in a way that simply reading it doesn’t. I thought this was an interesting concept and I tried translating a few of Neruda’s poems myself. I translated the poem on my own at first. Then I’d consult a Spanish/English dictionary for any tricky words and look over the poem one more time for overall cohesion. After I was done, I’d compare it with a translated version but make no further edits (and, dear lord, if you’ve never read Neruda, don’t start here).

20 Love Poems: 20

Tonight, I could write the saddest verses.

Write, for example, “The night is filled with stars, and they shimmer

blue – the stars – from a distance.


The wind at night twirls in the sky and sings.


Tonight, I could write the saddest verses.

I wanted her, and sometimes she wanted me too.


On nights, like on this one, I had her in my arms.

I kissed her many times beneath the infinite sky.


She wanted me and sometimes I wanted her too.

How could I not love her large, still eyes.


Tonight, I could write the saddest verses.

Thinking that I don’t have her. Feeling I’ve lost her.


Hear the immense night, more immense without her

And the verse falls to my soul, like the dew on the grass


Who cares that my love could not keep her?

The night is filled with stars and she is not with me.


This is all. In the distance someone sings. In the distance,

My soul cannot rest, having lost her.


As to bring her closer, my gaze searches for her.

My heart seeks her, but she’s not with me.


The same night that frosts the same trees.

Us, us of then, we are no longer the same.


I no longer love her, surely, but how much I loved her.

My voice searches the wind to caress her ear.


Another’s. It is another’s. Like before my kisses.

Her voice, her clear body. Her infinite eyes.


I no longer love her, surely, but perhaps I still love her.

Love is so short, forgetting is so long.


Because on nights like these I had her in my arms,

My soul is unsettled having lost her


Although this is the last pain she will cause me,

and these are the last verses I write her.


I don’t think I did complete justice to the poem, but I don’t think I totally botched it either. In the second line, the original is ‘la noche esta estrellada’ which I changed to ‘the night is filled with stars’, the translation in the book I have is ‘the night is shattered with stars’ which keeps the tone of love and loss. I liked the exercise, I might do some more blog posts on this.

Anyhow, I went a bit nuts in the gift store:

Books Fountain Pen Mug Pens shirt Keychain



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