Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was a Chilean poet who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971.
In an essay called ‘Childhood and Poetry’ he speculates the origins of his work. He was raised in Temuco, which he describes as the farthest outpost in Chilean life. A rainy and mountainous town with the main street lined with hardware stores. Since the local people couldn’t read, the stores hung out eye-catching signs such as “an enormous saw, a giant cooking pot, a mammoth spoon or a cyclopean padlock. Farther along the street, shoe stores- a colossal boot.”
When he was still a little boy, playing in the lot behind his house one day Neruda discovered a hole in a fence board.
“I looked through the hole and saw a landscape like the one behind our house, uncared for and wild. I moved back a few steps, because I sensed vaguely that something was about to happen. All of a sudden a hand appeared – a tiny hand of a boy about my own age. By the time I came close again the hand was gone and in its place there was a marvellous white toy sheep.
The sheep’s wool was faded. Its wheels had escaped. All of this only made it more authentic. I had never seen such a wonderful sheep. I looked back through the hole and the boy had disappeared. I went into the house and brought out a treasure of my own: a pine cone, opened, full of odour and resin, which I adored. I set it down in the same spot and went off with the sheep. I never saw either the hand or the boy again. And I have never seen a sheep like that either. The toy I finally lost in a fire. But even now when I pass a toyshop, I look furtively into the window. It’s no use. They don’t make sheep like that any more.”
“This exchange of gifts – mysterious – settled deep inside me like a sedimentary deposit,” Neruda once said. And he associates the exchange with his poetry. “I have been a lucky man. To feel the intimacy of brothers is a marvellous thing in life. To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and our solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses – this is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.
That exchange brought home to me for the first time a precious idea: that all humanity is somehow together. It won’t surprise you, then, that I have attempted to give something resiny, earth-like and fragrant in exchange for human brotherhood …..
This is the great lesson I learned in my childhood, in the back yard of a lonely house. Maybe it was nothing but a game two boys played who didn’t know each other and wanted to pass to the other some good things of life. Yet maybe this small and mysterious exchange of gifts remained inside me also, deep and indestructible, giving my poetry light.”
I’ve been a lucky woman too. Strangers and acquaintances, physical and virtual, of the present and the past are friends. We exchange some ‘good things of life’ while trying of make something good of the not-so-good things of life.
I am grateful for you and for the light you bring.