If You Forget Me by Pablo Neruda

‘Bout the bard-

Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto, born July 12th, year 1904,
deceased on September 23rd, 1973. The man who first adopted the name for the sake of the page, and then assumed it with all legal formalities.  The man known as Pablo Neruda. The winner of the Noble Prize for Literature in the year 1971.

As a poet alone, he played many parts. From being a child prodigy at ten, popular as Pablo Neruda,  while still in his teens, a dirty lover to many, a chronicler of historic epics, a capable communist and a prosaic self portraitist, among others. The words of the bard however, ofttimes came down in green ink, which was his characteristic representation of longing and promise.

The year 1948 saw the then Chilean president Gabriel González Videla, abolish communism in the country. Neruda, who was then a member of the senate on behalf of the Chilean Communist Party, had an arrest warrant issued in his name. A period when the poet was expatriated from his home country. An important event, in an individual’s life, no matter how ephemeral or prolonged the period of exile is.


The Song’s Tale-

As per most expectations, it was during this period that Neruda composed the verses the we shall hereupon discuss.   If You Forget Me, what necessity would translate it as. Si Tu Me Olvida, as would have had Neruda made it sound in Spanish  The piece may be looked upon as an intonated address by the poet, to his beloved country. As it is perhaps with every communist,  patriotism is rubbed upon duty free. Yet, as so often it is with a practitioner of poetry, they would always have a lover for an alibi. At the time the verse was composed, the poet was in matrimony to Delia del Carril, an Argentine writer in her own rights.  Yet the poem is believed to be  addressed towards lady, Matilde Urrutia, who was at that time a lover to the poet, and later would go onto marry him.

While translation leaves us paralyzed. There is only as much of it we could comprehend, and consider the rest to be bitter cost. For the reader in the other language would never come to know the subtle nuances of dialogue, like lifting iron, or iron been lifted. And, more so in case of Neruda, who remains to be one of the most difficult to translate authors of his language. This is the reason why only a minuscule section of the author’s body of work is available for readers in English.


A few English translations of the piece in discussion may be chanced upon, on the internet.  Yet as it is with poetry so often, that all is not dependent on the arrangement of the words, as a lot of it is taken care of in the essence of it. So in this case there is the crystal moon,  and the slow autumn, the impalpable ash, and to be beheld,  the wrinkled body of the log.
Among necessary ingredients that constitute poetry, could be considered abstraction. Abstraction as a process of preoccupation, as a mode of conception. Abstraction as a form of art itself. The same the poet utilizes, in this case to the fullest of his potential. Certain parallels could be drawn in between the state of the author emotionally, and that of Homer’s Odysseus. In the lines which speak of sailing across metaphorical dividing expanses. Sound, sight and touch disintegrated like humble vessels, lost on the ocean, intended to be bound towards the island where the lover awaits.

The entire body of the piece is a straight dialogue to the lover. What if she walks away, what if she decides to come back. What of the love, what of heart. What of the quest of the heart, and those of the lips of the lover. What of the familiar shores which holds back the heart. The heart devoid of love, would it not go looking out. What of the fire, how long shall last the fuel, the implacable sweetness of destiny. How do each end up with their arms. How every measured step either drive the lovers apart, or bring them ever so close together Thus spake the poet.  Such were the lines.

Please find below a reading of the piece done by Madonna.


One reply to “If You Forget Me by Pablo Neruda

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