This past Wednesday was the anniversary of the death of Pablo Neruda, September 23, 1973. Acknowledging his passing, crowding the streets with countless spontaneous funerals became the first public acts of defiance against the murderous Pinochet regime. Many of Neruda's friends, including the freely elected president, Salvador Allende, and the poet-singer Victor Jara, died during the coup or shortly after. Moribund with cancer, Neruda succumbed to heart failure, this act a final mute goodbye to the justice he had spent his life trying to make from verse.
Farewell to a poet who mattered
To more than poets,
To more than this school
Or that school,
To the surrealists
Or the imagists
But also to the smallest and most spiritual birds
And banana leaves
Brooding under the sweetest weight .
And the mountains whose job it was
To make distance out of so much air
Farewell to a poet of conscience,
To a poetic consciousness
Of the world,
To a world of poetry
And a poetic world.
Farewell to a necessary poet,
And a poetics of necessity,
Of wheel ruts yearning for rain water
And hospital lobbies for the whir of fans
And the faint noise of children
Kicking the same white blur in a fallow lot.
Farewell to a needless time, to a people armed with grief,
To men begging to resist death
With death, to women like palm trees
Lining the avenues in a parade
Of irresistible bending
Giving birth to hard and nagging fruit,
Mothers of bullets and indescribable caves
Of plazas and placards asking
The years about the vanished names
Farewell to all that desperate memory
Of disallowed words
To all the erased and burned
But necessary poetry,
That cannot be lived without,
That cannot be bid farewell.