Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair is a collection of poems which was originally written in Spanish language by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. It was first published in 1924 and has been translated into many languages. Neruda was only 19 years old when this collection was released. It is a collection of romantic poems and is controversial for its eroticism but remains the bestselling poetry book in the Spanish language ever, almost 100 years after its first publication.
This collection of poems, first published by Neruda at the age of 19 in 1924, caused something of a scandal because of its frank and intense sexuality: ``I have gone marking the atlas of your body / with crosses of fire. / My mouth went across: a spider, trying to hide. / In you, behind you, timid, driven by thirst.'' It later became one of Neruda's best-loved works, selling two million copies by the 1960s. Why? With image after arresting image, Neruda charts the oceanic movements of passion, repeatedly summoning imagery of the sea and weather: ``On all sides I see your waist of fog, / and your silence hunts down my afflicted hours; / my kisses anchor, and my moist desire nests / in you with your arms of transparent stone.'' As irresistible as the sea, love is engulfing (``You swallowed everything, like distance. / . . . In you everything sank!''), but also departs as mysteriously as it arrived, leaving the poet's heart a ``pit of debris, fierce cave of the shipwrecked.'' These unabashedly romantic poems, wonderfully translated by Merwin, are illustrated in this edition by the paintings of Jan Thompson Dicks with aptly Fauvist tones and iconic formality.
“Something sings, something climbs to my ravenous mouth.”
This was an incredible read. While I wasn’t moved by most of the poems, some of the lines were so powerful I had to pause and read them again and again. Works like these usually lose something when they’re translated, which I think is part of why I couldn’t entirely enjoy the prose. But the themes of love and heartbreak are resonant, and considering this was published almost 100 years ago it’s even more powerful. The sensual, erotic nature of many of the poems are so jarring and yet fit so perfectly. We should talk about sex like this—we should revere and worship that connection.