The 23 Poems Challenge- Poem #1

In the wee hours of 15th November this year, I would have breathed in this world for 23 years. And while the laugh lines around my mouth and the occasional appearance of grey strands do support the very fact, my soul is still puerile. I feel younger than I have before, and I do not mean this in a I-have-discovered-the-cure-to-ageism-kind-of-way, but that the more I see the world, the more I feel that I know nothing and have done nothing worth priding over. There really are miles to go before I breathe, let alone sleep.

I don’t know why but I’ve always found something magical about the number 23. (Maybe because it was Nathan Scott’s jersey number?) So to imbibe this feeling of equal amounts of dread and quintessential enthusiasm, I have decided to read 23 poems before I turn 23 and write about each and every one of them here. A fair warning to all ye who enter, what I write here will be based purely on how I see the world, and not how the world sees the world. I can guarantee there will be plenty who would disagree with my perception, but I in all honesty couldn’t care less how politically incorrect I am. Even the poets of the poems themselves can rise from their graves and chastise me, but I will not accept that my analysis is wrong because that is the very reason I am in utter incandescent love with poetry: the beauty of the words lies totally in the eyes and minds of the beholder.

Poem number 1

How could I even think of poetry without thinking about the man who made me fall in love with words. His words. So, I have decided to begin this sojourn with my beloved poet and my spirit guide incarnate, Pablo Neruda‘s poem I Like For You To Be Still.

The Poem:

I like for you to be still
It is as though you are absent
And you hear me from far away
And my voice does not touch you
It seems as though your eyes had flown away
And it seems that a kiss had sealed your mouth
As all things are filled with my soul
You emerge from the things
Filled with my soul
You are like my soul
A butterfly of dream
And you are like the word: Melancholy

I like for you to be still
And you seem far away
It sounds as though you are lamenting
A butterfly cooing like a dove
And you hear me from far away
And my voice does not reach you
Let me come to be still in your silence
And let me talk to you with your silence
That is bright as a lamp
Simple, as a ring
You are like the night
With its stillness and constellations
Your silence is that of a star
As remote and candid

I like for you to be still
It is as though you are absent
Distant and full of sorrow
So you would’ve died
One word then, One smile is enough
And I’m happy;
Happy that it’s not true

My Thoughts:

I’m reading this poem from Pablo Neruda’s book, which is one of my most treasured possessions. The book ‘Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair’ is a beacon in the darkness of my life and it has got me through some rough times. Only the caressed pages of this book know my deepest sorrows and the taste of my tears.

For me, this poem encompasses the sorrow and pain that is felt when the love of your life is going through storm and thunder and all you can do is sit and watch. Pablo, rather than jumping into the fray and interfering in her life, wants to imbibe the peacefulness of her silence. He sees beauty in her struggle and respects her decision to deal with the demons of her life on her own. He respects her independence and accepts this dark shade of her character, which is exactly what I believe love is: it is embracing the bad and the ugly, and not just the pretty hills, the blue skies and the pastures shinning green in the never ending sunshine. The sunshine will end someday and night will fall; it is what you do during the darkness that determines the strength of any relationship, whether romantic or platonic.

To paraphrase Neruda, he rather feeling deserted likes it when the woman he loves is silent and far off because she is dealing with the troubles of her life. Rather being a damsel in distress and wanting Pablo to save her, she is the sort of person to prefers to suffer in silence. He understands her and he understands and accepts this, although it breaks his heart to see her suffer alone. He feels as if his words cannot reach her soul because her eyes seem lost and she is utterly silent and distant.

Neruda feels that if his soul was filled into cups and saucers and the world itself, she will emerge from all those things because she is his soul. He channelizes the beauty of her silence and turns it into a metaphor: she is as silent and beautiful as a butterfly in a dream. I think he refers to a dreamĀ because her silence and suffering is temporary and, with time, will be long forgotten. He thinks she is like the word melancholy, sad and beautiful and peaceful all at the same time. (This is how I feel when I think of the word ‘Melancholy’)

What moves my soul is Neruda asking to be silent with her, to be a partner in her suffering rather than plunging into her battle or leaving her in this dark time. He values her bravery so much that he compares her to the stillness of the stars in the darkness. He calls her candid, because rather than pretending that everything is alright with her, she is showing her true self to him. From experience, most people leave when you bare your soul and show your true self to them but Neruda glorifies her struggle. She is a mess and he embraces and accepts that mess.

She grows so silent and distant at one point that Neruda feels that he has lost her forever. Maybe she has left him. Her aloofness and distance makes him feel that she does not exist in this world anymore. But she does come back to him, maybe just by saying a word or smiling at him and all is right in his world again.

This is exactly the kind of love I pray to find, because I identify with the woman Neruda is in love with. I’ve become so used to fighting my battles on my own, mostly without allies, that being a lone warrior is all I know. I would feel cramped and suffocated if someone tried to interfere in my life and my problems. I detest being the damsel in distress. But having someone to stand with you rather than fight for you is the most beautiful expression of love and this poem melts my heart. It takes bravery to deal with the mess of another human soul and Neruda captures that beautifully. To be comfortable in each other’s silence is a sign of true love and that is what I hope for someday.

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