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Spain in the Heart: Hymn to the Glories of the People at War.

Pablo Neruda had travelled throughout the world with the Chilean diplomatic corps when he became consul in Madrid before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. There he met with leading Spanish poets of the day - Garcia Lorca, Alberti, Aleixandre - with whom he collaborated on a magazine called Caballo Verde para la Poesia. When the War broke out, Neruda, like most of the other leading intellectuals then in Spain, sided with the Republicans. He moved to Paris and worked tirelessly to help Spanish refugess, even managing to send a group of them to Chile. Spain in the heart, written in 1937, is a vehement condemnation of fascism and a tribute to the people of Spain who struggled against tyranny. In it Neruda departs from the surrealist obscurantism that characterized much of his earlier verse and expresses clearly his solidarity with the masses.

In a recent speech at the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C., long-time Neruda translator Alastair Reid expounded on the difficulties of interpreting the poetry of the Chilean Nobel laureate in English. As exact translation of the words would fail to convey the richness of the verse, he explained, because English is too clipped to capture Neruda's musicality. Furthermore, Neruda's exquisite images of exotic places are sometimes perplexing for North American readers unfamiliar with the realities he describes. Neruda, said Reid, did not expect him to translate his verses word for word, but to "make them better," Thus, it is up to the translator to enhance the work, to make it intelligible and meaningful for foreign readers, to capture its tone, rhythm and melody, and yet to harness his own creativity so that he remains appropriately in the background.

Spain in the Heart presents particular obstacles, for it refers to events that occurred more than fifty years ago, when fascism and communism were on the rise and the Spanish Civil War was seen by many as a prelude to the inevitable clash between these two titanic forces. The political panorama has changed radically since then, but Neruda's verses, which depict the struggles and dreams of simple, rugged, earthy people, still move us.

In spite of the difficulties, Richard Schaaf has done a beautiful job of interpreting Spain in the Heart for the English-speaking reader. Neruda's original verses transcend the limits of the historical moment by appealing to our innate desire to be free. His use of natural images taken from the mineral and vegetable worlds, his enumeration of the artifacts of daily life (bells, clocks), and his personification of the Spanish countryside create a sense of unity between man and his surroundings a sense of wholeness, that is suddenly shattered by cruel and unnatural forces. Schaaf deftly recreates Neruda's vivid imaged, conveying the same intensity as the poet. His lines from "Como era Espana," for example, portray the rough, arid Spanish landscape torn by war: "Spain was taut and lean, a diurnal/drum of darkest sound,/barren plains and eagle's nest, the silence/of a scourged inclemency." In many cases Schaaf even succeeds in duplicating Neruda's phrasing and cadence, imbuing the English verses with the same vitality and force as the original.

The introduction by Leonard Lamb, a veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, provides historical context, while the Foreword by Fernando Alegria describes Neruda's role as poet-witness to one of the most brutal episodes in twentieth-century history. The Afterword by Marjorie Agosin highlights Neruda's major themes and stresses their relevance to today's reader.
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Author:Mujica, Barbara
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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