Girl Lithe and Tawny by Pablo Neruda

PEOPLE: Pablo Neruda, Poems

Pablo Neruda, toward the end of his life, was invited to read in Caracas, Venezuela, in the great national theatre there, and being the icon and the conscience and voice of much of the Latin culture, it was filled with people celebrating him as only can be done in a society that still loves poetry in that way. And he got up and he read, gracious as he was, for quite a long time, and then he said, “Is there anything you’d like to hear?” and someone raised their hand and said, “Would you please read Poem 19 from 20 Love Songs and a Song of Despair?”, and he said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t bring that with me,” and then 400 people stood up and recited that poem to him. And I think, oh, what a culture that is, to have the voice of the poet in the hearts of so many people.  

— Jack Kornfield, in Red Thread, Gold Thread

Here is Neruda’s poem 19 from 20 Love Songs and a Song of Despair

Girl Lithe and Tawny

Girl lithe and tawny, the sun that forms the fruits,
that plumps the grains, that curls seaweeds
filled your body with joy, and your luminous eyes
and your mouth that has the smile of water.

A black yearning sun is braided into the strands 
of your black mane, when you stretch your arms. 
You play with the sun as with a little brook 
and it leaves two dark pools in your eyes. 

Girl lithe and tawny, nothing draws me towards you. 
Everything bears me farther away, as though you were noon. 
You are the frenzied youth of the bee, 
the drunkenness of the wave, the power of the wheat-ear. 

My somber heart searches for you, nevertheless, 
and I love your joyful body, your slender and flowing voice. 
Dark butterfly, sweet and definitive 
like the wheat-field and the sun, the poppy and the water.


Poema 19 


Niña morena y ágil, el sol que hace las frutas, 
el que cuaja los trigos, el que tuerce las algas, 
hizo tu cuerpo alegre, tus luminosos ojos 
y tu boca que tiene la sonrisa del agua. 


Un sol negro y ansioso se te arrolla en las hebras 
de la negra melena, cuando estiras los brazos. 
Tú juegas con el sol como con un estero 
y él te deja en los ojos dos oscuros remansos. 


Niña morena y ágil, nada hacia ti me acerca. 
Todo de ti me aleja, como del mediodía. 
Eres la delirante juventud de la abeja, 
la embriaguez de la ola, la fuerza de la espiga. 


Mi corazón sombrío te busca, sin embargo, 
y amo tu cuerpo alegre, tu voz suelta y delgada. 
Mariposa morena dulce y definitiva, 
como el trigal y el sol, la amapola y el agua.

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