Absence and presence

Here’s a beautiful Pablo Neruda poem I heard for the first time this weekend at a friend’s literary gathering in Sydney. It’s an untitled work from the volume Absence and Presence, translated by Alastair Reid and featuring photographs by Luis Poirot, which was published by Norton in 1990.

I love the audacity of this poem, its challenge for those who live with loss to cast off melancholy, and its suggestion that the suffering of the living is like a second death for the one who is absent. A timely reminder for all of us, certainly for me. For those readers of my book who have written to me recently, perhapsĀ this poem will help. I thank you for sharing your thoughts and wish you well.

If I die, survive me with such sheer force
that you waken the furies of the pallid and the cold,
from south to south lift your indelible eyes,
from sun to sun dream through your singing mouth.
I don’t want your laughter or your steps to waver,
I don’t want my heritage of joy to die.
Don’t call up my person. I am absent.
Live in my absence as if in a house.
Absence is a house so vast
that inside you will pass through its walls
and hang pictures on the air.
Absence is a house so transparent
that I, lifeless, will see you, living,
and if you suffer, my love, I will die again.

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