Friday, May 02, 2008

There was Neruda

Then I heard a faint sound, as if someone were crawling over the terrace. My curiosity piqued, I opened the French doors and went out. The air was even colder than before, and there was no one on the terrace, but in the garden I could make out an oblong-shaped shadow like a coffin, heading towards a sort of pergola, a Greek folly built to Farewell's orders, next to a strange equestrian statue, about forty centimetres high, made of bronze, and perched on a porphyry pedestal in such a way that it seemed to be eternally emerging from the pergola. The moon stood out clearly against a cloudless sky. My cassock fluttered in the wind. Boldly I advanced towards the place where the shadowy figure had hidden. There he was, next to Farewell's equestrian fantasy. His back was turned. He was wearing a velvet jacket and a scarf and a narrow-brimmed hat tipped back on his head, and he was softly intoning words that can only have been meant for the moon. I froze in a posture like that of the statue, with my left foot off the ground. It was Neruda. I don't know what happened next. There was Neruda and there a few metres behind him was I, and, between us, the night, the moon, the equestrian statue, Chilean plants, Chilean wood, the obscure dignity of our land. I bet the wizened youth has no stories like this to tell. He didn't meet Neruda. He hasn't met any of our Republic's major writers in a setting as elemental as the one I have just described. What does it matter what happened before and after? There was Neruda reciting verses to the moon, addressing the minerals of the earth, and the stars, whose nature we can only know by intuition. There I was, shivering with cold in my cassock, which of a sudden felt several sizes too big, like a cathedral in which I was living naked and open-eyed. There was Neruda murmuring words I could not quite understand, but whose essential nature spoke to me deeply from the very first moment. And there was I, tears in my eyes, a poor clergyman lost in the immensity of our land, thirstily drinking in the words of our most sublime poet. And I ask myself now, propped up on my elbow: Has the wizened youth ever had an experience like that? I ask myself seriously: Has he ever in all his days experienced anything like that?

— from By Night in Chile, by Roberto Bolaño.

Darby M Dixon III said it about another novel, but it holds true here: "I realize that I'm reading a book in large part about a society or a people in which poetry is absolutely vital and that I can not imagine this novel being written in America, by an American, about America." I don't know how I feel about that either.

I'm about a third of the way into this novella, my second foray into Bolaño's work, and I promise you there will be more.

It's breathtaking, leaves me breathless, I've said this before of his stories, this hypnotic, driving rhythm that leaves me gasping, it's so honest and passionate. Kind of a similar feeling to what I remember from Hopscotch. Only I'm older and wiser now, and maybe I get it a little better, which makes things all the more happy-and-sad-together than they ever were.

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