Translated from Neruda’s native Spanish, and originally entitled “Si Tu Me Olvidas”, the poem is from Neruda’s “The Captain’s Verses” collection. Although often thought to be dedicated to his wife, Matilde Urrutia, it is in actual fact about Neruda’s exile from his homeland, Chile. The poem consists of seven stanzas, all of unequal length, just as Denny Bradbury’s poem “So Grey the Sea” from her new collection “De-Versify”in which she talks of journeying back home, consists of thirteen stanzas of very differing length:
“…They’re dead and gone
But me, I’m here
No one will take
I won’t go back to
Where I’m from
It’s in the city
In the first stanza of Neruda’s poem, he states “I want you to know one thing”, indicating that whatever he has to relay in the rest of the poem is something of importance and encourages the reader to continue reading.
The second stanza explains how he feels about his native Chile and in the first line “You know how this is” he is stating that he knows the situation will be understood.
“..if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you”…
Neruda is explaining to the reader how, whether he lives in danger or in peace, whenever he is abroad he is always thinking of his homeland. Neruda lived in Spain during the Spanish civil war and adopted an active role that meant he suffered as a result. From 1927-1935 he conducted many important government tasks that required him to travel around the world but, whenever he was recalled to Chile he went back to where he belonged with no hesitation. Just as Denny Bradbury in her poem “Belonging” talks of how “Belonging is cocooning, it makes us feel alive “Neruda felt he belonged in Chile.
Unfortunately, the situation turned sour and when Neruda actively opposed President Gonzalez Videla in his capacity as a member of the Chilean Communist party, he was forced into hiding, which, as he tells his reader in the third stanza, meant his affection for his country waned, the greater the hostility he endured:
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.”
A warrant was put out for his arrest and in the fifth stanza he describes his period of exile, when he escaped from Chile in 1949:
“..and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
that on that day,
at that hour
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.”
Neruda felt his country was too dangerous, that his roots were planted in old Chile, not in the new regime, that he was no longer appreciated and the hostility was too great for him to do anything but begin again elsewhere.
He finally returned three years later in 1952, the year the poem was written and by his words in the final stanza, he shows true forgiveness:
“..in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine”
Neruda remained in Chile for the rest of his life until he died of heart failure in 1973, being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature two years prior.