You want an oracle? Consult Neruda. This morning, I was mulling over a very persuasive argument against hope from the latest issue of Orion magazine. If hope is counter-productive, I wondered, what will take its place? I opened The Book of Questions at random, and read:
Se convierte en pez volador
si transmigra la mariposa?
Which William O’Daly translates as:
If the butterfly transmogrifies
does it turn into a flying fish?
Though I think transmigra actually means transmigrate, i.e. reincarnate.
If hope isn’t to be trusted, what about other religious or quasi-religious impulses? For example, what about faith, belief, or simply trust in the universe? Let us consult El libro de las preguntas once again.
No te engañó la primavera
con besos que no florecieron?
Did spring never deceive you
with kisses that never blossom?
It occurs to me that Bible doesn’t say that hope or faith are essential to understanding. Instead, fear or awe are held to be the beginning of wisdom. To most contemporary North Americans, fear is without any virtue; we like to quote Roosevelt — “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” But let me put it to Neruda.
Tendré mi olor y mis dolores
cuando yo duerma destruido?
Will I have my smell and my pain
when, destroyed, I go on sleeping?
I think about the dour ending of the book of Proverbs, with its magnificent (and often mis-translated) poem about the ruined face in old age. I can never make up my mind whether or not tragedy or sorrow have anything in common and wisdom. It often feels as though laughter is the only sane response to the slings and arrows of outrageous whatever. What say you, Pablo?
Por que razón o sinrazón
llora la lluvia su alegría?
By what reason or injustice
does the rain weep its joy?
But perhaps this is an abuse of Neruda’s poetry. He was, after all, a committed atheist, so presumably he wouldn’t think much of bibliomancy. Would he?
Dónde puede vivir un ciego
a quien persiguen las abejas?
Where can a blind man live
who is pursued by bees?