The Captain’s Reverses

This entry is part 14 of 29 in the series Conversari


after Pablo Neruda

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In you the earth, murmurs
the make-believe sailor,
dipping his old-fashioned
straight razor into a bowl
of steamy water. Little rose,
he croons, beginning to feel
that familiar stirring in what
he has always supposed to be
his heart. Tiny and naked
he clutches the razor like a pen,
like his poet’s scalpel—
you have grown, watching
that celebrated moon emerge
from the shaving foam,
its sensuous lips, its ravenous snout.
You are loosed, my love.
You are full and fleshy.
I am all at sea.


Only by becoming an object of love does the woman come into being. Without her male lover, she is “vacía, sin substancia” (“El amor,” LVDC). This portrayal of woman in the texts is sharply juxtaposed with that of the male speaker, who does not depend on the physical presence or the love of the female for his existence. At times, the woman’s absence is even considered preferable, since it allows the male to recreate her in the text, and thus provides him with a heightened level of inspiration.
—Cynthia Duncan, “Reading Against the Grain of Neruda’s Love Poetry: A Feminist Perspective


Thanks to Rachel Rawlins for prompting this with her unexpectedly negative reaction to The Captain’s Verses, which is making me rethink my admiration for Neruda’s love poetry. Thanks also to musician and SoundCloud user Hani Maltos for uploading the music I used and licensing it under the Creative Commons (since I’m too rushed this morning to be able to get permission). I have a video in mind for this, but don’t know if I’ll get a chance to do it before my departure for Chicago tomorrow afternoon. (Incidentally, if you’re going to be at the AWP conference too, please get in touch.)

See Rachel’s photographic response, “A pair of blue eyes.”

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