Believe in possibility of love


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Category: Reflections Date: 19 Feb 98

The wind blew crazily that day. It was cool and overcast, and the light rain looked like mist over the hills. The gentle feel of the day melted the sediments of anger and frustration in my soul and replaced it with tenderness (or was it love) that held in it pangs of sadness. Whatever it was, it felt like healing.


That night I picked up a copy of Pablo Neruda’s (the Chilean poet, revolutionary, ambassador, Nobel Prize winner) 100 Love Sonnets (Cien sonetos de amor) and read them all till two in the morning.


Consider this sonnet:

“O love, how quickly you built a sweet/firmness where the wounds had been!/You fought off the talons and claws, and now/we stand as a single life before the world. That’s how it was, how it is, how it will be,/my wild sweet love, my dearest Matilde,/till time signals us with the day’s last flower:/then there will be no you, no me, no light, and yet beyond the earth, beyond its shadowy dark,/the splendor of our love will be alive.”


Shadow of Death


Neruda was no syrupy romantic. He experienced life’s “talons and claws”. His widely acclaimed talent, many laurels and active political life stoked the fire of envy in many. Even on his death his house was ransacked and vandalised. Like many intelligent poets, he lived with the acute knowledge of the shadow of death over him. But in his poetry he is able to take in the fear of death and conquer it with love.

“I thought I was dying, I felt the cold up close/and knew that from all my life I left only you behind:/my earthly day and night were your mouth,/your skin the republic my kisses founded. In that instant the books stopped,/and friendship, treasures restlessly amassed,/the transparent house that you and I built:/everything dropped away, except your eyes. Because while life harasses us, love is/only a wave taller than the other waves:/but oh, when death comes knocking at the gate,/there is only your glance against so much emptiness,/only your light against extinction,/only your love to shut out the shadows.”


The next evening I encountered a friend who said uncannily: “When I’m depressed, I read Neruda. I find him life affirming.” And lent me his Memoirs. Dipping into Neruda’s Memoirs is to savour a taste of something rich, gratifying, creamy, or gulping oxygen. His voice is generous, large, witty, sensual, brimming with experience, and a massive intelligence. You have to marvel at how much he lived. Despite the “talons and claws”, his life was an unstoppable fire. He loved women and they wept at his feet, succumbed to him with joy. He writes of encounters with Nehru and coal miners, ambassadors, revolutionaries, poets. He never stopped travelling. He is somewhere else on each page, and slides between countries and continents with ease. From the Chilean forest to Paris, to Rangoon, Burma, to Ceylon,and Calcutta, and Singapore. He went to Buenos Aires, Barcelona, Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Caldas, Lima, Cuzco, Arequipa, Florence, Turin, Genoa, Rome, Milan, Russia, Delhi, Brazil, Montevideo, Uruguay, Totoral, Cordaba, Poland, Bulgaria, Rumania, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Helsinki, Peru, England, New York, and on and on, only stopping to die in Chile in Santiago.


His honours and prizes piled up. He collected books and shells, and experience. His stories are surreal, sensual, earthy, but always intense, thoroughly lived. His best revenge against death and detractors was to live life to the fullest. Love, or the lack of it, is the single largest force that drives humanity. Without it, women and men are lonely, children are neglected, bitter words are spoken, wars are begun. The presence of it brings the happiness of kissing your freshly bathed. Or when you have it bad, it gives you tunnel vision, blocks out the rest of the world, leaves you agitated, hyper, confused, dreamy, addicted, dizzy. The battle then is love against death.


Neruda’s poems show that we die many little deaths in our lifetimes. Love, or some of its minor branches, tenderness, pleasure, recognition, a soft breezy day, yielding poui blossoms onto pavements, the suns rays slicing a spray of drizzle, has the power to bring you back to life.


On the day of Vaughn Salandy’s funeral, I was nauseous with the absence of love in this small town called Trinidad. I had just heard and read of crude responses to his death. It’s hard to rise above the harshness of our people. It’s as if life has given us so many blows that to deal with them we have hardened into people who can’t bear other people’s successes, can’t share in sorrow. A people who come out to gawk like monkeys at the sight of the body of a decomposed woman and retreat like half dead people ourselves, into tight bitter shells.


With a heavy heart I drove to the funeral. Perhaps, I thought taking the route he took everyday into Diego Martin, if he lived in a larger country which allowed him some anonymity, a place which placed a premium on being intelligent and sensitive rather than macho, a place where other peoples misfortunes was not gleefully and pleasurably examined, in a death wish (I heard Salandy died when he was still alive. I have been hearing the same about President Robinson.) If he was in a place where he felt comfortable about voicing vulnerability or despair, he may not have done it, been alive, reading the seven o’clock news tonight.


Later in the church grounds a colleague would whisper in my ear: “I hate this country. I think we killed him.” “What happened,” I asked this journalist who had so eagerly showed me this country on my arrival here, “to the way you felt about the colour of pomeracks, doubles in Curepe, to your love of this place?” But he was called away and I never heard the answer.


Standing outside in the damp earth in intermittent rainfall with Andy Johnson I heard some of the service so inevitably and sadly funereal, sepulchral. The church was packed, people were leaning over the balustrade, standing on either side of it, in the large courtyard. People had come in droves to say goodbye. “Do you think he knew how much he was loved?” someone asked. I don’t think so.


They came from Toco, Arima, Laventille, Tunapuna, Chagunas. They came dressed in finery good enough for Buckingham Palace, with their stockings and earrings, gold shoes and best Sunday dresses. They came in their school uniforms. They came with their babies and bottles, in bank uniforms and school uniforms, in executive suits and everyday clothes.


One woman shedding tears was speaking to another, “How you mean I didn’t know him and I crying. But I know him, he was in my living room every night.” A toothless ancient couple from Claxton Bay said, “I feel like I lost a son.” A middle aged woman said, “He had such an innocent, open face, with no arrogance or pride.” Someone else saw his vulnerability, others saw his shyness, still others liked his handsome face. Few came to gawk. Most came because they cared.


Hope and Trust


A stunning woman, costumed in a winged white petticoat and headtie, who looked like she had stepped out of a Gaugain painting, walked amongst us and around us, looking like an apparition. “She represents hope,” Andy said.


I saw my colleagues in the media - Kathleen Maharaj, Wesley Gibbings, Nylah Ali, Joseanne Leonard.  Francesca Hawkins, Tony Frazer, Maxie Cuffie. I caught glimpses of Jones P and Julian Rogers and Liz Solomon and so many other familiar faces. We work in a competitive industry, but in those moments, of a coffin carrying one of us, in the crazy half rain and shine, sorrow and hailing one another out, love came flooding back. At that moment, we were bound together, each conscious of our vulnerability in the level playing field of death. But just then, love had won the battle. The people there demonstrated it.


Amy Tan concludes her novel, The Hundred Secret Senses, with these words (the narrator speaking of her husband): “The petty arguments, snipes and gripes, they still crop up. But it’s easier to remember how unimportant they are, how they shrink the heart and make life small.” (The narrator writing of her dead sister): “I think Kwan intended to show me the world is not a place but the vastness of the soul. And the soul is nothing more than love, limitless, endless, all that moves us toward knowing what is true. I once thought love was supposed to be nothing but bliss. I now know it is also worry and grief, hope and trust. And believing in ghosts - that’s believing that love never dies. If people we love die, then they are lost only to our ordinary senses. If we remember, we can find them anytime with our hundred secret senses.”


This column has meandered from love and Neruda to death and back to love and Neruda. Somebody I love recently told me that sometimes we just have to be grateful when nothing bad happens to us, and be thankful of the pleasure of being able to admire a vast expanse of sunset sky. But how much better if we can achieve more and at the time of our deaths, like Neruda, can look back and say our lives were laden, glutted even, with the ripe fruit of life, that all our experiences, even sorrow and struggle, were done with an unvanquished élan?


Here is Neruda in his Memoirs again to speak to us in a section titled “Broken Glass” written after he came home to find many of his precious objects crushed after an earthquake.

“My last work was a translation of Romeo and Juliet and a long love poem in archaic meter, a poem that was never completed.

“Come on, love poem, get up from among the broken glass, the time to sing has come. Help me, love poem, to make things whole again, to sing in spite of pain. It’s true that the world does not cleanse itself of wars, does not wash off the blood, does not get over its hate. It’s true. Yet it is equally true that we are moving toward a realisation: the violent ones are reflected in the mirror of the world. And their faces are not pleasant to look at, not even to themselves. And I go on believing in the possibility of love. I am convinced that there will be mutual understanding among human beings, achieved in spite of all the suffering, the blood, the broken glass,”

Pablo Neruda, Memoirs.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur