Quote of the Day: Pablo Neruda on Water

Born in Chile, in 1904, Pablo Neruda remains one of the most impactful and much-loved poets of contemporary times. This poet’s appeal isn’t exclusive to age or race but remains relevant and inclusive in its appeal. He captured the hearts of his readers with his liquid verse and magnetic appeal.

Drunk with pines and long kisses,
like summer I steer the fast sail of the roses,
bent towards the death of the thin day,
stuck into my solid marine madness.

Drunk With Pines, Pablo Neruda from Twenty Love Poems and A Song of Despair

Origins of the Quote

“Drunk with Pines” is the ninth poem from his anthology ‘Viente Poemas de Amor y una Cancion Desesperada’ (1924).  It was authored by Neruda when he was a young man, just out of his teen years. The collection was his heart’s expression after the conclusion of a love affair. Neruda was plagued with loneliness for the longest time.

Losing his mother a month after he was born, raised by a father who severely discouraged his literary passions. Neruda, who went by Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, rechristened himself such that he could write and publish under a pseudonym. The poet in him sought an outlet at all costs.

Neruda’s affinity to the poetry of water remains to be excavated and discovered. Water, whether it is contained or fiercely flowing; in the realm of the sea or pond, signifies a mortal transformation. It may death for some, a passing, but not so for Neruda.

Early Encouragement

The encouragement, that monumental push he received from the principal of the Temuco Girls’ School he read at, saw him through. Gabriela Mistral was undoubtedly an important catalyst to his career. Mistral would be a Nobel Laureate in the years to follow before Neruda himself claimed the Nobel in 1971. Mistral recognised talent immediately. For a boy aged ten, he had a unique vision and purpose. His journey would be circuitous. But once on his way, Pablo never looked back. His writing became stronger and blossomed.

Possessing great observation skills, he applied this to his writing. The thing that makes a Neruda poem so, is the striking imagery. His words conjure up worlds and scenes in the imagination. The result is often paradoxical, evocative and mysterious. It is almost as though that Neruda doesn’t want to be understood. At least not all at once.

Neruda offers a drama of ‘marine madness’, of an ‘aquatic passion’ that is suffered before it transcends. He puts us into the midst of the sea-change. At first, he keeps us in the curl of the wave and then and then lets us deeper under the surface. There is plenty of depth here. It is not allegorical only, but somewhat spiritual for the artist of words. The intensity of longing that informs the vivid imagery makes this volume particularly popular.

The Person Behind The Words : Neruda & Poetry

After losing his mother, Neruda’s father remarried. The young boy was free to roam and gather the experiences from the city that they lived in – Temuco. Writing, especially poetry attracted Neruda. The ability to transmute ideas to words that flow back as idea was fascinating.

From being a locally published poet, Neruda became widely published. He was headed for greater heights. 1921 saw him move to Chile as a French teacher. As he immersed himself in the language of love, which was elusive and demonstrative at once. This helped to develop greater depth in his writing. Many confuse him as a Spanish poet and Neruda doesn’t clarify. Because his words, like water, cannot be reigned in. Only experienced. His subtle, elegant, and romantic verse is inimitable. He employs the entire gamut of human emotion with his verse.

Some Final Thoughts

The poem is representative of the ebb and flow of his relationship before it crashed. Gradually the poem, like a river, gathers speed and intensity. Whether there is a surfer, or a swimmer, who the poet envisioned – he is one with the water.

In a classic Neruda-esque fashion, he deflects the readers from the construction and allows them to journey into the heart of the emotion. The boundaries of poetic rules dissolve. On returning to the page – one realises that it is with uncommon adroitness, he has worked the syntaxes, meanings, and words to tell his story. As time went by and his verse matured, this would become his hallmark. His control on the thought was remarkable- such that he could mould the word to fit his thought, every time.


Check out our Quote of the Day archive where we bring you quotes hand picked by me, Divvya Nirula. Sharing the stories, people, moments behind the inspiration and thought provoking words.