from Ode to the violin in California by Pablo Neruda

I sought that violin in the night.
I searched street by pitch-black street,
went house by weathered house,
star by star.
It faded
and fell silent
then suddenly surged,
. . . . . . . . . . .a flare
in the brackish night.
It was a pattern of incendiary sound,
a spiral of musical contours,
and I went on searching
street by street
for the dark violin’s
lifeline,
the source submerged in silence.
Finally, there
he was,
at the entrance to a bar:
a man and his
. . . . . .hungry violin.

The last drunk
weaved homeward
to a bunk on board a ship,
and violated tables
shrugged off empty glasses.
Nobody was left waiting,
and nobody was on the way.
The wine had left for home,
the beer was sound asleep,
and in the doorway
soared
the violin with its ragged
companion,
it soared
over the lonely night,
on a solitary scale
sounding of silver and complaint,
a single theme that wrung
. . . . . . . . . . .from the sky
wandering fire, comets, and troubadors,
and I played my violin,
half asleep,
held fast in the estuary’s
mouth, the strings
giving birth to those desolate
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .cries,
the wood worn smooth
by the plunging of many fingers.
I honored the smoothness, the feel
of a perfect instrument, perfectly assembled.
That hungry man’s violin
was like family to me,
like kin,
and not just because of its sound,
not just because it raised
its howling
to the angry stars,
no: because it had grown up
learning
how to befriend lost souls
and sing songs to wandering strangers.

translated by Ken Krabbenhoft

10 thoughts on “from Ode to the violin in California by Pablo Neruda

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