The Word by Pablo Neruda


The word

was born in the blood,

grew in the dark body, beating,

and took flight through the lips and the mouth.


Farther away and nearer

still, still it came

from dead fathers and from wandering races,

from lands which had turned to stone,

lands weary of their poor tribes,

for when grief took to the roads

the people set out and arrived

and married new land and water

to grow their words again.

And so this is the inheritance;

this is the wavelength which connects us

with dead men and the dawning

of new beings not yet come to light.


Still the atmosphere quivers

with the first word uttered

dressed up

in terror and sighing.

It emerged

from the darkness

and until now there is no thunder

that ever rumbles with the iron voice

of that word,

the first

word uttered—

perhaps it was only a ripple, a single drop,

and yet its great cataract falls and falls.


Later on, the word fills with meaning.

Always with child, it filled up with lives.

Everything was births and sounds—

affirmation, clarity, strength,

negation, destruction, death—

the verb wook over all the power

and blended existence with essence

in the electricity of its grace.


Human word, syllable, flank

of extending light and solid silverwork,

hereditary goblet which receives

the communications of the blood—

here is where silence came together with

the wholeness of the human word,

and, for human beings, not to speak is to die—

language extends even to the hair,

the mouth speaks without the lips moving,

all of a sudden, the eyes are words.


I take the word and pass it through my senses

as though it were no more than a human shape;

its arrangements awe me and I find my way

through each resonance of the spoken word—

I utter and I am and, speechless, I approach

across the edge of words silence itself.


I drink to the word, raising

A word or a shining cup;

in it I drink

the pure wine of language

or inexhaustible water,

maternal source of words,

and cup and water and wine

give rise to my song

because the verb is the source

and vivid life—it is blood,

blood which expresses its substance

and so ordains its own unwinding.

Words give glass quality to glass, blood to blood,

and life to life itself.


                                —Pablo Neruda (translated by Alastair Reid)


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