“..Death tears away the veil from all our secrets, our shifty dodges and intrigues.” – Dostoevsky, Mr. Prohartchin
Taiwushan Cemetery, Kinmen, Taiwan
Death can’t reveal all of our secrets, because some of them we carry to our graves. But death can literally reveal what we keep hidden underneath our clothes; when we die (if our bodies are intact) then our bodies become mere objects seen quite objectively by doctors, nurses and embalmers, all strangers to our bodies. But of course one can rationalize this and say, “Who cares? The dead don’t.”
Perhaps people will say I overthink things when I say this, but I feel nothing but compassion for sick people in hospitals and how their bodies become merely like an object that the healthy can just point to or talk about as if it is lifeless. I felt this the first time I saw my mother being given a sponge bath by my sister. I felt this as I stood next to my mother’s bed as she lay there in pain, while the nurses were changing her clothes. I witnessed the indignity of aging, and it made me feel so so sorry for us, human beings.
Hopefully one day we won’t have to deal with incontinence, hip fractures, loss of mobility, etc. and just go quietly with dignity intact.
She silently knits,
As he sips his coffee,
Both sitting quietly
Next to each other.
Buddies in youth,
Partners for life,
Living their years
Side by side.
But in the evening, young people (call them adventurous or foolish) still walk or sit on this decrepit boarded path.
When you’re young, you tend to think you’re invincible. You tend to ignore danger.
But when you’re no longer young, you can’t afford to ignore it.
Have a lovely week!
Don’t go far off, not even for a day, because —
because — I don’t know how to say it: a day is long
and I will be waiting for you, as in an empty station
when the trains are parked off somewhere else, asleep.
I like the hesitation expressed in the repetition of “because,” as it seems the speaker seems unsure whether the reason he is going to give for asking the other person not to go too far even for a day, would be reasonable enough for the latter. And to me, he succeeded in sounding convincing with his use of the imagery of the empty train station – empty of not only people, but of the trains as well as they are “parked off somewhere else, asleep.” This last line of the first stanza emphasizes his feeling of emptiness – everyone and everything else has gone and they are asleep (not dead, just having a rest), which I think signals what the speaker himself is going through (revealed in the last line of the last stanza.)
Don’t leave me, even for an hour, because
then the little drops of anguish will all run together,
the smoke that roams looking for a home will drift
into me, choking my lost heart.
His demand not to be left alone becomes urgent as he argues even an hour would be too long. He knows himself and knows that slowly but surely anguish will come in full force. I think “smoke” here refers to fear that can overwhelm a person and make one’s heart rate grow faster thus “choking my lost heart.”
Oh, may your silhouette never dissolve on the beach;
may your eyelids never flutter into the empty distance.
Don’t leave me for a second, my dearest,
Whereas in the first and second stanzas, he gives reasons for not wanting the other to leave him (he will be waiting, feeling empty; he will be full of anguish and be heartbroken), in the third stanza, he reveals further that he is not only thinking of physical distance, but emotional as well – “may your eyelids never flutter into the empty distance.” These words show the total dependence of the speaker to the other person. He never wants to lose sight of this person (“Oh, may your silhouette never dissolve on the beach;”), nor to have this person not being in the present with him. From not being able to be without this person for a day, then for an hour, then for a second, the speaker obviously relies heavily on the other person for his existence.
because in that moment you’ll have gone so far
I’ll wander mazily over all the earth, asking,
Will you come back? Will you leave me here, dying?
Normally, I would be very cynical about people being too dependent on other people, emotionally. But I totally understand that certain people like the elderly and young children, and people with certain developmental disorders cannot help being so. And this is how I see the speaker of this poem. He is not a young and healthy man in the best years of his life. Rather he is old, and nearing his end and fears dying alone. This is not a man speaking to his lover, but a mere human being asking the one he trusts not to leave him, physically and emotionally.
This is not a love poem.
A couple of times, I have heard old men, who when they were young, were once brave soldiers and then, stern fathers; but, as they became old and frail, they became fearful of being left alone, begging their children not to leave them. This, I find extremely sad.
This is perhaps the saddest Neruda poem I have ever read.
Here’s the Spanish version (probably the original)
“No lejos de mí un solo día”
No estés lejos de mí un solo día, porque cómo,
porque, no sé decirlo, es largo el día,
y te estaré esperando como en las estaciones
cuando en alguna parte se durmieron los trenes.
No te vayas por una hora porque entonces
en esa hora se juntan las gotas del desvelo
y tal vez todo el humo que anda buscando casa
venga a matar aún mi corazón perdido.
Ay que no se quebrante tu silueta en la arena,
ay que no vuelen tus párpados en la ausencia:
no te vayas por un minuto, bienamada,
porque en ese minuto te habrás ido tan lejos
que yo cruzaré toda la tierra preguntando
si volverás o si me dejarás muriendo.
You stared blankly into space
As if looking at something
That only you could see.
Then you opened your mouth to speak
About old friends and the fun times you had with them
And how there was only peace among everyone
You said you wanted to go back to the old house
With the people you say were your real friends.
We wish we could give you what you want.
But the house has been gone for over half a century
And your friends’ tombstones have even faded
I wiped a tear away as I felt I was no longer in your memory.
But I braved myself to ask, “Do you know who I am?”
You turned to look at me and softly said my name,
And added, “My dearest child.”