This is a Latinx Heritage Month Feature Book.
This collection of poetry was one of the eight unpublished manuscripts found in Pablo Neruda’s home after he passed away in 1973. I have mixed feelings about manuscripts published posthumously. Were we (the public) ever suppose to see these writings? Were these writings so private Neruda never planned to share them? These are questions we will never have the answers to but we do have wide access to these manuscripts. I read this collection of poetry almost exactly two years ago when I still lived in Seattle, WA. Now living near Boston, MA, I picked up this collection of poetry, both in English and in Spanish (side by side) to experience the intimate words of Neruda, as he talks about love, solitude, nature, politics, passions, and home. As with any translation, I am skeptical that the true feeling and meaning made it through the translation process – in particular poetry. Despite what might have been lost, Winter Garden is a beautiful collection, full of deep and meaningful poems. I found it challenging to write about the entire collection and I have finally landed on talking briefly about the poems that stood out to me.
The collection opens with The Egoist. As one of the longer poems in the collection, Neruda talks about (in my interpretation) isolation in terms of a garden and of winter. He asks powerful questions like, “What can I do if…the thorn guided me to the pain of so many others?” and “Should I beg forgiveness for this winter?” For me, this framed where Neruda was coming from when writing these poems and invites the reader in the share in his experiences and to struggle with the same questions.
This poem was the next in the collection that I found powerful. In this poem, Neruda talks of religion and atrocities. To me, it seems like Neruda was writing about how the names of the saviors have been used and overused and leaned upon and not fully understood. Yet, those names are still revered and still lifted up.
The Ocean Calls
The ocean was a common theme in Neruda’s work. In this poem, he uses the ocean as a metaphor for liberation and talks about his current state about being a shut in and not being able to visit the ocean in his motherland. When reading this poem, it seems to me he was far away from home without a means to come back (most likely in France). Neruda even talks about the sea where he is as the “unknown sea,” but it is not the same for him. I think the metaphor is a powerful one, exploring the depths of liberation and home.
This poem made me laugh. An elegant bird in Normandy discovers Neruda and is enamored, scared, nervous, and questioning about what this gigantic creature is. The bird is determined to figure out this mystery which is Neruda, until the bird sees a grain or worm and hops away, abandoning the mystery of this human. This poem had a different feel and stood out to me, not just as an observation of a bird, but as a statement about abandoning the questioning of mysteries.
A Dog Has Died
This poem on the surface is about Neruda’s dog who passed away. Neruda writes from a place of reflection about his dog’s life and also from the inevitability of death. The poem is not about grief but about a celebration of life for a companion that served Neruda unconditionally. Neruda ends the poem with a direct statement of finality: “He has gone and I buried him, and that was all.”
Finally the collection closes with The Star. In my opinion, this was the perfect short poem to provide closure. Powerful, layered with meaning, using the ocean and coast as powerful metaphors. After I finished The Star, I felt a sense of loss but also peace. Overall, I thought Pablo Neruda’s writing was abstracted, relying on nature to convey his feelings and experiences. There were many poems I did not talk about in this review; However, I enjoyed the experience of my second reading of this collection and I definitely have my favorite poems I keep coming back to.
Final Rating: 4.2/5