Ode to the Dictionary by Pablo Neruda

translated by Jodey Bateman


Ox shoulder, heavy
loader, systematic
thick book:
As a young man
I didn't know you, I was dressed up
to sufficiency
and I believed myself full up,
and puffed up like a
melancholy toad
I declared "I receive
the words
directly
from a roaring Mount Sinai.
I will reduce
their forms by alchemy.
I'm a wizard."
The great wizard was silent.

The Dictionary,
old and heavy, with its binding
of worn leather,
remained silent
without showing its testing.

But one day
after having used
and disused it,
after declaring it
a useless and anachronistic camel,
when for long months without protest,
it served me as an armchair
and as a pillow,
it rebelled and planting itself
in my door
it grew, it moved its leaves
and its nests,
it moved the elevation of its foliage
the tree
was,
a natural,
generous
apple tree, apple grove or apple-like
and the words
shone in its bottomless cup
dull or sonorous
fertile in the fronds of language,
loaded with truth and sound.

I select only
one of
its
pages:
Caporal (foreman)
capuchón (monk's hood)
what a marvel
to pronounce these syllables
with air,
and further down
Cápsula (capsule)
hollow, waiting for olive oil or nectar
and next to them
Captura, Capucete, Capuchino
Caprario, Captatorio
words
which flake off like smooth birds
or which explode in the light
like blind germs which waited
in the storerooms of vocabulary
and live again and give life:
once more the heart sets them afire.

Dictionary, you're not
a tomb, sepulcher, casket,
burial mound, mausoleum,
but a preserver,
hidden fire,
the planting of rubies,
living perpetuity
of the essence,
granary of the language.
And it is beautiful
to pluck in your columns
the word
in its lineage,
the severe
and forgotten
sentence,
daughter of Spain,
enduring
like the blade of a plow,
fixed in its limit
of antiquated iron-work,
preserved
with its exact beauty
and its metallic hardness.
Or the other word
which we saw lost there
out in dialect regions
and which quickly
became tasty and smooth in our mouth.

Dictionary, one hand
of your thousand hands, one
of your thousand emeralds,
one
single
drop
of your virginal elements
one grain
from
your
generous granaries
on the tip of my pen,
in my inkwell.
From your thick, sonorous
depth of your forest,
give me,
when I need it,
one single trill, the luxury
of a bee,
a fallen fragment
from your ancient wood
perfumed by an eternity of jasmine beds,
one
syllable
all earthquake, a sound:
from the earth I am and with words I sing.


menu