Some Neruda for Now

Today I stood by a graveside and listened to a priest speaking over his heavy book, watched the people carefully place their cut roses and carnations atop the casket, and wondered. Why do the words we say when someone dies seem so slight, so irrelevant to the task at hand. Why is there so little inspiration, usually, in the ceremonies of death? The one who dies, whatever happens to their body, wherever their soul flies, surely deserves more poetry.

To me these lines of Neruda’s, from the poem “Too Many Names,” would fit the bill, somehow, perfectly. It doesn’t precisely talk about death, but I think the awareness of our finite lives informs it.

This means that we have barely

disembarked into life,

that we’ve only just now been born,

let’s not fill our mouths 
with so many uncertain names,

with so many sad labels,

with so many pompous letters,

with so much yours and mine,

with so much signing of papers.


I intend to confuse things,

to unite them, make them new-born

intermingle them, undress them,

until the light of the world

has the unity of the ocean,

a generous wholeness,

a fragrance alive and crackling.


Filed under Jean Zimmerman, Poetry

3 responses to “Some Neruda for Now

  1. Never knew about the green ink. That’s great.


    I didn’t know Neruda. Many times, each day, I’m grateful for Wikipedia, as it fills in the blanks for me, at least a few of them at a time, whatever I can absorb at a sitting. From now on, I will compose in green ink, even if it’s only my *To-Do* lists, and it will remind me of Neruda.

  3. Hack Attack

    As you know, I have long depended on this line from the ancients:
    “For certain is death for the born, and certain is birth for the dead — therefore over the inevitable thou shouldst not grieve.” — Bhagavad-Gita
    Even though I have little belief in reincarnation as anything more than a metaphor to keep people in line.

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