“I Need the Sea Because It Teaches Me” – Pablo Neruda’s Collected Poems of the Sea

by Carolyn Sotka

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Pablo Neruda wall in Santiago, Chile. 

The beloved poet Pablo Neruda spent much of his life by the sea, and his final years overlooking the Pacific from the cliffs of Isla Negra in Chile. To commemorate the centennial of Neruda’s birth in 2004, his favored translator Alastair Reid and artist-friend Mary Heebner published ‘On the Blue Shore of Silence: Poems of the Sea’, a collection of twelve poems and reflections on the ocean. The sea had always been a metaphor for Neruda’s life, the ebb and flow of surf and foam; the life and death that each day and night brings. Here is a selected poem ‘It is Born (Nace)’ from the collection, and other works below.

Here I came to the very edge
where nothing at all needs saying,
everything is absorbed through weather and the sea,
and the moon swam back.
its rays all silvered,
and time and time again, the darkness would be broken
by the crash of a wave,
and every day on the balcony of the sea,
wings open, fire is born,
and everything is blue again like morning.

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The compilation ‘On the Blue Shore of Silence: Poems of the Sea’, is bilingual in Spanish with English translations and features 15 paintings by California artist Heebner

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Neruda at his Isla Negra house.

Since poetry is meant to be shared and interpreted through your own lens, here is my favorite Neruda poem that is, surprisingly, not included in the ‘Poems of the Sea’ compilation. Sonnet XXXIV ‘You Are the Daughter of the Sea‘ is effortlessly timeless and inspirational.

You are the daughter of the sea, oregano’s first cousin.
Swimmer, your body is pure as the water;
cook, your blood is quick as the soil.
Everything you do is full of flowers, rich with the earth.

Your eyes go out toward the water, and the waves rise;
your hands go out to the earth and the seeds swell;
you know the deep essence of water and the earth,
conjoined in you like a formula for clay.

Naiad: cut your body into turquoise pieces,
they will bloom resurrected in the kitchen.
This is how you become everything that lives.

And so at last, you sleep, in the circle of my arms
that push back the shadows so that you can rest–
vegetables, seaweed, herbs: the foam of your dreams.

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This is a tiny watercolor inspired by Neruda’s  ‘You are the Daughter of the Sea’. “It has no reality in it. It is based on no place or time. The shapes and colors simply found their own way onto the paper.” — Jeanette Jobson, painter. 

I need the sea because it teaches me

The famous line from Neruda’s ‘The Sea’ part of the On the Blue Shore of Silence: Poems of the Sea’, Image from Mae Chevrette.

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