Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Ode to a Dead Carob Tree

Ode to a Dead Carob Tree

By Pablo Neruda

Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden.

We were traveling from

Totoral, dusty

was our planet,

pampa encircled

by azure sky:

heat and light in emptiness.

It was

passing through

Yaco Barranca

toward forsaken Ongamira

that we saw

horizontal on the prairie

a toppled giant,

a dead carob tree.

Last night’s


ripped out its silvery


left them twisted

like tangled hair, a tortured mane

unmoving in the wind.

I walked closer, and such

was its ruined strength,

so heroic the branches on the ground,

the crown radiating such

earthly majesty,

that when

I touched its trunk

I felt it throbbing,

and a surge

from the heart of the tree

made me close my eyes

and bow

my head.

It was sturdy and furrowed

by time, a strong

column carved

by earth and rain,

and like a


it had spread its rounded

arms of wood

to lavish

green light and shadow

on the plain.

The American

storm, the


north wind

of the prairie,

had overtaken

this sturdy carob,


strong as iron,

and with a blast from the sky

had felled its beauty.

I stood there staring

at what only yesterday

had harbored

forest sounds and nests,

but I did not weep

because my dead brother

was as beautiful in death as in life.

I said good-bye. And left it

lying there

on the mother earth.

I left the wind

keeping watch and weeping,

and from afar I saw



caressing its head.

In “Ode to a Dead Carob Tree,” Pablo Neruda feels an immediate kinship with a fallen tree. He is on his way elsewhere, but the tree stops him, he lets it stop him. This act of stopping and attending mindfully to what the present moment presents is crucial. In a sustained act of seeing, Neruda takes it all in, the fallen carob tree’s physical form, its roots “twisted / like tangled hair,” but also its kingly spirit — its heroic “branches on the ground,” its crown that radiates an “earthly majesty.”

Seeing the tree in this way, being with it, leads to an act of empathic connection: he touches the tree. It is this physical contact that allows Neruda to experience “a surge / from the heart of the tree.” Notice how easily he says “the heart of the tree” and how easily we accept it, remembering for a moment what we have learned to forget — that all things are animated by the same life force that animates us, that all things are our brothers and sisters. And then Neruda closes his eyes and bows his head in an ancient gesture of vulnerability and reverence.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019



Chairil Anwar

Translated by Burton Raffel

When my time comes
I want to hear no one's cries
Nor yours either

Away with all who cry!

Here I am, a wild beast
Driven out of the herd

Bullets may pierce my skin
But I’ll keep on

Carrying forward my wounds and my pain,
Until suffering disappears

And I won't care anymore

I want to live another thousand years

Chairil Anwar (1922–1949) was the primary architect of the Indonesian literary revolution in both poetry and prose. In a few intense years he forged almost ingle-handedly a vital, mature literary language in Bahasa Indonesia, a language which formally came to exist in 1928. Anway led the way for the many Indonesian writers who have emerged during the past fifty years. Chairil Anwar belongs to the 1945 generation writers. His writings incorporated the themes of individualism, death, and existentialism.

In the book the complete poetry of the poems and prose of Chairil Anwar, there is an anecdote of an American woman, long resident in Indonesia, who came out of anesthesia, after an operation, and heard herself singing over and over again the above poem, especially the last line, “I want to live another thousand years”

The poem itself asserts that we shouldn’t allow our life to be controlled and shaped by outside forces. One should be the dictator of one’s life and protect one’s freedom and individualistic nature. The poem was written around 1943. At that time, Indonesia had not been independent and was still under the colonization of Japan. It is possible that the writing style of this poem was influenced by the social condition at that time. 

The great translator Professor Burton Raffel (my favorite Chinese poetry translator) who passed away last year has carefully translated this poem  to give pragmatic equivalence when it comes to choosing of words and dynamic balance in the structure of the lines. The result is maintaining the power and aesthetics of the original.