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(12 July 1904 – 23 September 1973 / Parral / Chile)

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Death Alone

There are lone cemeteries,
tombs full of soundless bones,
the heart threading a tunnel,
a dark, dark tunnel :
like a wreck we die to the very core,
as if drowning at the heart
or collapsing inwards from skin to soul.

There are corpses,
clammy slabs for feet,
there is death in the bones,
like a pure sound,
a bark without its dog,
out of certain bells, certain tombs
swelling in this humidity like lament or rain.

I see, when alone at times,
coffins under sail
setting out with the pale dead, women in their dead braids,
bakers as white as angels,
thoughtful girls married to notaries,
coffins ascending the vertical river of the dead,
the wine-dark river to its source,
with their sails swollen with the sound of death,
filled with the silent noise of death.

Death is drawn to sound
like a slipper without a foot, a suit without its wearer,
comes to knock with a ring, stoneless and fingerless,
comes to shout without a mouth, a tongue, without a throat.
Nevertheless its footsteps sound
and its clothes echo, hushed like a tree.

I do not know, I am ignorant, I hardly see
but it seems to me that its song has the colour of wet violets,
violets well used to the earth,
since the face of death is green,
and the gaze of death green
with the etched moisture of a violet's leaf
and its grave colour of exasperated winter.

But death goes about the earth also, riding a broom
lapping the ground in search of the dead -
death is in the broom,
it is the tongue of death looking for the dead,
the needle of death looking for the thread.

Death lies in our beds :
in the lazy mattresses, the black blankets,
lives a full stretch and then suddenly blows,
blows sound unknown filling out the sheets
and there are beds sailing into a harbour
where death is waiting, dressed as an admiral.

Submitted: Monday, March 22, 2010


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Comments about this poem (Canto XII from The Heights of Macchu Picchu by Pablo Neruda )

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  • Alexander Opicho (12/3/2013 8:27:00 AM)

    my favourite is;
    But death goes about the earth also, riding a broom
    lapping the ground in search of the dead -
    death is in the broom,
    it is the tongue of death looking for the dead,
    the needle of death looking for the thread.

    1 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • Sabitha S Geethall (6/5/2011 8:54:00 PM)

    when we read this, death silently creeps in 2 our heart with his cold feet...that makes Neruda d greatest poet in d 20 th century....

  • Gan Chennai (6/23/2010 6:54:00 AM)

    Death is a Panacea for the Tiresome Body

  • Michael Gagliardi (4/28/2010 9:15:00 AM)

    This is quite a gloomy poem.....great imagery.

  • Elborath Gelfand (4/11/2010 6:36:00 AM)

    Neruda simply is the best.

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