Ode to Valparaiso - Pablo Neruda

I found the first two stanzas of this poem in a lonley planet and it seemed to perfectly describe the chaotic beauty that is our current home. I searched the internet, book stores, and even the Pablo Neruda Musem gift shop for an English versions of the poem and was unsucessful, so I spent a few hours doing my best to translate it. I´m sure that it all makes much more sense in Spanish but the jist is just enough for me to appreciate the poem. It´s talking about how Valparaiso is a chaotic and longsuffering little port, which has survived many a earthquake and tusnami and yet continues to paint itself in all different colors and build the slanted tin and wooden homes all along it´s sides.

Ode to Valparaiso
By: Pablo Neruda
Translated by: Laney Sullivan

What nonsense
You are
What a crazy
Insane Port.
Your mounded head
You never finish combing your hair
Life has always surprised you
Death woke you
In your undershirt and long underwear
Fringed with color
With a name tattooed on the stomach
And with a cap
The earthquake grabbed you
You ran
Broke your fingernails
It moved
The waters and the stones
And seas
The night,
You would sleep
In the ground
From your sailing
And the furious earth
Lifted its waves
More stormy
Than a tempest
The dust
Covered you
The eyes
The flames
Burned your shoes
The solid
Houses of bankers
Like wounded whales
While above
The houses of the poor
Into nothingness
Like captive birds
Testing their wings

You forget
the tears
and you return
to hanging your dwellings
to paint doors
You transform into a boat
Your are
The patched bow
Of a small
The crowns nest
With foam
Your rope lines that sing
And the light of the ocean
That shakes the masts
And flags
In your indestructible swaying

Dark star
You are
From far away
In the height of the coast
And soon
You surrender
Your hidden fire
The rocking
Of your deaf alleys
The naturalness
Of your movement
The clarity
Of your seamanship
Here ends this ode

So small
Like a cloth
Ragged in a Window
In the Wind
of the ocean
With all the pain
Of your ground
The dew
Of the sea, the kiss
Of the wild angry sea
That with all of its power
Beat the rocks
It could not
Knock you down
Because on your southern chest
Is tattooed
The struggle
The hope
The solidarity
And the joy
As anchors
The waves of the earth.


  1. Excellent advice! you don't know how many marketers need to have these traits ingrained into them. Kudos!
    Femme A L'oiseau

  2. Anonymous12:07 PM

    A Solo Woman, 42, in the Port of Valparaíso

    Valpo: collapsing stacks of bones
    spattered in colored paints and grime.
    Besides decay, there is no change except
    which ships are in the port.
    Discúlpame Don Pablo, but
    my grandfather loved her first –
    pursued his famous teenage urges
    up her alleys, stairs, and skirts,
    the sweat on his face intermixed
    with this clammy evening fog
    scented of sea, cochayuyo,
    and smokes of many burning things.

    And here am I, much like this place:
    many years beyond our prime,
    painted-up too much to hide our age,
    the decline, the chips in teeth,
    papered-up with cartoon illustrations
    slapped on with wheat-flour paste,
    both of us dizzy from the lack of just
    one true vertical line,
    as seagulls shriek and zoom like mad across
    this checkered mackerel sky,
    and slouching men on plaza benches
    do not go anywhere for hours.

    Some of them are laid-off sailors.
    Others paint, and there are two kinds:
    those who neatly simplify these views
    for tourists from afar,
    and those you see lost up in the hills, distressed,
    clutching at their skulls,
    scribbling violently at canvas
    in attempts to frame the scene –
    a shattered vase to reassemble,
    jigsaw shards that never fit,
    hues of lemon, rose, and blue that are
    impossible to mix.

    Always somebody somewhere is
    blowing horns or banging drums, 
and here am I up in the hills as well,
    but calm, thanks to this wine,
    reading words of love scratched into walls
    by couples rarely seen.
    You will more likely spy two screwing dogs –
    the ones that clamor through each night,
    the ones that fail to kill the feral cats that
    fail to kill the pigeons crowding
    wild electric wires you shouldn’t
    dare to walk beneath.

    About those dogs – those perros vagos –
    I kissed a tousled one last week,
    his black hair soft, his rough hands warm,
    his voice a carnal baritone
    persuading me to meet his eyes and hear
    of dreams that cannot be.
    There is a wife (there always is),
    but he and I drink Carmenére, and drift
    to sleep entangled, arms and legs,
    my cheek against his chest –
    Amor as quiet as an iron anchor
    sunken in the bay.

    Everything is like that, here!
    Beauty bound by locks and chains,
    each impossible romantic thing is
    muraled on some crumbling wall.
    Smog obscures high Aconcagua;
    offshore winds can’t push it back.
    The students riot, raising torches
    (as if their protests ever worked!)
    The pretty cobbled streets are empty –
    all the action’s by the port
    and runs on diesel, years after the smell
    of fish lost all its charm.

    No need to ask which out of all these homes
    and hearts are spirit-haunted;
    although the sea is smooth as glass,
    the clearest mirror is this town.
    Bright austral sun reveals our flaws, yet
    we share secrets in the shade,
    not because we both conceal them –
    but because we are complex
    with hidden passageways and gardens,
    undergrowth and piles of rubble,
    and countless breezy gaping windows
    to an infinity of rooms.

    © 2015 Manda Clair Jost Charney