Pablo Neruda: “Death Alone”

Death Alone

There are cemeteries that exist alone,
graves full of bones without a sound,
a heart moving through an endless tunnel
that is dark, dark, dark.
Like a shipwreck, we die going into ourselves,
as though we drowned in the depths of our hearts,
as though we lived falling from skin into soul.

There are corpses,
feet made of cold and clammy clay.
There is death in their bones,
like a sound without a body,
like a bark without a dog,
ringing from certain bells,
emerging from certain graves,
swelling in the damp air
like tears or rain.

Sometimes I see
caskets sailing,
sailing with pale corpses,
with women with dead braids,
with bakers as white as angels,
brooding girls married off to bureaucrats,
caskets ascending
the vertical river of the dead,
a river of purple, sailing upstream,
sails filled with the sound of death,
the sound of death, which is silence.

Death comes to call,
like a shoe without a foot,
like a suit without a man.
He comes and knocks,
with a ring with no stone in it,
with a ring with no finger in it.
He comes and shouts
with no mouth, tongue, or throat.

But his steps are still heard
and his clothing makes a sound
like the rustling of a tree.

I don’t know much, I know but a little,
I hardly can see, but it seems to me
that the singing of death
has the color of wet violets,
flowers used to the earth,
because the face of death is green,
and the look of death is green.
It has the dampness of leaves
and the color of exhausted winter.

But death also goes through the world
dressed as a broom, licking the floor,
searching for dead bodies;
death is in the broom,
in the tongue of death
that searches for the dead,
in the needle of death
that searches for a thread.

Death is in the cots:
in the slow mattresses,
in the black blankets.
He turns, he stretches,
then he suddenly exhales.
He blows a dark sound
that swells the sheets,
and the beds sail away into a port
where death stands waiting,
dressed as an admiral.

Pablo Neruda

Translated from Spanish by Paul Weinfield, © 2015

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