'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A Bit More From Neruda And ...

I confess, this post will turn out to be more about self than about Neruda. I begin with a quote from the poet's 'Memoirs'. The context, Neruda's visit to the Duke of Alba's palace in Spain, during the civil war.

"Naturally, I was interested in the bedrooms where so many Albas had slept, with their nightmares brought on by the Flemish ghosts who had come to tickle their feet at night. Those feet were gone but the largest collection of shoes I have ever seen was conspicuously there.... unbelievable and incalculable. Long glassed-in shelves that reached the ceiling held thousands of shoes.
Beside the Duke's bed, was a little print in a gold frame whose Gothic characters caught my eye. Caramba!, I thought, it must be the Alba's family tree. I was wrong. It was Kipling's 'If' - that uninspired, sanctimonious poetry, precursor of 'Readers' Digest', whose intellectual level, in my opinion, was no higher than that of the Duke of Alba's shoes. May the British Empire forgive me!"

Do I agree with Neruda there? The answer is "No". Indeed, Critical opinion of Kipling's poem has, at least in recent times, been quite low. Wikipedia says: "Despite the poem's immense popularity many critics deride "If—" as little more than doggerel and a list of aphorisms strung together.... George Orwell (ridiculed) people who only knew "If—" "and some of his more sententious poems". And yes, 'preachification and rhetoric' which I found off-putting in communist poetry (as I said in the last post here), can be held up as vices "If" suffers from.

I studied "If" at Junior College. For a teenager with grandiose dreams of making it big as a scientist, it was a big shot in the arm. And now, almost a generation down the line (or down the drains), at least these lines ring a bell deep within, whatever their poetic merit and ideological foundation (no, I have not put up the poem above my bed):

"(If you can) watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"


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