Pablo Neruda on WhatsApp and In Genuine Translation

In medieval times, authors, or those desiring to become authors would often do quite the reverse of plagiarism. Unlike plagiarism, they would instead, reproduce holy texts and rewrite epics and ascribe those to the original authors namely saints of yore or even to some mythical and Godly figures. Thus what comes to us as Homer’s Illiad, or the tales of Bewoulf, or the epics of Valmiki or Ved Vyas are may not be the work of a single author; instead written and rewritten by many more contemporary ones who decided to contribute by way of reproducing the sacred texts and thus add to the sanctified culture of their times. Sociologists would ascertain that the self-effacing authors were in times of less developed individualism. If so, then our medieval days could not have produced self-aggrandising monarchs and princes and self-promoting gurus and spiritual leaders. Moreover, the devotional and mystic movements all over the world bear evidence to the fact that degrees of high individualism may not be the unique property of modernity though the nature of that individualistic consciousness may change.

The tendency of authors to hide behind the great and perhaps the original names might be an act of devotion, where the fan can be self-effacing to bring forth the worshipped. But there could be yet another side to the story and which is that ideologically charged individuals often alter, edit, rewrite ideas which they think should be a part of the general thinking and use big names to be vindicated. This is perhaps the case with the poem allegedly written by Pablo Neuda called “On Dying Slowly”.

I have placed both versions in the table below. On the left, we have the whatsapp version, on the right we have the version translated into English for purposes of the Noble Prize Committee. Many readers seem not to know the difference and in fact related to the fake version better than they did to the genuine translation.

Look at the portions marked in bright yellow. The one on the left starts abruptly as if to say that you die slowly if you don’t read books, you don’t travel, you don’t appreciate yourself, so if you must read, travel, appreciate yourself if you are to live well. This sounds like a life coach and by no means like a poet who has won the Noble Prize. Neruda also writes about a slow dying for those who do not read, nor travel, nor appreciate themselves, but the placement of the sentences are part of a larger picture, picture of a man who dies slowly because of an inner collapse into a routine, lack of her adventurous soul, not ready to move out of her skin to appreciate the small chaoses in her life, striving forever to expand her soul to participate in the larger life. This sense is lost in the whataspp forwards, in which one is instructing you to do a certain set of things, instead of analyzing your spirit which faces the choice of either being alive or dying slowly. The poet speaks of the efforts needed to stay alive by constant participation in life that is larger and hence read a book, travel, let others help you, have a dream are instances and examples of that outgrowing your habitual self.

Neruda The FakeNeruda The Original
you start dying slowly if you do not travel, if you do not read, If you do not listen to the sounds of life, If you do not appreciate yourself.   You start dying slowly When you kill your self-esteem; When you do not let others help you.   You start dying slowly If you become a slave of your habits, Walking everyday on the same paths… If you do not change your routine, If you do not wear different colours Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.   You start dying slowly, If you avoid to feel passion And their turbulent emotions;   Those which make your eyes glisten And your heart beat fast.   You start dying slowly, If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job, or with your love, If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain, If you do not go after a dream, If you do not allow yourself at least once in your lifetime, To run away from sensible advice…   You start dying slowly if you do not follow your passion.   Do not die slowly, follow your passion, live life & stay blessed forever.  He who becomes the slave of habit,
who follows the same routes every day,
who never changes pace,
who does not risk and change the color of his clothes,
who does not speak and does not experience,
dies slowly. He or she who shuns passion,
who prefers black on white,
dotting ones “it’s” rather than a bundle of emotions, the kind that make your eyes glimmer,
that turn a yawn into a smile,
that make the heart pound in the face of mistakes and feelings,
dies slowly. He or she who does not turn things topsy-turvy,
who is unhappy at work,
who does not risk certainty for uncertainty,
to thus follow a dream,
those who do not forego sound advice at least once in their lives,
die slowly. He who does not travel, who does not read,
who does not listen to music,
who does not find grace in himself,
she who does not find grace in herself,
dies slowly. He who slowly destroys his own self-esteem,
who does not allow himself to be helped,
who spends days on end complaining about his own bad luck, about the rain that never stops,
dies slowly. He or she who abandon a project before starting it, who fail to ask questions on subjects he doesn’t know, he or she who don’t reply when they are asked something they do know,
die slowly. Let’s try and avoid death in small doses,
reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing. Only a burning patience will lead
to the attainment of a splendid happiness.”

The whastapp forward has taken the examples of the poet and converted these into didactic and definitive sentences, and thus reducing reflections and ruminations into ideological instructions. By this, the poetic flavour which is anti-ideological because here boundaries of ideas held by concepts are repeating pushed at till words disappear into images. The WhatsApp has simple words those which are formulae for actions.

As we descend down the poem, the left hand version seems to change words with alarming defiance; here the poet’s glimmer become glisten, without even crossing the mind of the plagiarist (reverse) that the idea of the poem is to create excitement and not pathos; teary emotions are part of the ideological machinery.

Since the WhatsApp forward was neither metaphoric nor philosophical, it became a shorter presentation, unable to keep pace with poetic flow because it had no flow. Neruda could have gone on writing in the same flow, the artistic beauty of works is that they become endlessly manifest; existing even when the cease to exist in their finite beings. Ideologies must end finitely, to contain the concepts into discrete contents, the abstracts into the specific. That’s why the plagiarised poem looks so shabby and crass; a humiliation to the poetry of Nobel Laureate, namely Pablo Neruda.

About secondsaturn

Independent Scholar. Polymath.
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