Neruda, Pablo - The People
Type of Spiritual Experience
BackgroundA wonderful poem about who goes to 'heaven' and why we are here
A description of the experience
Selected Poems – Pablo Neruda
From 'The People'
That man I remember him well, and at least two centuries
have passed since I saw him;
he travelled neither on horseback nor in a carriage -
purely on foot
carrying neither sword nor weapon
but nets on his shoulder,
axe or hammer or spade;
he never fought with another of his kind -
his struggle was with water or with earth,
with the wheat, for it to become bread,
with the towering tree, for it to yield wood,
with the walls, to open doors in them,
with the sand, constructing walls,
and with the sea, to make it bear fruit.
I knew him and still he is there in me.
The carriages splintered in pieces,
war destroyed doorways and walls
the city was a fistful of ashes,
all the dresses withered into dust,
and he persists, for my sake,
he survives in the sand,
where everything previously
seemed durable except him.
In the comings and goings of families,
at times he was my father or my relative
or (it may have been, it may not)
perhaps the one who did not come home
because water or earth devoured him
or a machine or a tree killed him,
or he was that funeral carpenter
who walked behind the coffin, but dry eyed,
someone who never had a name
except as wood or metal have,
and on whom others looked from above
unable to see
the ant for the ant-hill;
so that when his feet no longer moved
because, poor and tired, he had died,
they never saw what they were not used to seeing -
already other feet walked in his place.
The other feet were still him,
equally the other hands,
the man persisted -
when it seemed that now he was spent,
he was the same man over again,
there he was once more, tilling the soil,
cutting cloth, but without a shirt,
there he was and was not, as before,
he had gone and was back again,
and since he never had cemetery
or tomb, nor his name engraved
on the stone that he sweated to cut
nobody ever knew of his arrival,
and nobody knew when he died,
thus only when the poor man was able
did he come back to life again, unnoticed.
He was the man all right, without inheritance
cattle or coat of arms,
and he did not stand out from the others,
the others who were himself,
from above he was grey like clay,
he was drab as leather,
he was yellow harvesting wheat,
he was black deep in the mine
he was stone coloured in the castle,
in the fishing boat, the colour of tunny
horse coloured in the meadow -
how could anyone distinguish him
if he were the wholeness, the element,
earth, coal or sea, in the guise of a man?
Where he lived, everything
a man touched would grow;
the hostile stones,
by his hands,
took shape and form
and one by one took on
the sharp clarity of buildings,
he made bread with his hands,
set the trains running,
the distances bred townships,
other men grew up,
the bees arrived,
and through man's creating and multiplying
spring wandered into the market place
between doves and bakeries.
The father of the loaves was forgotten,
he who cut and walked, beating
and opening paths, shifting sand,
when everything else existed, he existed no longer,
he gave away his existence, that was everything.
He went somewhere else to work and ultimately
he went into death, rolling
like a river stone -
death carried him off down stream.
I, who knew him, saw him go down
till he existed only in what he was leaving -
streets he could scarcely be aware of,
houses he never never would inhabit.
I come back to see him, and every day I wait.
I see him in his coffin resurrected.
I pick him out from all
the others who are his equals
and it seems to me that it cannot be,
that in this way, we are going nowhere,
to survive so has no glory.
I believe that heaven must include
that man, properly shod and crowned
I think that those who made so many things
ought to be masters of everything
and those who make bread ought to eat!
And those in the mine should have light!
Enough by now of grey men in chains!
Enough of the pale lost ones!
Not another man will go past except as a ruler.
Not a single woman without her diadem.
Gloves of gold for every hand.
Fruits of the sun for all the obscure ones!
I knew that man, and when I could,
when he still had eyes in his head
when he still had a voice in his throat,
I sought him among the tombs, and I said to him
pressing his arm that was still not dust;
'Everything will pass, and you will still be living.
You set fire to life.
You made what is yours'.
So let no one worry when
I seem to be alone and am not alone,
I am not with nobody and I speak for all -
Someone is listening to me and, although they do not know it,
those I sing of, those who know
go on being born and will fill up the world