The Men by Pablo Neruda, translation by Alfred Yankauer
Pablo Neruda was a prominent Chilean Communist, as well as a Nobel prize-winning poet in both literature and peace. Neruda played key roles in two Chilean governments and experienced the outlawing of Communism in 1948 and later became a close adviser to the Socialist President Salvador Allende only to die in hospital of cancer at the time of Pinochet’s US-backed coup. Better known nowadays only for his poetry, he was a hugely popular poet in Chile at the time and remains popular throughout the world today.
I’m Ramón González Barbagelata from anywhere,
from Cucuy, from Paraná, from Rio Turbio, from Oruro,
from Maracaibo, from Parral, from Ovalle, from Loconmilla,
I’m the poor devil from the poor Third World,
I’m the third-class passenger installed, good God!
in the lavish whiteness of snow-covered mountains,
concealed among orchids of subtle idiosyncrasy.
I’ve arrived at this famous year 2000, and what do I get?
With what do I scratch myself? What do I have to do with
the three glorious zeros that flaunt themselves
over my very own zero, my own non-existence?
Pity that brave heart awaiting its call
or the man enfolded by warmer love,
nothing’s left today except my flimsy skeleton,
my eyes unhinged, confronting the era’s beginning.
The era’s beginning: are these ruined shacks,
these poor schools, these people still in rags and tatters,
this cloddish insecurity of my poor families,
is all this the day? the century’s beginning, the golden door?
Well, enough said, I, at least, discreet,
as in office, patched and pensive,
I proclaim the redundancy of the inaugural:
I’ve arrived here with all my baggage,
bad luck and worse jobs,
misery always waiting with open arms,
the mobilization of people piled up on top of each other,
and the manifold geography of hunger.