Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ode to the Voyager Albatross

A great gray albatross
died the other day.
Here's where it fell
upon the wet sands.
In this gloomy month,
on a silvery,
drizzly autumn day like a web
of cold fish and sea water.
This is where it fell dying, magna avis.

It was in death a cross of black.
The wings spanned three feathered meters,
the head curved like a hook,
the cyclonic eyes were tightly sealed.

From New Zealand
it had crossed an ocean
to die in Chile. Why?
What salt, what wave,
what wind could
it have sought in the sea?
Why pit its strength
against all space?
Why test its powers
in the hardest solitudes?
Or was it goal the magnet of a star?
No one knows, or can tell.

. . .

Far-ranging bird, aloft you seemed
suspended between continents
over lost seas,
a flick of a wing
a bell clap of feathers; majestically,
you changed your course a fraction
and, triumphant and true,
continued on your implacable, lonely route.

How beautiful you were,
wheeling between wave and air,
trailing the tip of a wing in the sea
or resting in the vast oceanic expanse,
wings closed like a coffer of secret jewels,
rocked on the lonely foam
like a mute prophecy
in the movement of the psalms.

. . .

Oh no, I said
to the king of the wind,
the bird of the seas,
don't expect them to erect
a monument to your feats;
and while melancholy spectators
gathered around your remains,
plucking a feather,
a petal,
a message from a hurricane,
I walked away, so that,
at least, your memory,
without a stone, without a statue,
might on these lines fly
for that last time into space
and your flight near to the sea.

Oh, dark captain,
defeated in my country,
my your proud wings
still soar above
the final wave, the wave of death.

--Pablo Neruda

Translated by Margaret Sayers Peden
From The Complete Odes, edited by Ilan Stavans, a wonderful bilingual edition

No comments: