Heta Patel on translating Pablo Neruda

Heta Patel

on translating Pablo Neruda

“Verb” by Pablo Neruda explores language at its very core – as a medium for conveying the human experience. Yet Neruda, in his poem, latches onto that liminal space of the inexpressible, yearning for words that could begin to capture the pain of the Latin American people. With this in mind, I knew that translating this poem would require diligent attention to diction. And like Neruda, I wanted to use words that were intense, synesthetic, and multiplicitous. Below is a brief description of the thought process behind some of these selections.

  • Arrugar means “to wrinkle,” “to crumple,” or “to shrivel.” I opted for “shrivel” not only because of its stronger connotation but because becoming shriveled necessitates a loss of water. This provides an interesting contrast to the water motif (river, thirst, etc.)
  • Torcer means “to twist, “to bend,” or “to sprain.” I landed on “sprain” because it evokes a sense of physicality and pain which is reflected in the rest of the poem.
  • Lisa means “smooth,” “flat,” or “plain.” I chose “plain” not only because it conveys the blandness of the word but also because it references a geographical feature which is flat in itself. This additionally connects with the river erosion imagery at the end of the stanza.
  • Aspereza means “roughness,” “sourness,” or “sharpness.” Since roughness is associated with the sense of touch and sourness with the sense of taste, I selected “sharpness” because it evokes both senses.
  • Adentro means “inside,” but I opted for “lodged,” which has a more intrinsic connotation. At the same time, “lodged” can also mean “to be flattened by wind or rain,” which ties into the first stanza.
  • Sonido means “sound” or “noise,” and I chose “noise,” which is the more intense adjective.

about the author

Pablo Neruda (1904–1973) is one of the best-known Latin American poets of the twentieth century. Hailing from Chile, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 “for a poetry that with the action of an elemental force brings alive a continent’s destiny and dreams.” In fact, many of his poems were imbued with a sense of politics, which was contextualized by Neruda’s ardent support of the Communist Party and his role as a diplomat. His famous works include Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (Twenty Love Poems and A Desperate Song) and Crepusculario (Book of Twilight).

about the translator

Heta Patel is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania studying Health and Societies and Hispanic Studies. Language, for her, is an extension of her interest in understanding people, the way they think, and the way their bodies interact with the world. Although this interest has largely manifested itself in her pursuing medicine and immersing herself in Spanish, she has also found writing and translating poetry instrumental in her desire to learn more about the human condition. In her free time, she enjoys curating her Spotify playlists and bullet journaling.