Book of Twilight

Image of Book of Twilight
Author(s): 
Release Date: 
June 17, 2019
Publisher/Imprint: 
Copper Canyon Press
Pages: 
137
Reviewed by: 

“Neruda makes us fledgling children in a fascinating world, a world glittered by pure sentiment.”  

Readers will be entranced by Pablo Neruda’s Book of Twilight, translated by William O’Daly. Neruda’s poetry is imbued by powerful interactions with the natural world, which is transformed into definitions for pleasure, grief, sorrow, and so much more. He knows nature. He knows sentiment. He personifies.

Here are some lines from “Give Me the Magical Feast”: “God—from where did you draw to light the sky, / this wondrous crepuscule of copper? / Because of it, I knew again how to fill with joy / and turn my wicked look noble . . . Give me the magical feast. God, leave it in my life . . . and I’ll be the oil of its supreme light.” Neruda embodies the landscape, its burning fires, fields, to learn of how nature empowers us, burns within us, makes us whole.

Contemporary poets are taught to zoom in and focus on small images to define overarching metaphors, yet Neruda does exactly the opposite in the late 1800s. He writes of the entire world in poems to prove to us that we are children of God and all His beautiful creation.

Readers will notice how diverse Neruda’s poems are, thus proving his poetic range. “Water, Asleep” is one line: “I want to leap into the water to fall on the sky.” It is profound how he juxtaposes water and sky into a metaphor for euphoria and jubilation with simple, clear language. He knows the power of simplicity.

Neruda also writes of beauty without melodrama. This is yet another example of his poetic skill. Here is the first stanza of “Love”: “Woman, I’d have liked to have been your son, to drink / the milk from your breasts as from a spring, / to see and feel you by my side and have you / in the laughter of gold and the voice of crystal.” His images are valuable and accessible to readers, so we understand his emotion, his affection.

It is imperative to read the original Spanish, even if one does not understand, to admire Neruda’s poetics. He is able to use traditional forms, from sonnets to rhyming couplets, and beyond. Read the originals and romance your ears with resonant language. Sound fortifies meaning; it must be heard and adored.     

William O’Daly has done an excellent job translating Book of Twilight. All line breaks and enjambments match the original poems, and punctuation is preserved. He also provides an introduction, history, and analysis to guide readers.

It is clear why Neruda won the Nobel Prize: his poems prove innocence. Neruda makes us fledgling children in a fascinating world, a world glittered by pure sentiment.