ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Imagine finding a trove of lost sketches by Michelangelo. That's what one expert and translator calls the recent discovery of unpublished works by Pablo Neruda, the late Chilean poet. They'll be released soon in English. NPR's Jasmine Garsd introduces us to some of the poems.
JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Archivists from the Neruda Foundation in Chile were coming through the legendary poet's files a couple of years ago when they discovered the works. One of the poems was inspired by a visit to the Soviet Union in the early 1960s. Neruda got to meet Soviet cosmonauts, and he wrote this untitled poem about space travel. This excerpt is read by Forrest Gander, the professor at Brown University who translated the poems into English.
FORREST GANDER: (Reading) It occurs to me that the light was fresh then, that an un-winking star journeyed along, cutting short and linking distances, their faces unused to the awesome desolation in pure space. Among astral bodies polished and glistening like grass at dawn, something new came from the earth.
GARSD: One of the things that made Neruda so beloved was that he wrote exquisite poems about grandiose themes like the cosmos and human nature, but he also found wonder in the mundane. He penned odes to a tomato, wine, a pair of socks. Gander says Neruda was deeply influenced by the accessible poetry of Walt Whitman.
GANDER: Whitman's sense of democratic poetics is very influential. And in Neruda's private library, he has multiple copies of "Leaves Of Grass" and other Whitman titles.
GARSD: The other poems in Neruda's new book come down from space to delve into more earthly topics like Neruda's love for wife and muse Matilde Urrutia. This one, handwritten and dated 1959-1960, is dedicated to her. Here's an excerpt.
GANDER: (Reading) Never alone with you in the forests, finding again dawn's stiff arrow, the tender moss of spring, with you in my struggle - not the one I chose but the only one.
GARSD: The poem ends with a comma, leading to the question of whether it's actually a work in progress. And that raises a larger question, one that often comes up when work is published pompously. Did Neruda want these to be read by the world? Gander says when he first heard about the new poems, they thought they were going to be terrible. Then he read them in Spanish and changed his mind.
GANDER: They're really terrific problems. I mean, he was a great poet, so even the drafts and unfinished poems are really thrilling.
GARSD: Gander thinks Neruda was so prolific he simply lost track of these poems. They can be found again in the book "Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda" which comes out May 1. Jasmine Garsd, NPR News.
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