"Me gustas cuando callas.."

Midterms week is officially over, though of course I've got one more midterm due when I get back. Only at Princeton.

The midterm, however, is more interesting than most--at least for someone with my type of interests. The first time I read Pablo Neruda, it was in 8th grade. I'd decided to do some extra Spanish language study after schol to test out of 2nd-year Spanish for high school. My Latin teacher at the time, Ms Weintstein, also taught Spanish, in addition to knowing at least 5 or 6 other languages (maybe that's where the idea came from...) and she agreed to helping me study the 2nd-year coursework.

Somewhere near the end of our arrangement that spring, she showed me some poetry by Pablo Neruda--it was Poema XX: "Puedo escribir los versos mas tristes esta noche." I remember the moment I understood that "rocio" meant "dew" and the time I spent contemplating the beauty of the closure (but is it really closure for the poet?) of the final two lines. I was in love, and I'd decided that for the mandatory 8th grade poetry reading that I would memorize and recite Poema XX, being the only person who had selected a Spanish poem for the event. It wasn't the longest poem that year, as someone in my class had managed to memorize Poe's "The Raven."It also wasn't the best received, probably because not everyone studied Spanish and the majority of those who did were just starting out and didn't understand much more than a couple words here and there. It certainly wasn't anything like Dr. Seuss's "The Lorax," which someone had recited the year before mine.

But it was the start of something. I recited the poem and my interest didn't stop there. I bought and read the other contents of "Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada," fell in love with "Odas elementales" and, much to my pleasure, ended up studying more Neruda for my AP Spanish Lit class in my Junior year of high school. My favorite project in that class was writing a poem based on the style of Poema XV: "Me gustas cuando callas." Senora Kanter was always great at having us do creative writing and make the literature we studied our own. That's probably why I was such a happy clam as a member and ultimately editor of the publication organization she advised: Parnassus, a foreign language and literature magazine.

My reawakening of love for Neruda began last June, when a friend of mine drew my attention to Poema X: "Hemos perdido aun este crepusculo." And then, this fall, I wrote my final paper for my Comparative Literature Junior Seminar on the application of Umberto Eco's translation theory W.S. Merwin's translations of Poema XV and Poema XX.

I have a history with Merwin. Less interesting than mine with Neruda, but still interesting. Walking around in Labyrinth my sophomore fall at Princeton, I decided to buy a poetry book called "The Shadow of Sirius," feeling that any sophomore slumping could better mediated by buying a book than eating or sleeping to excess. Knowing nothing about Merwin and making the purchase completely on a whim, I then returned to my hole of a room in 233 Joline and started to read. The collection was stunning. The following spring, Merwin happened to be reciting at one of the Lewis Center Creative Writing events, doing a reading from this very collection along with Chang-Rae Lee, who read from his most recent novel, "The Surrendered," which is on my immediate "to-read" list. This was a big deal, as Merwin lives in Hawaii and though he's a Princeton alum, he doesn't come back much. Listening to him and Chang-Rae rank among my best "nerdly" (as Prof. Eileen Reeves might say) experiences at Princeton, if not topping the list. I got them to sign my books, too! =)

Now, for my Spanish to English Translation Class, I am writing my midterm comparing the translations of Pablo Neruda's Poema XV by Robert Hass and W.S. Merwin. Both of them have obtained the position of Poet Laureate of the United States, both have won Pulitzers, and have significant careers in translation in addition to their careers as English language poets. With regard to Poema XV, their strategies and styles are quite different, so it promises to be a challenging intellectual exercise to get into the heads of these two poets and try to explain why they did what they did, and ultimately decide who did a better job. Even though during my junior seminar paper, I thought Merwin's translation sucked, now I think Merwin's is wonderful and I think Hass's is a travesty. But I'll have to put my personal preferences aside until the conclusion.

And now, to put myself to bed after a long, stressful week of exams.