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Not Swift to Forget – part 1 November 27, 2013

Posted by Alex Sawit in Stuff in General.
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By Alex Sawit

November 27, 2013

 

 

[ This is the first of a two-part series. To read the next, go to Part Two. ]

 

 

 

“You listen to Taylor Swift?”

I said it innocently enough, I thought. One of our Cyrano friends had just handed me her thumb drive collection of Taylor Swift albums, which I was now viewing on the shop’s laptop.

She answered yes and asked if I wanted to copy it. I accepted, thinking it would be nice to try something different on our playlist. Country-pop isn’t exactly the most requested genre here. This being a wine bar, our ambience favors the playing of other kinds of music for the listening pleasure of wine lovers. Then again, Taylor Swift is unquestionably the biggest global sensation in country-pop today.

To be honest, I was unfamiliar with her songs up to that point several weeks ago. I hadn’t realized how popular the award-winning American singer is among Filipinos until I played what I downloaded from the thumb drive – Love Story, White Horse, You Belong to Me, etc. – and noticed that everyone else at the shop seemed to know the lyrics. After that night, they explained that Swift is a favorite of Filipino audiences because, on top of her sweetheart image, she writes and sings the kind of songs that we Filipinos like to write and sing, songs that unashamedly express our most intimate feelings, especially when it comes to heartbreak.

So out of curiosity, I googled her online, typing “taylor swift latest album” in the search box. The very first headline I spotted at the top of the search return was this:

Taylor Swift is a Fan of Pablo Neruda on New Album Red

Needless to say, it captured my attention. Cyrano friends very well know from my posts that I am a reader of Neruda’s poetry. I promptly clicked on the link and was sent to the web page with the main article, written by Angie Romero.

Here’s what it said:

 

    “In (an interview with National Public Radio), country pop darling Taylor Swift confessed her profound appreciation for Pablo Neruda, one of the most beloved and romantic poets in the Spanish language. Apparently, in the first page of the liner notes to Red, she writes, “Love is so short, forgetting is so long,” referencing a famous line from Neruda’s classic Poem 20.”

 

Swift explains that this key verse from Neruda’s poem is what sets the theme for her album. “It’s a line I’ve related to in my saddest moments,” she says in the liner notes leading to her explanation of the album title, “when I needed to know someone else had felt that exact same way…I see all of these moments in bright, burning, red.”

 

 

In Neruda’s original text, the verse reads, “Es tan corto el amor, y es tan largo el olvido.” The last word is translated as “forgetting” in the popular English version of the poem by W.S. Merwin, which is the translation featured in the liner notes.

The article continues:

 

    “If there were ever a verse from a poem that makes a case for why translating Spanish into another language just doesn’t do it justice, it’s this one. Olvido and forgetting are not the same. You forget your keys in the car. Olvido is a longing, a loss; it’s that ache that results from having loved until there’s no more love to give, and it never really goes away. It scars you, in many ways defines you, and, in Neruda’s case, gave him material to write some of the most heartbreaking yet unforgettable poems in his arsenal.”

 

After reading this, it suddenly hit me. I remembered something that my best friend once tried to tell me years ago. At the time, she was helping me get through a really difficult period – something involving a girl, a painful misunderstanding, a terrible quarrel that led to words that neither of us could take back and, finally, a prideful disavowal of each other that both she and I would afterward regret all too late.

“Let go,” my friend told me at the time. “Just let go.”

Easier said than done, I replied meekly, telling her that there was no switch I could just flip to turn off my feelings. I didn’t tell my friend that I couldn’t accept her advice but not because I thought she was wrong. It was because I knew that I would never be able to follow it. All I know is that it still took me a while after that to find closure on my own.

The mind dictates, the heart rebels. To that thought, I agree that “forgetting” does not fully express Neruda’s anguish. Olvido in the poem is about wanting to forget yet still wanting to hold on. Until you let go – that is to say, until the passage of time lets go of it for you – you can’t think of anything else, can’t feel anything else. You become oblivious to everything but the wound you bear (intriguingly, “el olvido” can also be translated as “oblivion”).

So do I listen to Swift now? Yes, I listen when I can, plus there’s some catching up to do.

As far as the translation goes, “forgetting” is okay with me. More than that, Taylor Swift gets Neruda. Her album Red is nothing less than a passionate testament to this. If anything, she is not one to swiftly forget.

Come to think of it, neither am I.

Here is my own translation of Pablo Neruda’s Poem No. 20.

 

 

 

 

Poem XX

by Pablo Neruda

 

 

I can write the saddest lines this night.
 

Write, for example: “The night is starry,
and they shiver, blue things, the stars, in the distance.”
 

The night wind circles in the sky and sings.
 

I can write the saddest lines this night.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.
 

On nights like this I held her in my arms.
I kissed her so many times under the infinite sky.
 

She loved me, and sometimes I loved her too.
How could I not have loved her vast unwavering eyes.
 

I can write the saddest lines this night.
To think that I do not have her.  To feel that I have lost her.
 

To hear the immense night, more immense without her.
And the line of poetry falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.
 

What does it matter if I know that my love could not keep her.
The night is starry and she is not with me.
 

That is all.  In the distance someone is singing.  In the distance.
My soul is not content with having lost her.
 

My gaze looks for her as if to bring me close to her.
My heart searches for her, and she is not with me.
 

The same night that whitens the same trees.
We, from back then, we are no longer the same.
 

I no longer love her, that is certain, but how I loved her.
My voice used to look for the wind to touch her ear.
 

To another.  She will belong to another.  Like she did to my kisses before.
Her voice, her vivid body.  Her infinite eyes.
 

I no longer love her, that is certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, and letting go is so long.
 

Because on nights like this I held her in my arms,
my soul is not content with having lost her.
 

Though this is the last pain that she causes me,
and these the last lines for her that I write.
 

 

 

Translated by Alex Sawit
November 18, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

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