When they were called to the table,
the tyrants came rushing
with their temporary ladies,
it was fine to watch the women pass
like wasps with big bosoms
followed by those pale
and unfortunate public tigers.
The peasant in the field ate
his poor quota of bread,
he was alone, it was late,
he was surrounded by wheat,
but he had no more bread;
he ate it with grim teeth,
looking at it with hard eyes.
In the blue hour of eating,
the infinite hour of the roast,
the poet abandons his lyre,
takes up his knife and fork, puts his glass on the table,
and the fishermen attend
the little sea of the soup bowl.
Burning potatoes protest
among the tongues of oil.
The lamb is gold on its coals
and the onion undresses.
It is sad to eat in dinner clothes,
like eating in a coffin,
but eating in convents
is like eating underground.
Eating alone is a disappointment,
but not eating matters more,
is hollow and green, has thorns
like a child of fish-hooks
trailing from the heart,
clawing at your insides.
Hunger feels like pincers,
like the bite of crabs,
it burns and has no fire.
Hunger is a cold fire.
Let us sit down to eat
with all those who haven't eaten;
let us spread great tablecloths,
put salt in the lakes of the world,
set up planetary bakeries,
tables with strawberries in snow,
and a plate like the moon itself
from which we can all eat.
For now I ask no more
than the justice of eating.
Translated by Alastair Reid - Wuthering (1988)
Neruda is unquestionably South America's most significant poet and a
writer with universal appeal. Poetry was his passion, his vocation
throughout his long life. Inexhaustibly various, he left behind an
enormous volume of work - including poems of love, praise, politics,
nature, myth and history. Neruda's favourite translator Alastair Reid
celebrates the achievement.