Libro de las Preguntas


Por qué el sombrero de la noche
vuela con tantos agujeros? Why does the night’s hat fly with so many holes?

Qué dice la vieja ceniza
cuando camina junto al fuego? The old ash, what does it say when it walks with the fire?

Por qué lloran tanto las nubes
y cada vez son más alegres? Why do the clouds cry so much, and each time they are more joyful?

Para quién arden los pistilos
del sol en sombra del eclipse? The sun’s rays in the shadow of the eclipse, for whom do they shine?

Cuántas abejas tiene el día? How many bees does a day contain?

Pablo Neruda wrote Libro de las Preguntas (The Book of Questions) as he was dying in 1973, and the book was published posthumously in 1974. It consists of 74 poems each containing four or five interrogatory couplets. The poetic form is sparse and the language is simple, childlike, sometimes vacuous and frequently profound. As this reviewer noted, the poems are redolent of koans, filled with some secret wisdom that snaps you into thinking about the subject in a new way (“How many years are in November?”). Themes include nature, love, wordplay, philosophy, life, and death — the Book is a microcosm of everything I want out of poetry. It is poignant to fly through several of his whimsical animations of nature and then come upon Neruda reflecting on his life and imminent passage..


Que pensaran de mi sombrero,
en cien anos mas, los polacos? What will the Polish think of my hat in 100 years?

Que diran de mi poesia
los que no tocaron mi sangre? The ones who did not touch my blood, what will they think of my poetry?

Como se mide la espuma
que resbala de la cerveza? The foam that runs down from the beer, how will it be measured?

Que hace una mosca encarcelada
en un soneto de Petrarca? A fly trapped in a sonnet by Petrarch, what does it do?

I have been a bit slow in getting through the 316 questions as I am reading the original Spanish edition. So far, the Book of Questions is the most beautiful last words I have heard.

Cuantas iglesias tiene el cielo? How many churches does the sky contain?

Por que no ataca el tiburon
a las impavidas sirenas? The shark, why doesn’t he attack the fearless sirens?

Conversa el humo con las nubes? Does the smoke converse with the clouds?

Es verdad que las esperanzas
deben regarse con rocio? Is it true that hopes should be watered with dew?

Que cosa irrita a los volcanes
que escupen fuego, frio y furia? What irritates the volcanoes that spit out fire, ice, and fury?

Por que Cristobal Colon
no pudo descubrir a Espana? Why couldn’t Christopher Columbus discover Spain?

Cuantos preguntas tiene un gato? How many questions does a cat have?

Las lagrimas que no se lloran
esperan en pequenos lagos? The tears that are not shed, do they wait in little lakes?

O seran rios invisibles
que corren hacia la tristeza? Or will they be invisible lakes that run toward sorrow?

Photo credit: The Fisherman by the Lake by Ibrahim Kerem Ozturk… because I am so very very excited about Turkey!


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