Sunday, February 18, 2007

Common Things


Sarah and I have been having a conversation in the comments section of yesterday's post, and as we were talking about photography and art and silverware I found myself thinking about a book that I came across when I was browsing in a bookstore some years ago. There are some books which are more or less strictly utilitarian, a compilation of words and sentences, but there are some books which are also a pleasure to hold in the hand, books which please the eye and the heart as well as the brain, and this is one of those books. It's a collection of Pablo Neruda poems called Odes to Common Things. It's published by Bulfinch Press and has simple, but quite satisfying pencil illustrations by Ferris Cook.

The Neruda poems are of course quite wonderful, but I probably never would have encountered them if my eye had not been caught that day by the understated but elegant drawing of a saltcellar on the cover. Facing the title page is another drawing, this time of five spoons in a glass.

The odes, presented on facing pages, Spanish on the left, English on the right, are about all sorts of ordinary things: table, bed, chair, dog, cat, bar of soap, socks, bread, onion, tomato; all of them with accompanying pencil drawings.

Here is one passage from from the middle section of "Ode to the Dictionary":


Dictionary, you are not
a grave, a tomb, or a coffin,
neither sepulchre nor mausoleum:
you are preservation,
hidden fire,
field of rubies,
vital continuity
of essence,
language's granary.
And it is a beautiful thing,
to pluck from your columns
the precise, the noble
word,
or the harsh,
forgotten
saying,
Spain's offspring
hardened
like the blade of a plow,
secure in its role
of outmoded tool,
preserved
in its precise beauty
and its medallion-toughness.
Also that other
word,
the one that slipped
between the lines
but popped suddenly,
deliciously into the mouth,
smooth as an almond,
or tender as a fig.
And, by way of another example, a segment for "Ode to the Spoon":

Little
spoon
in an
infant's
tiny hand
you raise
to his mouth
the earth's
most
ancient
kiss,
silent heritage
of the first water to sing
on lips that later lay
buried beneath the sand.



This is beautiful stuff: the poems, and the pictures. And I find them both encouraging because they are what they are, nothing more. The pictures, like the poems, celebrate simplicity, and celebrate with simplicity. (There's also a companion volume entitled Odes to Opposites...)

2 comments:

Sarah McIntosh Puglisi said...

So I have been drawing my forks.

And if there is a thing called humor in the universe...i have a sense of shaking my head with a smile.

Yesterday I was thanking my friend Susan for sending me a Neruda children's book( written on his early life and quite profound ) Go Singing Through the World. It's an incredible book but I gave it to a young teacher I work with who has just miscarried again. Neruda she said to me one day is her favorite writer.And I spontaneously wanted to give it to her, as I think now she is facing not being able to have children. A girl with a heart of love to give. And Neruda would speak to her, no?
So I was telling my friend Susan of how her gift to me had now to go to Abbe to help her with a tough time and here comes a circle back to me. That's a very amazing connection.

This is very meaningful on many levels, as I do value greatly the beauty of everyday things in a life.

And I put some pictures on this flickr thing to try to see if I could put art up that way. After I make a set of drawings I'll post them, inspired by your photos and now I see by these beautiful illustrations and poems. Thank you.

I had not considered this, my lovely pieces of silver. And the things I seem to love like these to have around. But I have longed to go work in pencil.What a poet he is.I'll go get this book.
Sarah

Sarah McIntosh Puglisi said...

I ordered this, it's wonderful.Thank you.