LAST VALENTINE’S DAY while I was digging around for a non-jewelry gift for my wife, I found a recording of Pablo Neruda reading his collection, XX poemas de amor y una canción desesperada. For me, the name “Neruda” is an eponym for romance because his poems say all of the things I would say if I had more imagination and less self-consciousness. If that isn’t enough, Neruda is a magician with imagery. The images in his poems seem as impossible as doves pulled from a scarf. At the same time, his cadences — especially in the original Spanish — are as debonairly waist grabbing as any slow jam.
The recording begins with “Poema I,” and hearing Neruda read the first line, “Cuerpo de mujer, blancas colinas, muslos blancos / te pareces al mundo […]” accentuates the romance in the assonance, the bit of Marvin Gaye in the consonance. The music is there even before the meaning of the verse settles in: “Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs / you look like a world […].” Neruda is all in from the moment the recording starts. His reading is absent of irony, fully lusty, and completely in love: everything a good Valentine’s Day gift is supposed to represent.
— Adrian Matejka
Pablo Neruda, “Poema I” from XX poemas de amor y una canción desesperada