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The Book of Questions
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About the Author

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) held diplomatic posts in Asian and European countries. After joining the Communist Party, Neruda was elected to the Chilean Senate but was forced to live in exile in Mexico for several years. Eventually he established a permanent home on Isla Negra. In 1970 he was appointed as Chile's ambassador to France; in 1971 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. William O'Daly is one of the most celebrated translators of the poetry of Pablo Neruda. He lives in California.

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Once called ``a one-man Renaissance,'' Nobel laureate and Chilean poet and statesman Neruda (1904-1973) wrote these 74 poems and 316 playful questions about death, nature, and rebirth in the last year of his life. Cryptic and intriguing, these brief answerless riddles, like Roethke's visionary poems, ask the sophisticated question of the innocent child--``Is the sun the same as yesterday's/ or is the fire different than that fire?''--and probe what it means to be human: ``Whom can I ask what I came/to make happen in this world?'' This volume is the last in a series of seven bilingual translations from this publishers of Neruda's late and posthumously published work. American poetry and readers benefit by having excellent English-language translations of all Neruda's complicated, prolific work.-- Frank Al len, SUNY at Cobleskill

The 74 poems in this collection consist entirely of questions. These questions appeal to the reader to supply images not answers. Exploiting the lag between perception and understanding, the Nobel laureate's poems evoke pictures that make sense on a visual level before the reader can grasp them on a literal one. The effect is mildly dazzling: ``Where did the full moon leave / its sack of flour tonight?'' Composed during the final months of a fatal illness, these poems are also pervaded by an autumnal atmosphere: ``Why do leaves commit suicide / when they feel yellow?'' Yet Neruda's characteristic depiction of life and death as cyclical allows him to be inquisitive and even playful toward his own mortality instead of despairing: ``Will your worms become part / of dogs or of butterflies?'' O'Daly's translations achieve a tone that is both meditative and spontaneous. His introduction, however, fares less well, in yielding to the misconception of Neruda ( Still Another Day ) as a kind of South American shaman rather than representing him as the shrewd and ironic poet he demonstrated himself to be even in minor works such as this. (Sept.)

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