All the Odes: A Bilingual Edition

Edited by Ilan Stavans. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $40 (896p) ISBN 978-0-374-11528-9
The Chilean Nobel laureate, who died in 1973, combined stratospheric powers of invention with a fecundity that bordered on the prolix; among his many creations were 225 “odes,” almost all in very short lines, connecting accessible, democratic vocabulary to exalted emotion. Most of the odes date from the 1950s; some odes on household objects (to a lemon, to a potato) remain much imitated in English. Stavans says he is the first to gather all the odes, including very late, very early, and more formal outliers. Stavans and a few lesser-known translators account for a large majority of translations here, though W. S. Merwin and Stephen Mitchell also appear. Along with a fishing boat, an elephant, vegetables, French fries, New Year’s Day, and other this-worldly phenomena, Neruda’s odes show both his communist and romantic sides, praising love itself, “clarity,” “broken things,” and V. I. Lenin. This enormous book provides an education of sorts into Neruda’s contexts as well as his effusive mind. Daunting to read straight through, sometimes banal, the volume nonetheless has profuse delights: Neruda lauds seagulls “as you are:/ your insatiable voraciousness,/ your screech in the rain,” while “Ode to Laziness” begins “Yesterday I felt this ode/ would not get off the floor.” (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 07/22/2013
Release date: 10/22/2013
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