Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs,
when you surrender, you stretch out like the world.
My body, savage and pleasant, undermines you
and makes a son leap in the bottom of the earth.
I was lonely as a tunnel. Birds flew from me.
And night invaded me with her powerful army.
To survive I forged you like a weapon,
like an arrow for my bow, or a stone for my sling.
But now the hour of revenge falls, and I love you.
Body of skin, of moss, of firm and thirsty milk!
And the cups of your breasts! And your eyes full of absence!
And the roses of your mound! And your voice slow and sad!
Body of my woman, I will live on through your marvelousness,
My thirst, my desire without end, my wavering road!
Dark river beds down which the eternal thirst is flowing,
and the fatigue is flowing, and the grief without shore.
I placed this poem, “Body of a Woman” by Neruda, and “I Sing the Body Electric” by Walt Whitman side by side before I began my blog this evening. I read and reread them to offer up my views as to their similarities and differences. Neruda’s poem, which I posted above, is very sensual and tauntingly erotic. His love of women and their bodies is evident in his descriptions. This poem is easy to read and Neruda displays his love of the body through his poetry and it is portrayed in a way that makes it is available for readers from all walks of life. That is not to imply that he is a lesser poet, by any means, but more that he is “everyman’s” poet. I enjoy this type of poetry, especially at this point in our studies, after wading through the rough currents of Hart Crane and other tough Modernist poets.
Walt Whitman writes about the human body as well in his poem, “I Sing the Body Electric.” Whitman writes about both male and female bodies, however he definitely writes more closely about the male body. The poem is too long to add to this blog, however, I am pasting a piece of it below. In this exert, Whitman is describing the body of a man in detail. This poem uses a lot of the traditional Whitmanian listing:
The expression of the face balks account;
But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face;
It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of
his hips and wrists;
It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist
and knees–dress does not hide him;
The strong, sweet, supple quality he has, strikes through the cotton
To see him pass conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more;
You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder-side.
Reading these two poems, it is easy to find the similarities. Their use of flowing, beautiful imagery helps to create a poem that not only celebrates the outward beauty of the human body, but also the natural beauty that glows from within the body. The poems are very attractive in a way that causes the reader to fall in love, or at least in lust, with the object of the poet’s desire.