Pablo Neruda :: To the Dead Poor Man

Today we are burying our own poor man;

our poor poor man. 

He was always so badly off

that this is the first time

his person is personified. 

For he had neither house nor land,

nor alphabet nor sheets,

nor roast meat,

and so from one place to another, on the roads,

he went, dying from lack of life,

dying little by little - 

that was the way of it from his birth. 

Luckily (and strangely) they were all of the same mind,

from the bishop to the judge,

in assuring him of his share of heaven;

and dead now, properly dead, our own poor man,

oh, our poor poor man,

he will not know what to do with so much sky.

Can he plow it or sow it or harvest it?

He did that always; cruelly

he struggled with raw land,

and now the sky lies easy to his plow,

and later, among the fruits of heaven,

he will have his share, and at his table,

at such a height, everything is set

for him to eat his fill of heaven,

our poor man, who brings, as his fortune

from below, some sixty years of hunger

to be satisfied, finally, as is just and proper,

with no more batterings from life,

without being victimized for eating;

safe as houses in his box under the ground,

now he no longer moves to protect himself,

now he will not struggle over wages. 

He never hoped for such a justice, did this man. 

Suddenly they have filled his cup and it cheers him;

now he has fallen dumb with happiness.

How heavy he is now, the poor poor man!

He was a bag of bones, with black eyes,

and now we know, by the weight of him alone,

the oh so many things he always lacked,

for if this strength had gone on and on,

digging up raw land, combing out stones,

harvesting wheat, soaking clay,

grinding down sulfur, lugging firewood,

if this so weighty man did not have shoes,

oh, misery, if this whole separate man

of tendon and muscle didn’t ever have

justice in life, and all men beat him,

all men did him down, and even so

he went on laboring away, now, lifting him up,

in his coffin, on our shoulders, 

now at least we know how much he didn’t have,

that we did not help him in his life on earth. 

Now it dawns on us we are taking on

all that we never gave him, and now it is late;

he weighs on us, and we cannot take his weight. 

How many people does our dead one weight?

He weighs as much as this world does, and we go on

taking this dead one on our shoulders. It’s clear

that heaven must abound in bread baking. 

(Trans: Alastair Reid)