The Topaz of Pablo Neruda
Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto was a Chilean poet better known as Pablo Neruda. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, two years before his death. Neruda called himself a “natural poet” and wrote with green ink because to him it represented desire and hope. Neruda’s poetry contains themes and symbols from nature, such as poppies, rivers, wood, and the sea. Another recurring theme in Neruda’s poetry is the gemstone topaz.
“[M]y poetry was born between the hill and the river, it took its voice from the rain and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests.”
When Neruda spoke of topaz, he did so in terms of “amber stone,” “congealed honey,” a “golden day,” “an autumn leaf,” or “ that wheatfield of sky.” However, in addition to orange, yellow, and reddish hues, topaz can also be colorless, pink, purple, blue, or green.
In Stones of the Sky (trans. James Nolan), Neruda included two poems about topaz, one of which contains the following lines:
“When you touch topaz
topaz touches you:
a gentle warmth awakes
as if wine in the grape
Even before birth, the clear wine
inside a stone
seeks routes, demands words,
hands over its mysterious food,
and shares a kiss with human skin.”
Topaz is celebrated in many other poems by Neruda. He spoke of mermaid’s arms “made of white topaz” and “wine with topaz blood.” Churches were “sustained in the tranquility of topaz.” A cat was “a solitary thing like the sun or a topaz,” and the sun like “so much honey in the topaz.”
sliced a small
in the lemon,
revealed acid stained glass,
At times the fog glowed
a topaz light,
a moist sun cast
rays dripping yellow drops.
Topaz also features in what is probably Neruda’s most famous love poem:
I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way
than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.
- Unlucky Opal
- Agrippa’s Magical Topaz