Flies Enter a Closed Mouth

This is Ben Belitt’s translation of Pablo Neruda’s poem. I couldn’t find the Belitt translation elsewhere on the internet, and I think it’s just beautiful. I highly recommend picking up the complete volume, Five Decades: 1925-1970, which features each poem in English laid out line-by-line with the original Spanish. It is exceptional. It’s also worthwhile to compare this translation to the original and Stephen Mitchell‘s.

Flies Enter a Closed Mouth

Why, with these red fires, are the rubies
ready to burst into flame?

Why is the heart of the topaz
yellow with honeycombs?

Why is it the rose’s vagary
to change the color of its dreams?

Why did the emerald freeze
like a drowned submarine?

And why does the sky pale
in the starlight of June?

Where does the lizard buy
fresh paint for its tail?

Where is the subterranean fire
that revives the carnations?

Where does the salt get
that look of transparency?

Where did the coal sleep
before it woke to its darkness?

And wher, where does the tiger guy
the stripes of its mourning, it’s markings of gold?

When did the honeysuckle first
sense its own perfume?

When did the pine take account
of its fragrant conclusion?

When did the lemons learn
the same creed as the sun?

When did smoke learn how to fly?

When do roots talk with each other?

How do stars get their water?
Why is the scorpion venomous
and the elephant benign?

What are the tortoise’s thoughts?
To which point do the shadows withdraw?
What is the song of the rain’s repetitions?
Where do birds go to die?
And why are leaves green?

What we know comes to so little,
what we presume is so much
what we learn, so laborious,
we can only ask questions and die.
Better save all our pride
for the city of the dead
and the day of the carrion:
there, when the wind shifts
through the hollows of your skull
it will show you all manner of
enigmatical things, whispering truths in the
void where your ears used to be.