The interrogative poems of Pablo Neruda, now translated and illustrated for children
Who shouted with joy at the birth of the color blue? When I look at the sea again, does the sea see me or not see me? Why do the waves ask me the same questions I ask them?
These are the questions, and hundreds of others, posed by Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda in his Libro de las Preguntas (Book of Questions). Compiled throughout his life and published a year after his death in 1973, Neruda’s thoughtful and playful questions are well known in Latin American literature. Now, a new bilingual, illustrated selection of Neruda’s questions has been published by Enchanted Lion Books, giving English-speaking readers – and especially children – the chance to interrogate the world with the Chilean poet.
“Children are constantly asking for things because to them everything is new. So they ask questions to structure the world they are entering,” said Paloma Valdivia, the book’s illustrator.
In Latin America, especially in Chile, many children grow up knowing these interrogative poems well.. In fact, Valdivia herself learned to read through the poetry of Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda, and she came to memorize some of those questions, with melodies added to help her along. Valdivia said this new bilingual version, which took nearly five years to make, can bring a new generation of children closer to poetry.
The new edition is intended for all members of the family. The book is voluminous and contains playful fold-out pages and whimsical illustrations that help draw readers into the imaginative world of questions.
The original book contains over 300 questions that cover a wide range of topics: from death and dreams to politics, literature, seasons and weather. But in curating the selection, translator Sara Lissa Paulson and writer Claudia Bedrick wanted to highlight those that would fall within the realm of experiences young children are excited to discover. They chose 70 questions primarily related to the relationship between humans and the natural world.
“I fell in love with how Latin America has a different perspective on the natural world, and I really think our country here can learn from these books,” Paulson said, “The questions we selected are about the rain, on the clouds, on the trees, on the animals. What we imagined was that they would prompt even more questions focused on humans and our world.
Instead of presenting Neruda’s complete poems, the new edition weaves selected issues into a visual world.
These illustrations were some of the most difficult she had ever done, said Valdivia, who has worked as a book illustrator for 20 years. For this edition, Valdivia drew on her own childhood in Chile and her knowledge of Neruda’s poetry to illustrate the geography of her poems, but she also visited the poet’s three homes in Chile for inspiration. There she found clues to what the poet was thinking when he wrote these questions or ideas for ways to conceptualize them for a younger audience, to present them to both Neruda and South America. South.
In illustrating these questions, Valdivia did not want to hint at any answers. In fact, part of the magic of Neruda’s questions is not that the reader finds an answer but rather finds even more questions.
This meditative approach to poetry is what makes the book’s publication appropriate for this time, Valdivia said.
“At a time when we are bombarded with noise, screens, violence and ultimately madness in a world that is so damaged right now, having these moments of introspection, contemplation and reflection on nature can help us to cultivate questions and cultivate our own inner worlds,” she said.