This poem has been floating around the internet attributed to the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.
I was getting ready to repost it when a reprimand I (rightly) received a few years back from the inimitable BA came to mind. There was no way I could post it in English without crediting the translator. So, I went looking. And I also found the poem – same words but entitled A Slow Death – attributed to Martha Medeiros, with an explanation:
Tired of people believing that Neruda wrote the poems, she got in touch with the Neruda Foundation to establish her own authorship, giving as evidence how largely the verses coincide with her work in Portuguese “A Morte Devagar” (To Death Slowly), published in the year 2000 on All Souls Day eve.
And the Foundation confirmed that Neruda hadn’t written it. Scarily, I found papers on the poem written by students who were also attributing it to Neruda.
So, I got the poet right, but still no translator.
I went off in search again and I finally found a translation of the original Portuguese poem and it’s not the same at all. Mark Pixley translated the original from the Spanish translation of the Portuguese version:
It’s a slow death for those who don’t exchange ideas or converse, and for those who avoid their own contradictions.
It’s a slow death for those who become the slaves of habit, following the same route every day and buying the same things at the grocery store. Those who never change pace, don’t risk wearing a new color, and don’t speak to strangers.
It’s a slow death for those who make television their guru and their daily partner. Many can’t afford a book or a ticket to the movies, but many can, yet they isolate themselves in front of a tube of images that brings information but shouldn’t, in just its few inches, take up so much space in a life.
It’s a slow death for those who avoid passion, who prefer black over white, and dotting i’s over a whirlwind of unshakeable emotions, exactly the kind that bring back the glimmer in our eye, turn hiccups into smiles, allow us to take heart in the face of trip-ups and dark moods.
It’s a slow death for those who don’t turn the tables when they’re unhappy at work, those who don’t risk trading certainty for uncertainty to chase a dream, those who, at least once in their lives, don’t run away from sound advice.
It’s a slow death for those who don’t travel, those who don’t read, those who don’t listen to music, those who don’t laugh at themselves.
It’s a slow death for those who destroy their self-esteem. It could be depression, a serious disease that requires professional help. Then those who don’t let themselves be helped wilt every day.
It’s a slow death for those who don’t work and don’t study, and most of the time it’s not an option, it’s destined: then a silent government can slowly kill a large portion of the population.
It’s a slow death for those who spend their days complaining about their bad luck or the rain that never ends, giving up on a project before starting it, those who don’t ask when they don’t know about something or don’t reply when asked about something they know.
Many people die slowly, and it’s the most ungracious and treacherous death, because when she is truly close, we’re too out of shape to go on for what little time remains.
May tomorrow, then, take its time before it’s our time. Since we can’t escape a sudden end, let’s at least avoid death in easy installments, reminding ourselves always that being alive requires a much greater effort than simply breathing.
Both have something to offer me though.
From the first, I laughed aloud at running away from sensible advice – at least once. Oh, how many times have I done that!!! From the second, it has to be the reminder that being alive requires a much greater effort than simply breathing.
Now, all I need is someone who speaks Portuguese to translate the original. You will, of course, be credited as the translator. Any takers?