Neruda in Ceylon: On making peace (of sorts) with Pablo Neruda

Robina P Marks in the Sri Lanka Guardian:

My love for your poetry is complicated further, because the memory of a Tamil woman called Thangamma keeps casting a dark shadow of fear and menace over your work. She darts and dives between the lines of your poems with an angry, restless spirit that will not cease.

Thangamma, the woman who would come every morning to your house next to the sea to collect buckets of your human waste, and those of others in your street. Thangamma, that you dreamt of possessing, and to whom you offered endless gifts of fruit and silk that she ignored. Until one day, as you recall in your writing, when you gripped her hard by her wrists. You described this vividly:

“Unsmiling, she let herself be led away and soon was naked in my bed. Her waist, so very slim, her full hips, the brimming cups of her breasts made her like one of the thousand-year-old sculptures from the south of India… She kept her eyes wide open all the while, completely unresponsive. She was right to despise me. The experience was never repeated.”

And then you continued with an account of the rest of your life, in your memoir, as if this was of no consequence, and just a momentarily regrettable incident. Did you think that saying “she was right to despise me” somehow absolved you from this act of rape?

More here.

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