Las palabras

(The Words)

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The meaning of words, how they relate to each other, and how words and languages change and evolve, has been a subject that piqued my curiosity from an early age.The use of words figuratively also interests me. Poets and writers are allowed to subvert the meaning of words when they construct a metaphor linking the real world with a figurative other that lives in our senses.

There is such a beautiful abundance of metaphorical expression throughout Spanish literature; the passion of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda describing words in his Memoirs, I Confess I have lived [1] springs to mind: … I love words … they sparkle as pearls of colours, jump as silver fishes, they are foam, thread, metal, dew … I hunt some of them down … they are so beautiful that I want to put all of them in my poem [2]:

 “Vocablos amados… Brillan como perlas de colores, saltan como platinados peces, son espuma, hilo, metal, rocío… Persigo algunas palabras… Son tan hermosas que las quiero poner todas en mi poema…

Photo libro Confieso que he vivido

I confess I have lived, Pablo Neruda, Spanish edition Six Barral. For the whole text of the fragment “Las Palabras” in Spanish click here.

A word is a sound, or a number of sounds linked together, to describe an idea. When combined words create sentences with intent such as when we say “I give you my word”, te doy mi palabra, in both English and Spanish, we are asserting a pledge in order to guarantee and seal an agreement with one’s honour. This expression alone evidences the credibility we give to words and their power in our world.

From the oral traditions to the later written texts of the Iron Age, human beings have tried to describe the power of the word. The Bible’s Gospel of John depicts the origin of everything in a compelling manner: In the beginning was the word (John 1-1). When the spoken word emerged, we begun to name things and to describe everything that surrounds us. A revolution started when language became part of the human experience, turning out to be the ultimate tool to communicate our thoughts, needs and feelings.

The “word” emerged like ammunition exploding everywhere. Words and languages evolved, transformed and migrated. The word was exchanged like a coin, sung and recited by singers and poets, and in contrast the word was weaponised by others to victimise opposition and burned by inquisitors. Languages have been and are a very important part of the fine web that gave birth to nations; and nations declared wars to defend their identity or to impose it.

The words travel inland, crossing rivers and oceans around the world. Thousands of years ago, successive waves of pastoral tribes from Eastern Europe invaded the lands of Western Europe imposing their language into the native inhabitants. In 1st millennium BCE (Before Current Era) the fertile land to the western centre of Italy will become the cradle of a tribe, the Latins. Their dialect was the predecessor of the Latin, which the Romans would eventually spread throughout the whole Mediterranean. It is well known, that the fragmentation of the Roman Empire during the first millennium CE (Current Era) gave birth to the Romance Languages, of which Spanish is part.

Photo Neruda

Pablo Neruda, described the expansion and gestation of the Spanish language in Latin America with unequalled poetry: … what a good language we inherited from the grim conquerors … They went striding by the tremendous curled mountain ranges, in the rough Americas, looking for potatoes … beans, tobacco, gold … for where they passed the land was razed to the ground … but from the barbarians’ beards and horseshoes words fell like pebbles … and stayed here resplendent … We lost … We won … They took the gold and they left the gold … They took everything and left it all … They left the words.[3]

May 2014

( A follow up article to this untitled: Genesis, published on 14 August 2014, can be found: click here )

( A follow up article on Neruda’s works untitled: Worldwide News: 21 unpublished poems by Pablo Neruda brought together in a new book, published on 7 November 2014, can be found: click here )

[1] Free translation from: I Confess I have lived, Pablo Neruda, Chapter 2, Lost in the city, page 25, Seix Barral Editorial; (Confieso que he vivido, Pablo Neruda, Chapter 2, Perdido en la ciudad, Las palabras, Editorial Seix Barral, página 25).

[2] Vocablos amados… Brillan como perlas de colores, saltan como platinados peces, son espuma, hilo, metal, rocío… Persigo algunas palabras… Son tan hermosas que las quiero poner todas en mi poema…Ibid.

[3] … qué buena lengua heredamos de los conquistadores torvos… Estos andaban a zancadas por las tremendas cordilleras, por las Américas encrespadas, buscando patatas … frijolitos, tabaco negro, oro… Por donde pasaban quedaba arrasada la tierraPero a los bárbaros se les caían de la tierra de las barbas, de las herraduras, como piedrecitas, las palabras luminosas que se quedaron aquí resplandecientes … Salimos perdiendo… Salimos ganando… Se llevaron el oro y nos dejaron el oro… Se lo llevaron todo y nos dejaron todo… Nos dejaron las palabras. Ibid

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About hoxton spanish tutor info

Hi, my name is Adrian Sanchez. I am passionate about words and languages, particularly Spanish, the language I learned at my mother’s knee. I am curious about how languages change and evolve. I am a qualified Spanish Teacher (CLTA) and a journalist. I have taught in literacy campaigns in Latin America and given Spanish tuition in Spain and in the UK. I would like to share some of my thoughts on the Spanish language; and particularly on what I have learned from my students, who in many ways have become my teachers throughout the years. Spanish is a vast and beautiful language and I would like you to accompany me on a journey of discoveries. You can visit my blog here: Email: Thank you!

4 responses to “Las palabras”

  1. Tony O'Hara says :

    My favourite blog thus far as I am usually totally disinterested in poetry and I found myself rereading a number of times.


  2. Alison says :

    Que interesante es este “blog” de Sr. Sanchez. Es evidente que es un profesor que ama la lengua – Ingles y Espanol.


  3. Hugo Rodríguez Brignardello says :

    I congratulate this keen, delicate and beautiful post.


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