These days, Valparaíso is famous for its laid-back bohemian vibe and vibrant street art scene. The city has long inspired artists, including one of Chile’s most famous poets. We’ll learn a bit more and study a great Spanish poem in an ode to Valparaíso.

Neruda’s Escape

An Ode to Valparaíso

What a beautiful city.

Pablo Neruda was a poet, diplomat, and politician and is an icon in Chile. He had a home here in Valpo where he would escape the “tiredness of Santiago” and focus on writing. Located on one of the city’s many hills, Neruda’s home (called La Sebastiana) is now a museum you can visit to learn about the writer and enjoy the amazing city views.

Oda a Valparaíso

Perhaps no one has been able to capture the essence of Valparaíso quite like Neruda. His poem “Oda a Valparaíso” (“Ode to Valparaíso”) is the perfect depiction of the funky port city. Here it is in both Spanish and English. See if you can read the Spanish version out loud and translate what you can yourself before reading the English version.

Some of Valpo’s awesome street art.

Spanish

Valparaíso,
qué disparate
eres,
qué loco,
puerto loco,
qué cabeza
con cerros,
desgreñada,
no acabas
de peinarte,
nunca
tuviste
tiempo de vestirte,
siempre
te sorprendió
la vida,
te despertó la muerte,
en camisa,
en largos calzoncillos
con flecos de colores,
desnudo
con un nombre
tatuado en la barriga,
y con sombrero,
te agarró el terremoto,
corriste
enloquecido,
te quebraste las uñas,
se movieron
las aguas y las piedras,
las veredas,
el mar,
la noche,
tú dormías
en tierra,
cansado
de tus navegaciones,
y la tierra,
furiosa,
levantó su oleaje
más tempestuoso
que el vendaval marino,
el polvo
te cubría
los ojos,
las llamas
quemaban tus zapatos,
las sólidas
casas de los banqueros
trepidaban
como heridas ballenas,
mientras arriba
las casas de los pobres
saltaban
al vacio
como aves
prisioneras
que probando las alas
se desploman.

Pronto,
Valparaíso,
marinero,
te olvidas
de las lágrimas,
vuelves
a colgar tus moradas,
a pintar puertas
verdes,
ventanas
amarillas,
todo
lo transformas en nave,
eres
la remendada proa
de un pequeño,
valeroso
navío.
La tempestad corona
con espuma
tus cordeles que cantan
y la luz del océano
hace temblar camisas
y banderas
en tu vacilación indestructible.

Estrella
oscura
eres
de lejos,
en la altura de la costa
resplandeces
y pronto
entregas
tu escondido fuego,
el vaivén
de tus sordos callejones,
el desenfado
de tu movimiento,
la claridad
de tu marinería.
Aquí termino, es esta
oda,
Valparaíso,
tan pequeña
como una camiseta
desvalida,
colgando
en tus ventanas harapientas
meciéndose
en el viento
del océano,
impregnándose
de todos
los dolores
de tu suelo,
recibiendo
el rocío
de los mares, el beso
del ancho mar colérico
que con toda su fuerza
golpeándose en tu piedra
no pudo
derribarte,
porque en tu pecho austral
están tatuadas
la lucha,
la esperanza,
la solidaridad
y la alegría
como anclas
que resisten
las olas de la tierra.

You can even follow along with this great YouTube video to hear the poem read out loud. This will help you with any pronunciation questions you may have.

English

Valparaíso,
what an absurdity
you are,
how crazy:
a crazy port.
What a head
of disheveled
hills,
that you never finish
combing.
Never
did you have
time to dress yourself,
and always
you were surprised
by life.
Death woke you up,
in your nightshirt,
in your long johns
fringed with colors,
naked
with a name
tattooed on your stomach,
and with a hat.
The earthquake caught you,
and you ran
crazedly,
you broke your fingernails.
The waters and the stones
the sidewalks,
the sea,
the night,
all were shaken.
You slept
on the ground,
tired
from your navigation,
and the furious
earth
lifted its waves
more tempestuous
than a marine gale.
The dust
covered up
your eyes.
The flames
burned your shoes.
The solid houses
of the bankers
trembled
like injured whales,
while above,
the houses of the poor
jumped
into the void
like imprisoned
birds
who test their wings
and fall to the ground.

Soon,
Valparaíso,
sailor,
you forget
about your tears.
You return
to hanging your dwellings,
to painting doors
green,
and windows
yellow.
You transform
everything into a boat.
You are
the patched-up prow
of a small
brave
ship.
The foamy crown
of the tempest.
Your ropes that sing
and the ocean light
that makes the shirts
and flags tremble
with your indestructible swaying.

Dark
star
you are
from far away.
In the height of the coast
you shine
and soon
you surrender
your hidden fire.
The rocking
of your muffled alleys,
the uninhibitedness
of your movement,
the clarity
of your seamanship.
Here I conclude
this ode,
Valparaíso:
so little
like a destitute
undershirt,
hanging
raggedly in your windows
rocking
in the wind
of the ocean,
saturated
with all
the sorrows
of your land,
receiving
the dew
of the seas, the kiss
of the wide irritable ocean
that with all its strength
beats against your stones.
It couldn’t
knock you down,
because within your southern chest
are tattooed:
struggle,
hope,
solidarity
and happiness
like anchors
that withstand
the waves of the earth.

 

After visiting Valparaíso for the city’s legendary New Year’s Eve party, I can definitely see the truth in Neruda’s words. It’s a fascinating city with an incredible community of artists constantly leaving their mark on the landscape and culture. Valpo was one of my favorite cities in all of South America after spending 7 months there, and I can’t wait to get back and dig a bit deeper to discover more of this great Chilean city.

Have you been to Valpo? Did you visit Neruda’s house? What did you think of the city? Leave a comment below and let us know!

About the Author:sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they’re currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.



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