PABLO NERUDA: The Fable Of The Water Nymph And The Drunks

(Translated from the Spanish of Pablo Neruda)

All these gentlemen were here inside
when she came through the door completely naked
they’d been drinking and began to spit at her
she didn’t understand she was fresh out of the river
a water nymph who had lost her way
the insults flowed over her gleaming flesh
the filth covered her golden breasts
she didn’t know about crying so she didn’t cry
she didn’t know about dressing so she didn’t dress
they tattooed her with burnt corks and cigarettes
then fell down laughing on the tavern floor
she didn’t say anything because she didn’t know how
her eyes were the colour of far-away love
her arms formed of twinned white topaz
her lips pursed with the sheen of coral
and abruptly she went back out through that door
no sooner was she in the river than she was cleansed
she shone like white stone in the rain
and without looking back swam once more
swam towards never again swam towards death.