Granted: one poet’s experience

with manual metaphysics

doesn’t make a poetics;

but I’ve pared my nails to the quick

to temper my craft

and these shabby prescriptions

I learned for myself, at first hand:

if you find them uncouth

for a poet’s vocation,

I agree–no apologies needed!

I smile toward the future

and am gone before you can give me your reasons.

from Pablo Neruda’s poem “Ars Poetica (I), translated from Spanish by Ben Belitt


This section of Neruda’s poem stays with me because it reflects a spirit of invention, a spirit of resolute independence that I admire and carry with me.   The first time I gathered my poems in one place, I called that collection “Manual Metaphysics.”  As I work with students, I try to help them build a similar spirit of independence.  As I consider this passage further, I sense a connection to Keats’s negative capability because for him that notion means standing still and ready in the midst of uncertainty.  As I understand him, he’s saying be capable of negative movement, no movement.  Eschew the impulse to move out of that space immediately.  Stay there . . . long enough to see the environment and make a choice based on an appreciation of your uncertain surroundings.  Though Neruda moves faster than his critics, that movement takes him into new places he has built.  Other people may express uncertainty or judgment about how “good” his work is, but so what.  he enjoys creating and learning as he goes.  So he goes.  He accepts the uncertainty and experimentation.