Neruda by
(361 Stories)

Prompted By Poetry

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I read Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s obituary with great sadness and keen interest. She passed away in 2006, aged 52 from breast cancer. She was a leading mezzo-soprano of her day and, though I’d never heard her perform, our lives intersected at a few points. She had also attended the Interlochen Arts Camp in her youth, so we shared a love of the pine-forested place of wonder in Northern Michigan. But, like my close friend and also mezzo, Emily, who started camp as a french horn player, Lorraine was a violist, actually had a good professional career until she came to the Boston Conservatory and trained as an opera singer at age 26. She stayed here for many years as her career and reputation grew.

She made her professional debut in a production directed by Peter Sellars, who at the time was still in Boston. That was another connection. His nephew was my David’s best friend in kindergarten. Peter’s sister lived in his South End apartment, which we used to visit all the time. Finally I asked about the theatrical posters that lined the entrance wall and Juliet confided about her brother. Of course I knew who Peter Sellars was. At this point, his career had taken him to San Francisco, but he hadn’t sold his South End condo; Juliet and Ollie lived there and commuted to the private school where David attended kindergarten. They were inseparable that year and the kids frequented both our  homes.

David & Ollie, 1991

Lorraine became known for her ability to sing Baroque music as well as contemporary music and was likened to the great Maria Callas for her ability to dig deeply into her roles and bring out the passion in her performances. She met conductor/composer Peter Hunt, who divorced his wife for her. They formed a unique partnership of marriage and art. He wrote several song cycles for her; “Rilke Songs” and “Neruda Songs”. She recorded them and received great acclaim and posthumous Grammys for them. I knew they were based on passionate love poems and, after reading her obituary, looked up the poems of Neruda.

Pablo Neruda was a Chilean diplomat who won the Nobel Peace prize, but also, under this pen name, wrote gorgeous, sensual poetry. I was blown away when I looked up some of his poetry. I will share one:


One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII

(translated by Mark Eisner)

I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as one loves certain obscure things,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,
and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose
from the earth lives dimly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
so close that your eyes close with my dreams.


Whew…gets me hot just reading it. So secretive, so deep. I just love every image of perfect intimacy and blending of two lovers, particularly the last two lines; the hands becoming one, the sharing of dreams. Read it again, slowly. It reveals more, like that hidden aroma that dimly lives within the lover’s body.


Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Tags: Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, passion, Interlochen, breast cancer
Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Laurie Levy says:

    So sad to have lost Lorraine Hunt Lieberman at such a young age. And so strange how paths intertwine in life. I have been wanting to read Naruda and the poem you shared has piqued my interest. It’s truly beautiful and the translation is great. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    I know your love is music, Betsy, and I know that this week’s prompt is poetry. While these are hardly unrelated arts, I still was not sure where your story would find the intersection. Well, once you got to love poems, I could see where it was going. And your sharing of one of the love sonnets was just brilliant. And, much as the poem speaks (or sings, or perhaps whispers) for itself, your final paragraph is itself a poetic tour de force in describing it. Brava!

  3. Marian says:

    Betsy, Neruda is one of my favorites. If you are moved by his poetry, as am I, check out the film “Il Postino,” which has Neruda as a character. I won’t give away the plot, but it was one of the few films that left me so moved that I was sobbing in the movie theater.

  4. Suzy says:

    Very touching story, Betsy. I wondered how this obituary of a mezzo whom you didn’t even know was going to lead to Neruda, but of course it did. And of course she had gone to Interlochen, so that connected her to you. And what a magnificent poem you chose to include. I have not read any Neruda, but now I will definitely do so. Thank you.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I confess, I found the poem first, but was led to it years ago, as I described, while reading about Hunt Lieberson, so that was the connection. Glad you liked my choice of poems. It took my breath away too.

  5. John Zussman says:

    Beautiful tribute, Betsy, to both Neruda and Hunt Lieberson. I didn’t know she was an Interlochen alum, but I’m not surprised. She sang on our go-to recording of Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony with the SF Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas, recorded a few years after we sang it with MTT. Her mezzo voice has the color and depth of a viola, which I’m not surprised to learn she played. Did you catch Lloyd Schwartz’s recent tribute to her on Fresh Air?

    As for Neruda, that sonnet left me breathless! Terrific choice.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, John. In this era when one can YouTube anything, I keep meaning to look her up. I am envious that you heard her live. She must have been something. I did not hear the Fresh Air tribute. Thanks for the link!

      Yes, the poem moved me beyond words…glad it affected you as well.

  6. Very beautiful commentary on Neruda and an excellent choice of poetry, Betsy. Beside being a poet and diplomat, Neruda was prolific as an essayist. Many of his essays and prose poems have been collected in an anthology, Passions and Impression. They are mostly short pieces and the prose is a bit over the top at times (might be the translation) but they form a wonderful collage of Neruda’s life and times and the world he traveled through, often as an exile. He also wrote a powerful and prosaic memoir called ha ha Memoirs. He brings all of history with him.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you for this information, Charles. I have only read about him on the web, and found his poems there as well. I know he led a difficult life (though he did win a Noble, so he won the highest accolades). A most interesting man.

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