Of the many men who I am, who we are,
I can’t find a single;
they disappear among my clothes,
they’ve left for another city.
When everything seems to be set
to show me off as intelligent,
the fool I always keep hidden
takes over all that I say.
At other times, I’m asleep
among distinguished people,
and when I look for my brave self,
a coward unknown to me
rushes to cover my skeleton
with a thousand fine excuses.
When a decent house catches fire,
instead of the fireman I summon,
an arsonist bursts on the scene,
and that’s me. What can I do?
What can I do to distinguish myself?
How can I pull myself together?
All the books I read
are full of dazzling heroes,
always sure of themselves,
I die with envy of them;
and in films full of wind and bullets,
I goggle at the cowboys,
I even admire the horses.
But when I call for a hero,
out comes my lazy old self;
so I never know who I am,
nor how many I am or will be.
I’d love to be able to touch a bell
and summon the real me,
because if I really need myself,
I mustn’t disappear.
While I am writing, I’m far away;
and when I come back, I’ve gone.
I would like to know if others
go through the same things that I do,
have as many selves as I have,
and see themselves similarly;
and when I’ve exhausted this problem,
I’m going to study so hard
that when I explain myself,
I’ll be talking geography.
– Pablo Neruda ( Muchos somos/We are many)
translated by Alastair Reid