Neruda, Pablo (12 July 1904 - 23 September 1973)
Pablo Neruda (12 July 1904 - 23 September 1973)
University of Arizona
This entry was expanded by Rivero from her Nerudaentry in DLB 283: Modern Spanish American Poets, First Series.
BOOKS: Crepusculario (Santiago: Claridad, 1923);
Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (Santiago:Nascimento, 1924) ; translated by W. S. Merwinas Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (London:Cape, 1969; New York: Penguin, 1978);
Tentativa del hombre infinito (Santiago: Nascimento, 1926),
Anillos, by Neruda and Tomás Lago (Santiago: Nascimento, 1926);
El habitante y su esperanza (Santiago: Nascimento, 1926),
El hondero entusiasta (Santiago: Empresa Letras, 1933);
Residencia en la tierra: 1925-1931 (Santiago: Nascimento, 1933); enlarged as Residencia en la tierra: 1925– 1935, 2 volumes (Madrid: Cruz & Raya, 1935); translated by Angel Flores inResidence on Earth, and Other Poems (Norfolk, Conn.: New Directions, 1946) ;
España en el corazón (Santiago: Ercilla, 1937); translated by Flores as Spain in the Heart in Residence on Earth, and Other Poems;
Las furias y las penas (Santiago: Nascimento, 1939);
Canto general de Chile: Fraginentos (Mexico City: Privately published, 1943);
Alturas de Macchu Picchu (Santiago: Librería Neira, 1947) ; translated by Nathaniel Tarn as The Heights of Macchu Picchu (London: Cape, 1966; New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1966);
Canto general (Mexico City: Talleres Gráficos de la Nación, 1950); excerpts translated by Ben Belitt as Poems from the Canto General (New York: Racolin, 1968);
Los υersos del capitán, anonymous (Naples: L’Arte Tipografica, 1952); as Neruda (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1963); translated by Walsh as The Captain s Verses (New York: New Directions, 1972);
Las uυas y el viento (Santiago: Nascimento, 1954),
Odas elementales (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1954); translated by Carlos Lozano as Elementary Odes (New York: Gaetano Massa, 1961);
Nueυas odas elementales (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1956);
Tercer libro de las odas (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1957);
Estravagario (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1958); translated by Alistair Reid as Extravagaria (London: Cape, 1972; New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1974);
Navegaciones y regresos (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1959);
Cien sonetos de amor (Santiago: Editorial Universitaria,1959); translated by Stephen Tapscott as One Hundred Love Sonnets (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986);
Canción de gesta (Havana: Casa de las Américas, 1960); translated by Miguel Algarín as Song of Protest (New York: Morrow, 1976);
Las piedras de Chile (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1961); translated by Dennis Maloney as The Stones of Chile (Fredonia, N.Y.: White Pine, 1986);
Cantos ceremoniales (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1961); translated by Maria Jacketti as Ceremonial Songs (Pittsburgh: Latin American Literary Review Press, 1996);
Plenos poderes (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1962); translated by Reid as Fully Empowered (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1975);
Memorial de Isla Negra, 5 volumes (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1964); translated by Reid as Isla Negra: A Notebook (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1981);
Arte de pájaros (Santiago: Sociedad de Amigos del Arte Contemporáneo, 1966); translated by Jack Schmitt as Art of Birds (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985);
Una casa en la arena (Barcelona: Lumen, 1966); translated by Maloney and Clark M. Zlotchew as The House at Isla Negra: Prose Poems (Fredonia, N.Y.: White Pine, 1988);
Fulgor y muerte de Joaquín Murieta: Bandido chileno injusticiado en California el 23 de julio de 1853 (Santiago: Zig-Zag,1967), translated by Belitt as Splendor and
Death of Joaquin Murieta (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1972; London: Alcove, 1973);
La barcarola (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1967);
Las manos del día (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1968);
Fin de mundo (Santiago: Sociedad de Arte Contemporáneo, 1969);
Aún (Santiago: Nascimento, 1969); translated by William O’Daly as Still Another Day (Port Townsend, Wash.: Copper Canyon, 1984);
Maremoto (Santiago: Sociedad de Arte Contemporáneo de Santiago, 1970); translated by Jacketti and Maloney as Seaquake (Fredonia, N.Y.: White Pine, 1990);
La espada encendida (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1970);
Las piedras del cielo (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1970); translated by James Nolan as Stones of the Sky (Port Townsend, Wash.: Copper Canyon, 1987);
Geograa infructuosa (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1972);
Incitación al nixonicidio y alabanza de la revolución chilena (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1973); translated by Teresa Anderson as A Call for the Destruction of Nixon and Praise for the Chilean Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.:WestEnd, 1980);
La rosa separada (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1973); translated by O’Daly as A Separate Rose (Port Townsend, Wash.: Copper Canyon, 1985);
El mar y las campanas (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1973); translated by O’Daly as The Sea and the Bells (Port Townsend, Wash.: Copper Canyon, 1988);
Toward the Splendid City:. Nobel Lecture (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1974);
Jardín de invierno (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1974); translated by O’Daly as Winter Garden (Port Townsend, Wash.: Copper Canyon, 1986);
2000 (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1974); translated by Richard Schaaf (Falls Church, Va.: Azul Editions, 1997);
El corazón amarillo (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1974); translated by O’Daly as The Yellow Heart (Port Townsend, Wash.: Copper Canyon, 1990);
Libro de laspreguntas (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1974); translated by O’Daly as The Book of Questions (Port Townsend, Wash.: Copper Canyon, 1991);
Elegía (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1974); translated by Jack Hirschman as Elegy (San Francisco: David Books, 1983);
Defectos escogidos (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1974);
Confieso que he υivido (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1974); translated by Hardie St. Martin as Memoirs (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1977);
Para nacer he nacido, edited by Matilde Neruda and Miguel Otero Silva (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1978); translated by Margaret Sayers Peden as Passions and Impressions (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1982);
El rίo inυisible, edited by Jorge Edwards (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1980);
Cuadernos de Tmueo, 1919-1920, edited by Victor Farias (Buenos Aires: Seix Barral, 1996);
Yo acuso: Discursos parlamentarios, edited by Leonidas Aguirre Silva (Bogotá: Oveja Negra, 2002);
Yo respondo con mi obra: Conferencias, dscursos, cartas, dedaraciones (1932-1959), edited by Pedro Gutiérrez Revuelta and Manuel J. Gutiérrez (Salamanca, Spain: Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca, 2004).
Collection: Obras completas (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1957; enlarged, 1962; enlarged again, 2 volumes, 1967; enlarged again, 3 volumes, 1973).
Editions in English: A Neto Decade: Poems, 1958-1967, edited by Ben Belitt, translated by Belitt and Alistair Reid (New York: Grove, 1969);
Pablo. Neruda: The Early Poems, translated by David Ossman and Carlos B. Hagen (New York: New Rivers, 1969);
New Poems (1968-1970), edited and translated by Belitt (New York: Grove, 1972);
Fiυe Decades: A Selection: Poems, 1925-1970, edited and translated by Belitt (New York: Grove, 1974);
Pablo Neruda: A Basic Anthology, selected by Robert Pring-Mill (Oxford: Dolphin, 1975);
Late and Posthumous Poems, 1968-1974, edited and translated by Belitt (New York: Grove, 1988);
Selected Odes of Pablo Neruda, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990);
Canto General, Fiftieth Anniversary Edition, translated by Jack Schmitt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991);
Odes to Common Things, selected by Ferris Cook, translated by Ken Krabbenhoft (Boston: Little, Brown, 1994);
Pablo Neruda and Nicanor Parra Face to Face: A Bilingual and Critical Edition of their Speeches on the Occasion of Neruda’s Appointment to the Faculty of the University of Chile, translated by Marlene Gottlieb (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1997).
PLAY PRODUCTIONS: Romeo and Juliet, adapted from William Shakespeare’s play, Santiago, Instituto de Teatro de la Universidad de Chile, 18 October 1964;
Fulgor y muerte de Joaquín Murieta, Santiago, Instituto de Teatro de la Universidad de Chile, 14 October 1967.
RECORDING: Pablo. Neruda Reading Ills Poetry, Caedmon TC 1215, 1967.
Pablo Neruda, one of the most widely read Latin American poets of all time, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971. This honor came as the culmination of more than fifty years of writing poetry that moved readers worldwide, for Neruda’s verses of love, nature, and politics were heard across borders. In the Nobel citation, the Swedish Academy praised him “for a poetry that with the action of an elemental force brings alive a continent’s destiny and dreams.” Both his lyrical skill and his committed, collective voice bespeak the passion and insightful observation that characterized his life and his works.
Neruda was born Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto in Parral, a small town in southern central Chile, on 12 July 1904. The son of railroad engineer José del Carmen Reyes and elementary-school teacher Rosa Basoalto (who died of tuberculosis two months after the child came into the world), Reyes grew up surrounded by rainy forests and majestic mountains. When he was two years old, his father moved to Temuco and lived there throughout the boy’s adolescence, in a wooden house with a small garden. Reyes learned to read early and began to write timid verses, a point of contention with his father, who would not encourage his “daydreaming,” and his schoolmates, who made fun of him. He grew up reading voraciously, as a lonely boy, in spite of the two siblings born of his father’s second marriage, Laura and Rodolfo. At the age of sixteen Reyes was introduced to French poetry by the headmistress of Temuco’s school for girls, Gabriela Mistral, a poet who in 1945 received the first Nobel Prize in Literature awarded to a Latin American author.
His father’s remarriage to Doña Trinidad Candia Marverde (whom Neruda fondly recalled in his autobiographical poetry as “la mamadre,” the mother) was a blessing for Reyes. As a child he revered his stepmother, a sweet and silent woman of peasant stock who was close to the earth that he wrote of continually as a poet. The Reyes home was modest, but the boy had some privacy for his reading. “En un minuto la noche y la lluvia cubren el mundo. Alli estoy solo y en mi cuaderno de aritmética escribo versos” (In one minute the night and the rain cover the world. I am there all alone and in my arithmetic notebook I write poems), he recalled later in the 1962 edition of his Obras completas(Complete Works). His childhood in southern Chile was a lasting influence on his poetry, the geographical background taking on thematic importance. In his mature verses it became the substructure of his entire way of seeing and interpreting the world. Many years later Neruda recalled his Temucan youth in the first volume of his autobiographical verse memoir, Memorial de Isla Negra (1964; translated as Isla Negra: A Notebook, 1981), which he published on his sixtieth birthday. Some of the poems written during his formative years in Temuco are found in his first published book, Crepusculario (1923, Twilights).
In 1918 Reyes had his first poem published in a Santiago magazine, which printed thirteen more of his compositions the next year. Two literary prizes followed, and then third place in the River Maule Floral Games poetry competition. In 1920 Reyes won first prize for poetry in the spring festival in Temuco. Also that year he became a contributor to the literary journal Selυa Austral (Southern Jungle) under the pen name of Pablo Neruda, which he adopted in memory of the nineteenth-century Czech poet Jan Neruda. He began to dream about becoming a full-fledged poet and in 1921 left his frontier hometown and moved to Santiago, the capital, to train as a teacher of French. He never completed the study program. Soon after his arrival he won first prize in the poetry contest held by the Chilean University Student Federation with his poem “La canción de la fiesta” (The Festive Song). It is a Modernista piece, full of the rhythms and elegant images of early-twentieth-century Spanish American poetry and already displaying great dexterity in its handling of sonority and color. The young poet’s head “estaba llena de libros, sueños y poemas zumbando como abejas” (was filled with books, dreams, and poems buzzing around like bees), as he recalls in his Confieso que he υiυido (1974, I Confess That I Have Lived; translated as Memoirs, 1977). In 1923 he sold all of his possessions to finance the publication of Crepusculario. He published the volume under his pseudonym to avoid conflict with his family, who disapproved of his occupation. Crepusculario was the book that signaled his entry into the world of published poetry; he was between eighteen and nineteen when he wrote those verses.
Crepusculario includes some of the erotic poems for which Neruda was known throughout his life, but mostly his themes here belong to nature, somewhat in the vein of the French Symbolists such as Paul Verlaine. The section “Los crepúsculos de Maruri” (The Maruri Sunsets), particularly, exemplifies this thematic concern. Lines such as “La tarde sobre los tejados / cae / y cae…/ Quién le dio para que viniera l alas de ave?” (The afternoon / falls / and falls / over the roofs…/Who gave it for this journey / the wings of a bird?), from the poem“La tarde sobre los tejados,” convey a vague sadness about the impending demise of light, the approaching darkness, and its impact on the poet. The early love poetry of Crepusculario, however, was not as accomplished and successful as his Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (1924; translated as Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, 1969). To date, the latter is the most published and reproduced collection of Latin American verse, having been translated into twentyfour languages. This book established Neruda’s reputation as a poet of erotic and romantic love, opening his career to public acclaim.
It is difficult to overstate the impact of the publication of Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada. The
collection became one of the great success stories of its literary era in the Hispanic world. Over the years its style and themes dominated Spanish American poetic currents. By 1973, the last year for which statistics were available, more than two million copies of the Spanish text alone had been sold. The themes of these twenty-one amorous compositions are the sensuous, desperate yearning of a man in love with the woman he sees disappearing from his life; the final “canción desesperada” of farewell; and the descriptions of a woman’s body equated to the earth: passion, sensuality, ecstasy, descent into sorrow, and loneliness. Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada is a work of exuberant and erotic love, an exaltation of woman and sensuality written from grief and the loneliness of melancholy.
Neruda has explained that there are basically two love stories in the book: the love that filled his adolescence in the provinces and the love he found later in the labyrinth of Santiago. In Confieso que he vivido the poet calls these two women Marisol (literally, Mary Sun, or Sea and Sun) and Marisombra (Mary Shadow, or Sea and Shadow). These two images give rise to the earthy metaphors for the female body and soul that permeate the book, as in “Poema 19”:
Niña morena y ágil, el sol que hace las frutas,
el que cuaja los trigos, el que tuerce las algas,
hizo tu cuerpo alegre, tus luminosos ojos
y tu boca que tiene la sonrisa del agua.
(Nimble and bronze-skinned girl, the sun that makes fruits
the sun that swells the wheat, the sun that plaits sea weeds,
this sun has built your merry body, your luminous eyes,
your mouth that curves with the water’s smile.)
The exultation ends, however, in solitary grief in “Poema 20” and in “La Canción Desesperada” (The Song of Despair), with its images of shipwreck and desolation. The poet has found defeat in love: “Abandonado como los muelles en el alba. / Es la hora de partir” (Abandoned like the wharfs at dawn. / It is time to depart). The two women and the two moods of Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada are captured in simple, even stark, language. Neruda had not yet taken the step that plunged him into the surrealist world of images of Residencia en la tierra: 1925-1935 (1935; translated as Residence on Earth, 1946), but intuitively he anticipated that gray landscape of doubt and nothingness on the horizon.
Between 1925 and 1927, Neruda became impatient with himself and with his work. In spite of the popularity of his first book, fortune was eluding him, and he was still unknown outside of Chile. He made contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in 1927 got himself appointed as honorary consul of Chile to Rangoon, Burma. This appointment followed the standing Latin American tradition of honoring poets with diplomatic assignments. His knowledge of spoken English was sketchy and his consular experience nil. He was an adventurous, restless twenty-three-year-old writer, a tall, somber young man with dark eyes and a taste for women, with a charismatic presence and little in the way of money or possessions.
During the lengthy transoceanic journey to Rangoon, Neruda wrote reports and articles to newspapers in Chile and long letters to friends. These writings, as well as his poetry, continued when he arrived in the Orient. The East for him turned out to be a mixture of chaos, poverty, and fascinating perceptions of ancient cultures in contact with an oppressive colonial presence. Anguish and despair followed the poet, and he lived in almost abject poverty despite his appointment. Alcohol, poetry, and women were his escapes.
In Rangoon, a Burmese woman named Josie Bliss fell passionately in love with Neruda and followed him everywhere. In spite of his own attachment to her, the poet was disturbed and frightened by her extreme jealousy, and he left her behind when he was suddenly appointed Chilean consul in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1928. On the boat he wrote his poem “Tango del viudo” (The Widower’s Tango)-later to appear in the first volume of Residencia en la tierra-as a sad farewell to his jealous lover. Bliss surprised him by appearing on his doorstep in Colombo, Ceylon, however, and a second bitter farewell ensued sometime later.
In 1929 Neruda attended a meeting of the Indian National Congress Party in Calcutta. The vast crowds only added to his developing feelings of alienation and loneliness. In this atmosphere he wrote the poems later collected in Residencia en la tierra: 1925-1931 (1933). Most of its dark poems were written in Rangoon, Colombo, or aboard the ship that carried him home after his five-year stay in the Far East. The poems are filled with surrealistic images, illogical language, and the presence of material details, denoting his troubled state of mind both in the personal and social realms. He was poorly paid, constantly worrying about money, and suffering from depression. In Java he met María Antonieta (Maruka) Hagenaar, marrying her on 6 December 1930 in a union that proved illfated. Even his erotic poetry of those years, for example, “Agua sexual” (Sexual Water) in the second volume of Residencia en la tierra: 1925-1935, shows his problematic feelings and nihilistic worldview:
Y entonces hay este sonido: Un ruido rojo de huesos, un pegarse de carne,
y piernas amarillas como espigas juntándose.
Yo escucho entre el disparo de los besos,
escucho,9 sacudido entre respiraciones y sollozos.
(And then I hear this sound:
a red noise of bones,
a sticking together of the flesh
and legs yellow as ears of wheat meeting.
I listen among the explosion of the kisses,
I listen, shaken between breathing and sobs.)
Some critics, upon reading his compositions of those years such as “Walking Around” (which he titled in English) and “Caballero solo” (Gentleman Alone), detect a nightmarish vision not unlike the one depicted by T. S. Eliot in The Waste Land (1922). Much later, in Confieso que he vivido, Neruda confirms that negative vision. Isolated and anguished, he was forced into contemplating his own existential suffering and the sordid reality around him.
The Residencia en la tierra cycle comprises three books: the two volumes covering the periods from 1925 to 1931 and 1931 to 1935; and Tercera residencia: 1935-1945 (Third Residence: 1935-1945; translated, 1973), published in 1947. While the three volumes have been published together as Residencia en la tierra, the first two are primarily associated with the acute depression that the young poet suffered both in Chile and during and immediately after his devastating stay in the Far East. In a poetic manifesto that Neruda published in 1935, “Sobre una poesía sin pureza” (Toward an Impure Poetry), he affirms:
Es muy conveniente, en ciertas horas del día o de la noche, observar profundamente los objetos en descanso: las ruedas que han recorrido largas, polvorientas distancias, soportando grandes cargas vegetales o minerales, los sacos de las carbonerías, los barriles, las cestas, los mangos y asas de los instrumentos del carpintero. De ellos se desprende el contacto del hombre y de la tierra como una lección para el torturado poeta lírico. Las superficies usadas, el gasto que las manos han infligido a las cosas, la atmósfera a menudo trágica y siempre patética de estos objetos, infunde una especie de atracción no despreciable hacia la realidad del mundo.
(It is useful, at certain hours of the day and night, to look closely at the world of objects at rest: wheels that have crossed long, dusty spaces with their huge vegetal and mineral burdens, bags of coal from the coal bins, barrels, baskets, handles and hafts on a carpenter’s tool chest. From them flow the contacts of man with the earth, like an object lesson for all troubled lyricists. The used surface of things, the wear that hands have given to things, the air, tragic at times, pathetic at others, of such things—all lend a curious attractiveness to reality.)
Neruda is writing here as a true poet of matter, of nature, for whom nothing that exists in the external world is worthless. His vision of the world is anguished, however, dejected about the human condition. In this respect, it can be called existentialist poetry; but since it combines words and images unexpectedly and gives voice to a flow of obscure imagery from the subconscious mind, it can also be called surrealist. Loneliness easily overtakes Neruda when contemplating the immensity and empty spaces of nature, death, loss, and rejection.
In order to counteract and yet express these feelings, the poet uses the technique of enumeration, the construction of lists, a biblical rhetorical device that had been revived by Walt Whitman. Neruda adds the modern element of chaos. He uses chaotic enumeration to combat loneliness and nihilistic tendencies and, at the same time, creates a faded, irrational world, as in one of his best-known poems of those years, “Walking Around”:
Hay pájaros de color de azufre y horribles intestinos
colgando de las puertas de las casas que odio,
hay dentaduras olvidadas en una cafetera,
que debieran haber llorado de vergüenza y espanto,
hay paraguas en todas partes, y venenos, y ombligos.
(There are sulphur-colored birds, and hideous intestines
hanging over the doors of houses that I hate,
and there are false teeth forgotten in a coffeepot,
there are mirrors
that ought to have wept from shame and terror,
there are umbrellas everywhere, and venoms, and umbilical
Like Pablo Picasso in his cubist period, Neruda in Residencia en la tierra distorts human images and displaces objects; like the artist, the poet does not want to paint the world as attractive or beautiful but rather give the reader an expression of his troubled and powerful vision.
There are, nevertheless, poems in Residencia en la tierra in which optimism prevails. In these poems–for example, “Entrada a la madera” (Entrance into Wood), “Estatuto del vino” (Statute of Wine), and “Apogeo del apio” (Triumph of Celery)–pure matter, isolated from the environment, is described. These poems are an exercise in exultant descriptions of the natural world and its elements, and in them Neruda delves into the world of pure matter, untainted by cosmic disharmony or urban decay. These poems anticipate his love for the pristine elements of life found later in his poetry.
During the years he wrote the poems in Residencia en la tierra, Neruda also discovered the people’s cause in the Spanish Civil War. He was sent to Spain as Chilean consul in Barcelona in early 1934; his daughter and only child, Malva Marina, was born there in October, and shortly thereafter he was reunited with his friend, the great Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, whom he had first met in Buenos Aires in 1933. At the end of 1934 Neruda was transferred to Madrid as consul and gathered in his house a veritable Who’s Who of the Spanish literary and poetic circles of the time. He became close friends with two of the major poets of that generation, Rafael Alberti and Miguel Hernández, active members of the Spanish Communist Party.
Up until this time, Neruda had been somewhat of a loner. In Spain he discovered solidarity, and he gave his time, energy, money, and poetic inspiration to the Spanish Republican cause. Together with the poet Manuel Altolaguirre, he founded a literary review called Caballo verde para la poesía (Green Horse for Poetry), a celebrated avant-garde journal for the arts, in 1935. When the Civil War broke out in 1936 and García Lorca was shot to death by Francisco Franco’s troops, Neruda took an active part in the defense of the Spanish Republic, under mortal attack by the Phalangist forces. Having moved to Paris, he edited the journal Los poetas del mundo defienden al pueblo español (Poets of the World Defend the Spanish People), and in 1937, with the Peruvian poet César Abraham Vallejo, he founded the Hispano-American Aid Group for Spain. In the same year Neruda published España en el corazón (Spain in the Heart; translated, 1946), which includes some of his most powerful poetry, with images depicting the Fascist armies of Franco killing supporters of the Spanish Republic, above all his dear friend Garcia Lorca, as in “Explico algunas cosas” (I Am Explaining a Few Things):
Preguntaréis por qué su poesía
no nos habla del sueño, de las hojas,
de los grandes volcanes de su pais natal?
Venid a ver la sangre por las calles, venid a ver
la sangre por las calles,
venid a ver
la sangre por las calles…
(And you will ask why doesn’t his poetry
describe dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land?
Come and see the blood in the streets, come and see
the blood in the streets,
come and see the blood in the streets…)
Also in 1937 Neruda participated in a congress of writers gathered in Paris from around the Western world to support the Spanish cause: Ernest Hemingway, W. H. Auden, William Butler Yeats, Louis Aragon, and André Malraux expressed their solidarity. The writers even traveled to Madrid, in spite of the city being bombarded by Franco’s forces. While in Madrid, Neruda met and fell in love with the Argentine painter Delia del Carril; they remained together until the early 1950s. The poet and his wife, Maruka Hagenaar, had separated in 1936; their divorce became final in May 1942, years after he had begun living with del Carril, whom he then married. Neruda’s daughter, who had been born with hydroencephalitis, died in 1942 at the age of eight.
In Confieso que he vivido Neruda recounts his experience as a committed poet in war-torn Spain. He tells of solidarity, friendship, and hopes betrayed by historical events; and in the midst of this bloodshed Neruda found a public for his poetry. A decision was made during the war to reprint España en el corazón, and his friend Altolaguirre set up a printing press in an old monastery near Gerona to carry out the project. Paper was scarce, since the enemy lines were close and the city was in a state of siege, so pages for the book had to be improvised: a mixture of banners, old shirts, sheets, and bits and pieces of discarded paper were all mashed into pulp to make paper. “Supe que muchos habían preferido acarrear sacos con los ejemplares impresos antes que sus propios alimentos y ropas” (I learned that many of the Republican soldiers carried copies of the book in their sacks instead of their own food and clothing), Neruda recalls in Confieso que he vivido. “Con los sacos al hombro emprendieron la larga marcha hacia Francia” (With those sacks over their shoulders they set out on the long march to France). Years later Neruda saw a copy of the book in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., exhibited in a glass case as one of the rare books of the twentieth century.
España en el corazón is an exceptional mixture of political and lyric poetry. It is among the best political texts to come out of the Spanish Civil War. This contribution by Neruda to the Spanish people was much cherished. Years later, when Chile found its democratically elected government overthrown by a bloody coup in September 1973, and the poet died within two weeks of that momentous event, Spanish poets gathered and published a volume in Spain, titled Chile en el corazón (Chile in the Heart), dedicated to Neruda.
This period in Neruda’s life marked his poetry forever, with his insistence on the materiality of images and his profound commitment to political causes. The same sentiment and imagery can be found in his great epic, Canto general (1950, General Song; excerpts translated as Poems from the Canto General, 1968), which sings of the American continent from its beginnings to its contemporary political reality.
In 1937 Neruda had returned to Chile, where he renewed his political activity, traveling throughout the country in 1938 and writing prolifically. During that year, his father died in May and his stepmother in August. Significantly, perhaps, at this time Neruda began writing a long poem titled “Canto de Chile” (Song of Chile), fragments of which were published in 1943 and which eventually became Canto general. In 1939 he was appointed as a special consul in Paris and given the task of supervising the migration to Chile of the defeated Spanish Republicans who had fled to France. In 1940 he returned to Chile briefly and then left for Mexico to serve as Chile’s consul general. He was away from his native country for a total of four years, traveling to Cuba and Guatemala but spending most of his time in Mexico. Upon returning to Chile in 1943, the poet visited Cuzco and the ancient Inca fortress of Machu Picchu during a short trip to Peru. This experience proved highly significant in the evolution of his poetry.
Neruda was elected to the senate two years later and joined the Communist Party. In 1945 he also received the National Prize for Literature; that same year he began writing Alturas de Macchu Picchu (translated as The Heights of Machu Picchu, 1966), which was published separately in 1947 and became the cornerstone of Canto general. When Chilean president Gabriel González Videla cracked down on his former Communist allies in 1947, Neruda published in the 27 November issue of El Nacional (Caracas, Venezuela) a document titled “Carta íntima para millones de hombres” (An Intimate Letter for Millions of Men), defying censorship in his country. Subsequently, he was arrested as a seditious politician. Chilean authorities declared communism illegal and expelled Neruda from the senate, especially after his speech on the senate floor titled “Yo acuso” (I Accuse). He went into hiding, living underground for several months, and finally in 1949 fled the country and went into exile, carrying a thick manuscript with him. During those years he had written the poems of Canto general, published in Mexico in 1950 (and also underground in Chile).
Canto general is the product of Neruda’s unstinting commitment to social justice in Latin America and his choice of Marxist ideology as the way to achieve that goal. The book was first intended as a long poem to Chile, but while in Mexico, Neruda transformed it into an epic poem about the whole American continent, its nature, its people, and its historical destiny. It consists of 231 poems brought together into fifteen sections and constitutes a pivotal part of Neruda’s production. Shortly after its publication, Canto general was translated into ten languages. Many of the poems are undeniably political; yet, throughout the book there is a deep undercurrent of love for his native soil and for the continent, expressed in powerful but delicate lyric verses.
One of the best sections of Canto general is formed by Alturas de Macchu Picchu. Inspired by his 1943 visit to the Inca fortress and sanctuary nestled in the peaks of the Peruvian Andes, the poet speaks of the ancient city as “la cuna del relámpago y del hombre” (cradle of lightning and of man) and “madre de piedra” (mother of stone), and invokes amor americano (American love) for this primeval earth, symbol of origin for the American peoples. The poet wants to give voice to all forgotten workers and slaves in the Inca empire: “Dadme la lucha, el hierro, los volcanes. // Apegadme los cuerpos como imanes. // Acudid a mis venas y a mi boca. // Hablad por mis palabras y mi sangre” (Give me the struggle, the iron, the volcanoes. // Cleave your bodies to mine like magnets. // Flow into my veins, into my mouth. // Speak through my words and through my blood).
Canto general is a poetic interpretation of continental history expressed in highly erotic love images. America is the bride and the woman raped by the pillaging European conquistadors, and later by multinational corporations such as United Fruit and Anaconda Mining. In this context, Canto general exalts this pure female representation of America and its countries, as well as bitterly accuses her violators, as in “Ahora es Cuba” (Now It’s Cuba) from the section “Los conquistadores” (The Conquistadors): “Cuba, mi amor, te amarraron al potro, / te cortaron la cara, / te apartaron las piernas de oro pálido, / te rompieron el sexo de granada” (Cuba, my love, they tied you to the rack, / they cut your face with knives, / they spread open your legs of pale gold, / they broke open your pomegranate sex). At the same time, America is also the great mother, the feminine earth force configured into a large continent and into countries that were once inhabited by indigenous peoples and later invaded and conquered by Spaniards. As Neruda describes in “Amor América” (Love America) from the section “La lámpara en la tierra” (A Lamp on This Earth), in primeval times this huge land mass was in a virginal state; then she was desecrated and trampled upon by foreign powers:
Antes de la peluca y la casaca
fueron los ríos, ríos arteriales:
fueron las cordilleras, en cuya onda raída
cóndor o la nieve parecían inmóviles:
fue la humedad y la espesura, el trueno
sin nombre todavía, las pampas planetarias.
(Before the wig and the frock-coat
were the rivers, arterial rivers:
were the mountains, in whose frayed wave
the condor or the snow seemed fixed:
there was humidity and thicket, thunder
still without name, the planetary plains.)
Canto general, unified by a single vision, has been seen as inspired both by the Bible and by the poetic techniques of Whitman in Leaves of Grass (1855). Throughout its pages, the figures of the men and women who populated and created Latin America and suffered injustice and death appear against a magnificent background of mountains, forests, oceans, and volcanoes. The voices of the common people speak; their everyday lives are described; and their struggles are sung by a poet who embraces their lives and their stories. The heroes are the indigenous American populations and the common men and women; the villains are the invaders, the conquerors, the dictators, and the multinationals. In one of the best-known poems of the collection, “La United Fruit Co.,” the poet utilizes an epic tone reminiscent of Genesis:
Cuando sonó la trompeta, estuvo
todo preparado en la tierra
y Jehová repartió el mundo
a Coca-Cola Inc., Anaconda,
Ford Motors, y otras entidades:
la Compañía Frutera Inc.
se reservó 10 más jugoso,
la costa central de mi tierra,
la dulce cintura de América.
(When the trumpet sounded
everything was prepared on earth
and Jehovah divided the world
among Coca-Cola Inc., Anaconda,
Ford Motors, and other corporations.
For the United Fruit Company Inc.
the juiciest was reserved, the central
coast of my land,
the sweet waist of America.)
Nature imagery is powerful in Canto general, and one of the most recognized symbolic representations found in the book is the tree, which represents the forceful surge of natural currents against an order imposed from outside. Those who fought Spanish conquistadors, the Indian chieftains and rulers such as Cuahtémoc in Mexico, Caupolicán in Chile, and Tupac Amaru in Peru, are often compared to the powerful presence of native vegetation. Neruda writes of more than the common man and the natural wonders of South and Central America, however. In section 9, “Que despierte el leñador” (Let the Railsplitter Awaken), the poet considers the United States and writes some of his most lyrical verses with an epic theme, honoring Abraham Lincoln. The last sections of Canto general are a paean to the seascapes of South America (“El gran océano” [The Great Ocean]) and an autobiographical long poem titled “Yo soy” (I Am).
The exile that had started in 1949 turned out to be longer than Neruda had anticipated. He traveled and lived in Europe for three years with a Chilean woman whom he now loved, Matilde Urrutia. She was his secret inspiration for years (since he was still married to del Carril) and later became his third wife. In 1952 they were secretly living together for the first time in Capri, Italy, and that period of their lives has been fictionalized in Ardiente paciencia (1985; translated as Burning Patience, 1987), a novel by Chilean writer Antonio Skármeta that was adapted as the 1994 motion picture Il Postino (The Postman), nominated for five Academy Awards.
Neruda’s poetic style began to change. Out of these years resulted not only deeply felt political verses but also the collection of anonymously published love poetry, Los versos del capitán (1952; translated as The Captain’s verses, 1972). The book was written during the secret stay with Urrutia in Capri, and Neruda wanted to avoid hurting del Carril, hence his silent authorship. (Del Carril and Neruda divorced in 1955, after which he married Urrutia.) In Los υersos del capitán the poet left behind the hermetic world of erotic love and idyllic nature imagery that had characterized Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada. In poems such as “El amor del soldado” (The Soldier’s Love), Neruda’s passion for woman and for the cause are fused: “Tienes que andar sobre las espinas / dejando gotitas de sangre. // Bésame de nuevo, querida. // Limpia ese fusil, camarada” (You have to walk over thorns / leaving little drops of blood. // Kiss me again, beloved. //Clean that rifle, comrade). The woman is represented as a combatant, and as such, will march through life with the poet; the lovers are united fighting for a cause.
During this time Neruda also wrote Las uvas y el viento (The Grapes and the Wind), a collection of poems published in 1954. In that work he recounts his travel during exile, under the influence of his political militancy, and, in the second part, the clandestine love affair with Urrutia. The poet writes joyfully of his socialist commitment, although the harsh denouncing tone of some of his compositions is softened by the presence of his beloved companion. From the late 1950s until his death, even though he touched on all the great themes he had already cultivated, his poetry is essentially personal. He did occasionally return to the stance of the public poet, however: in the book dedicated to the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, Canción de gesta (1960; translated as Song of Protest, 1976); in Cantos ceremoniales (1961; translated as Ceremonial Song, 1996); in La espada encendida (1970, The Flaming Sword) with its biblical overtones; and in the blatant diatribe Incitación al nixonicidio y alabanza de la revolución chilena (1973; translated as A Call for the Destruction of Nixon and Praise for the Chilean Revolution, 1980).
In 1952 the Chilean government withdrew the order to arrest leftist writers and political figures, and in that year Neruda returned to Chile and married Urrutia. The return to the land of his birth was the beginning of a new period in his poetic evolution. Neruda was received with great honors, purchased a house in Santiago that he named “La Chascona” (The Woman with Tousled Hair, after an affectionate name he gave Urrutia), and although he continued to travel (he went to the Soviet Union in 1953 to receive the Lenin Peace Prize and the Stalin Peace Prize), he started to write his Odas elementales (1954; translated as Elementary Odes, 1961), a new departure in his exploration of the world around him. Never had everyday objects, family life, and the essential substances of human existence been so elevated by poetry as in these deceptively simple verses.
At the University of Chile, Neruda gave five lectures in which he explained the origins and evolution of his poetry and the trajectory that his verses had followed until then. In 1954 Odas elementales was published in Buenos Aires and received critical acclaim. In these poems, Neruda returns to the basic elements of life, whether they be an onion, the smell of firewood, a child with a rabbit, a pair of blue socks, fish soup, a dictionary, or the atom. The poet abandons all artifice and rejoices in simplicity and purity, at the same time making an ideological statement: his materialistic view of life and politics. In a sense, the odes could be said to have been written in a realist style that sing the praises of earth, of human life and its most basic components.
Two additional books of odes followed: Nuevas odas elementales (1956, New Elementary Odes) and Tercer libro de las odas (1957, The Third Book of Odes). Together these three volumes include more than 180 poems. Each poem celebrates being alive and enjoying the elements of ordinary life and examines objects as if they were under a microscope. This approach, it has been said, can be explained also by the fact that Neruda was an accomplished naturalist, specializing in marine life, and an avid collector of shells (a great part of his Nobel Prize cash award was spent on acquiring rare specimens). In “Oda a la alegría” (Ode to Joy), from Odas elementales, the poet sings of natural objects as a man who is happy to be in this world: “porque aprendi luchando / que es mi deber terrestre / propagar la alegría. / Y cumplo mi destino con mi canto” (for I learned in my struggle / that it is my earthly duty / to spread joy / and I fulfill my destiny by singing).
A stylistic detail important to the odes is the typographical arrangement of the poems. In earlier collections Neruda had written in traditional Spanish meters or in long verses reminiscent of Whitman. In the odes he makes use of short verses, and there are many lines in his poems with only one word (for example, in “Oda a la lluvia marina” [Ode to Rain], from Nueυas odas elementales, seventeen lines are formed by one word, eighteen lines by two words, fifteen lines by three, twelve lines by four, and twelve lines by five or, rarely, six words). This simplified syntax contributes to the poetic effect of describing each object in detail, step by step. Neruda’s poetics were now strongly based on clarity and simplicity and greatly contrast with his work previous to 1952. In addition, the imagery in the odes has become transparent in its meaning. The poems of Residencia en la tierra often include strange visions in which objects and abstract ideas are inextricably fused, and his earlier poems are often forged in long, flowing verses full of symbolic images. In the odes, however, and in the books that follow, Neruda has achieved his mature style, which is far from obscure. From the Spanish Civil War on, his poetry becomes simpler and simpler.
In 1957 Losada published in Buenos Aires the first edition of Neruda’s Obras completas. By this time, translations of his works had been published in many languages, including Japanese and Persian. According to his close friends, Neruda was a vain man who expected, even demanded, praise from his critics; but he was also charming, good-humored, and a great conversationalist who enjoyed inviting people to his home and cooking for them. He collected many things, apart from shells: rare books, old bottles, knickknacks, postcards, and carved figureheads from ships. The royalties from his books had allowed him to build two new houses in which he often retreated from the world, one in Valparaiso, and the one that was his favorite during his last years, the wood and stone house in Isla Negra, facing the southern Pacific and its giant waves. The house on Isla Negra became a veritable museum, filled with all the objects he collected. During these years, he wrote Estravagario (1958; translated as Extravagaria, 1972), Cien sonetos de amor (1959; translated as One Hundred Love Sonnets, 1986), and La barcarola (1967, The Barcarole), as well as other texts of memoirs and travel prose.
Estravagario is a collection of diverse poems about life, on which the poet reflects—at times whimsically—with the maturity and serene gaze of a man who has seen much in the world. The opening poem sets the tone with its unconventional style and typography:
y cuántas cosas.
and so many things.)
The act of reading this text requires an open, playful mind and a willingness to let go of preconceived notions about poetry. One can also see the influence of the vanguard poets, including the French and the Brazilians, in the creation of these lines that play not only with meaning but also with form.
In Estraυagario three themes emerge that became an integral part of Neruda’s contemplation of life during his later years: solitude, awareness of the passage of time, and consciousness of his own mortality. His home at Isla Negra, which served as a retreat from the world, appears often in the pages of the collection. Sand, seashells, ocean waves, the objects he has collected throughout his life, and driftwood and other items floating in from the Pacific are all present in the poems, as is Urrutia. The material nature of reality and the human consciousness that observes the details of life, akin to the sentiments expressed in the odes, are well captured in the poem “Demasiados Nombres” (Too Many Names). The poet counts and recounts, in a manner reminiscent of his enumerations in Residencia en la tierra, although here objects have the luminosity imparted to them by a mind at peace, not struggling with pain and human misery:
Yo pienso confundir las cosas,
unirlas y recién nacerlas,
hasta que la luz del mundo
tenga la unidad del océano,
una integridad generosa, una fragancia crepitante.
(I would like to mix and confuse things,
unite them, make them newborn,
mix them up and undress them
until all the world’s light
has the oneness of the ocean,
its generous, vast wholeness,
its crackling, living fragrance.)
Neruda published a slim volume of verse, Navegaciones y regresos (Voyages and Homecomings), in 1959. These poems were meant to be a continuation of the ode cycle, and in the prologue Neruda defines and defends his art: the poet is a worker, a craftsman. As in the other volumes of odes, this book mostly shows the Chilean as a joyful poet, immersed in the wonder of nature. The topics he treats range from the sublime to the mundane, as they had before: there are odes to an anchor, to the wings of the swallows that return in September, to his pet cat, to an elephant, to a chair, to fried potatoes. There is in the collection also a long political poem, “Oda a Lenin,” written in celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the Russian revolution. Navegaciones y regresos is the mark of Neruda’s wish to continue writing in the manner of the elementary odes, although–since Estravagario had been published in the intervening years and had established a different quality of feeling in Neruda’s poetic compositions–there is a tone to this volume that sets it apart from the other three books of similar poems.
Cien sonetos de amor, published also in 1959, continues in the vein of Neruda’s paean to his beloved wife. Some critics have said that the poems in this collection remind them of a more polished version of Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada. The setting for these poems is the house at Isla Negra; there are only two figures in the book, the poet and Urrutia. Everything around them is landscape or seascape, ocean spray, the smells of nature, the wind, the poet’s memories. In sonnet XII, for example, Neruda instills in his language all the intense erotic expression that had served him well since his earlier books, and condenses images to convey his mature, fulfilled emotion: “amar es un viaje con agua y con estrellas” (love is a voyage with water and stars), he writes. “Amar es un combate de relámpagos” (Love is a fight between two lightning flashes).
In the manner of a mystic poet, Neruda finds the intensity of his experience almost too much to describe in words, but he succeeds in conveying his passion as he had before during his younger years. Nevertheless, it is not of Urrutia alone that Neruda writes in these poems but also the objects that surround them and make up their lives together. Their house, the beach, nature surrounding their space, and the elements of night and day are all part of the poetic world created in the book.
In 1960 Canción de gesta was published in Havana, fittingly, since its poems are a tribute to the Cuban Revolution and its heroes. In this work Neruda once more returns to his solidarity with the Communist cause. The poems retain some of the flavor once displayed in Canto general, but as a whole, revolutionary fervor succeeds over poetic prowess. Canción de gesta is more a product of Neruda’s militancy than of his artistic genius, and most critics agree that the collection has more value as a political testimony than as poetry.
In 1961 two more collections of Neruda’s poetry were published: Las Piedras de Chile (translated as The Stones of Chile, 1986) and Cantos ceremoniales. In the preface to the former collection, the poet explains:
Hace ya veinte años que dejé entre mis pensamientos este libro pedregal, nacido en las desamparadas costas y cordilleras de mi patria.... Deber de los poetas es cantar con sus pueblos y dar al hombre lo que es del hombre: sueño y amor, luz y noche, razón y desvarío. Pero no olvidemos las piedras ! No olvidemos los tácitos castillos, los erizados, redondos regalos del planeta.
(This flinty book, born in the wastelands along the coast and in the mountain ranges of my country, has lived for twenty years in my mind.... The poet must sing with his countrymen and give to mankind all that pertains to being a man: dreams and love, light and darkness, reason and vagary. But let us never forget the stones… We should never lose sight of these taciturn castles, the profile and bristling mass of our planet.)
Neruda’s descriptions of rocks in the book are accompanied by photographs by Antonio Quintana. In recognizing the sometimes austere reality of the Chilean landscape, Neruda mixes sadness and hope. In “La gran mesa de piedra dura” (The Great Hard Rock Table), in which the whole of the country is seen as a bare stone surface, the people’s poverty is recognized and lamented:
Nos sentamos junto a la mesa,
a la mesa fría del mundo,
y no nos trajo nadie nada,
todo se había terminado,
se 10 habían comido todo
. . . todavía un niño espera,
é1 es la verdad de los sueños,
é1 es la esperanza terrestre.
(We sat down all of us, together, around the table, the cold table of our world,
and no one brought us anything,
everything had disappeared,
everything had been eaten already by others
. . . one child waits still,
the child who is the truth of every dream,
the child who is the hope of our earth.)
Las piedras de Chile is both personal and public poetry. In it Neruda journeys up and down the steep slopes of his native mountains, and he interprets the landscape as it strikes his imagination. One of the distinctive traits of Neruda’s volumes of poetry after 1950 and Canto general is also found here: the poetry is not just descriptive but also features a narrative thread of history that weaves through it. In this work, personification and mythologizing of nature come to the fore, as they had in Canto general, with human qualities seen in the Chilean landscape as they had been seen before in the continental terrain.
Unlike the previous books, Cantos ceremoniales does not exhibit a clear thematic unity. The poems are divided into nine sections, with varied topics shared among them. Some portions recall the epic tone of Canto general, as for instance “La insepulta de Paita” (The Unburied Woman from Paita), the elegy devoted to Simón Bolívar’s lover, Manuelita Sáenz; or “Cataclismo” (Cataclysm), about the devastating earthquake that shook southern Chile in 1960. There is also a long composition dedicated to the French-Uruguayan poet Isidore Lucien Ducasse, Comte de Lautreaumont. Most critics agree that this volume is not one of Neruda’s most memorable books, except perhaps for several poems. It seems, as Emir Rodríguez Monegal has put it, that “en casi todos ellos [los poemas] parece predominar la pompa de la materia poética sobre la espontaneidad creadora” (in almost all of them [the poems] the pomp of the poetic material dominates over creative spontaneity).
Plenos poderes (translated as Fully Empowered, 1975) was published in 1962. In this book serenity prevails, as it had in other previous works. In the thirty-six poems included in the volume, there is a fullness of personal power, as is well expressed in “Deber del poeta” (The Poet’s Obligations), in which Neruda defines what the poet must do, the duties he cannot escape. He must listen to “el lamento marino en mi conciencia” (the watery lament of consciousness), feel the hard rain, the blows of destiny, and gather it back in “una taza eterna” (a cup of eternity). In other words, the poet is obliged to pay attention and to record whatever others do not see or remember. Ultimately, the poet is the consciousness of mankind, who must try to preserve everything in a meaningful way so it can live eternally. Neruda happily accepts this awesome duty and writes in the title poem (which ends the volume), “y canto porque canto y porque canto” (and I sing because I sing because I sing). In the poem “Oda para planchar” (In Praise of Ironing), Neruda links the poet’s activity to an everyday act. Poetry is white, something that comes out of the water, covered with drops, and it becomes wrinkled when it dries, like laundry. Human hands must work it and restore it to its pristine state: “hay que extender la piel de este planeta, / hay que planchar el mar de su blancura / y van y van las manos, / se alisan las sagradas superficies / y as’ se hacen las cosas” (One has to spread out the skin of this planet, / one must iron the sea from its whiteness / and hands pass and pass, / the sacred surfaces are smoothed out / and that’s how things are made).
The most ambitious book of this period is Memorial de Isla Negra, which comprises five sections. It is autobiographical in nature and includes some of the most touching lyric poetry that Neruda ever wrote, about his childhood memories, his parents, his love life, his travels, his political ideas, and his aesthetic tastes. A series of autobiographical articles published in 1962 in a Brazilian journal, O Cruzeiro Internacional, gave origin to this poetry and later was the foundation for his posthumously published memoirs. In the five parts of Memorial de Isla Negra—”Donde nace la lluvia” (Where the Rain Is Born), “La luna en el laberinto” (Moon in the Labyrinth), “El fuego cruel” (The Cruel Fire), “El cazador de raíces” (Hunting for Roots), and “Sonata crítica” (Critical Sonata)—one can find Neruda fully immersed in nostalgia and looking for self-knowledge.
In “Nacimiento” (Birth), the first poem in the collection, Neruda describes the house where he was born and the street where it stood. Both disappeared during an earthquake, and the adobe walls sank back into the dust. Neruda’s mother died when he was a child; the poet recalls a visit to her grave in the cemetery in Parral, where he cried out to her and received silence as the only answer:
y de allí se quedó sola, sin su hijo,
huraña y evasiva
entre las sombras. Y de allí soy, de aquel
Parral de tierra temblorosa,
tierra cargada de uvas
desde mi madre muerta.
(and there she remained alone, without her son,
elusive and evasive
among the shadows.
And that is where I come from,
a quake-ridden soil, from Parral,
a land abundant in grapes
from the dead body of my mother.)
This first section deals with the poet’s memories of childhood and adolescence; his discovery of nature, love, sex, and poetry; his first travels; and his own characteristic shyness.
“El niño perdido” (Little Boy Lost) is an equally moving poem, evoking the change that time has made on Neruda’s naive vision of the world and of himself. He tries to speak with the voice of the child he once was, even now in his present moment: “y de repente apareció en mi rostro / un rostro de extranjero / y era también yo mismo: / era yo que crecía, / eras tú que crecías, / era todo, / y cambiamos” (and suddenly appeared in my face / the face of a stranger, / and yet it was also my face. / It was I who was growing there / and you are growing with me / all of us one, / everything changing).
The second section, “La luna en el laberinto,” continues the chronicle of Neruda’s adolescence, and his first passionate love affairs, as well as his loneliness and anguish while living in the Far East. In “El fuego cruel,” the third section, poems about Neruda in Spain and the events of the Spanish Civil War are interspersed with poems reminiscing about his love affair with Bliss in Rangoon and Colombo. In this book the topics become more varied and more political: war, commitments to leftist causes, and ideologies appear once more. For example, in “Los míos” (My People) Neruda recalls his verses from Espana en el corazón and points his finger at present-day killers in his native Chile who exploit natural resources and workers:
Yo dije: Ayer la sangre!
Vengan a ver la sangre de la guerra!
Pero aquí era otra cosa.
No sonaban los tiros, no escuché por la noche
un río de soldados
hacia la muerte.
Era otra cosa aquí, en las cordilleras
algo gris que mataba
humo, polvo de minas o cemento,
un ejército oscuro
en un día sin banderas.
(I said: Yesterday the blood!
Come and see the blood of the war!
But here it was something else.
No guns sounded,
I didn’t hear during the night
a river of soldiers
Here in the mountains it was something else,
something gray that killed,
smoke, dust from mines or cement,
a dark army
in a day without banners.)
Sections 4 and 5 of Memorial de Isla Negra, while always focusing on Neruda’s personal vision, are less directly autobiographical than the first three books, and there is no longer any attempt to describe life events or to follow a chronology. “El cazador de raíces” exhibits perhaps the most poetic quality in all five sections, and its subject matter is once again earth and nature, with an emphasis on the four elements of air, fire, earth, and water. In “Sonata crítica” the themes include Neruda’s perception of art, literature in general, the role of the poet in the modern world, and the moral and metaphysical implications of living in a finite universe where hope and imperfection are constantly mingling.
In the poem “Arte magnética” (Magnetic Art) from the fifth section, Neruda returns to the question of what it means to be a poet. He affirms that it is only by immersing oneself fully into living that poetry can be born: “De tanto amar y andar salen los libros” (It is from endless loving and walking that books come forth). He ends by recounting how his life broke forth into poetry: “entre sangre y amor cavé mis versos, / en tierra dura establecí una rosa, / disputada entre el fuego y el rocío. / Por eso pude caminar cantando” (between blood and love I dug my verses, / in hard earth I established a rose, / fought over by fire and dew. / It is thus that / could walk along singing).
Memorial de Isla Negra is Neruda’s most important work of the 1960s. Its autobiographical intent, however, should not let the reader forget that it is, above all, a poetic reconstruction of life. Neruda comes through in these poetic portraits with his intense human feelings, but he recognizes that the concrete events in his own life might not be consistently portrayed in his poetic memoirs. He acknowledges this fact in one of his prose accounts published in O Cruzeiro Internacional (January 1962), and posthumously in Confieso que he vivido:“Tal vez no viví en mí mismo; tal vez viví la vida de los otros. De cuanto he dejado escrito en estas páginas se desprenderán siempre—como en las arboledas de otoño y como en el tiempo de las viñas—las hojas amarillas que van a morir y las uvas que revivirán en el vino sagrado. Mi vida es una vida hecha de todas las vidas: las vidas del poeta” (Perhaps I have lived other people’s lives. The pages of these memoirs of mine are like a forest in the fall, like vineyards in September, they give forth yellow leaves ready to die and ready to live again in the sacred wine. This is a life made out of all other lives, for a poet always has many lives).
In 1966 Neruda published two books. The first, Arte de pájaros (translated as Art of Birds, 1985), combines exquisite drawings of species native to Chile with poems dedicated to each specimen. A whimsical section of the large-sized volume includes “mythological” birds, such as “el pájaro yo” (the I bird) and “el pájaro ella” (the she bird), where colorful drawings portray birds of rare plumage with the photographed heads of Neruda and Urrutia superimposed on the images; the same is done for friends of the couple. The second book published that year is Una casa en la arena (translated as The House at Isla Negra: Prose Poems, 1988), a volume in which Neruda mixed prose and poetry and illustrated it with photographs of Isla Negra and his house. It includes, of course, the poet’s personal life with Urrutia in that environment, focusing first on nature and then on Neruda’s personal involvement in the building of his home.
There is a similar vision in the love poems of La barcarola (the title refers to the song that gondoliers sing while steering lovers in their boats through the canals of Venice). The first section of the book is dedicated and addressed to Urrutia, and all the compositions included therein were in fact first published in Neruda’s autobiographical account of 1962. In this section themes from the poet’s earlier books come together again, as it gathers love poetry, nature poetry, poetry about Chile, and poems about the poet’s own role and obligations. La barcarola is a complex book in which various ingredients, subjects, and moods are combined. It is divided into multiple sections, with many of them titled simply “Sigue la barcarola” (The Barcarole Goes On). The most salient mood is that of introspection, and perhaps the most unifying motif is that of the constant rhythm of the verses. There are reminiscences of the poet’s travels in Europe and the year he spent in France with Urrutia.
Later in La barcarola Neruda devotes poems to the coastland of Chile, the plains of Patagonia crossed by horses, and his friend, the Chilean writer Rubén Azócar, who had died two years before. There are poems about the sound of bells in many places and the memories of historical figures such as turn-of-the-century Latin American poet Rubén Darío. In the midst of these associations, Neruda includes a narrative-dramatic poem (which he turned into a play the following year), Fulgor y muerte de Joaquín Murieta (1967; translated as Splendor and Death of Joaquin Murieta, 1972). This long work gives a fictionalized account of the life and death of a Robin Hoodstyle bandit, identified by historians as a Mexican who helped the Spanish-speaking miners in California during the Gold Rush. Neruda, however, converts Murieta into a Chilean folk hero. While it could be said that La barcarola is Neruda’s most chaotic work because of its multiple themes and the inclusion of a fledgling drama in its pages, it retains a lyric and romantic quality, and it richly reflects the personal experiences of the poet and his memories of art and people.
Between 1968 and 1973, in the five years before his death, Neruda published another series of works: Las manos del día (1968, The Hands of Day); Fin de mundo (1969, World’s End); Aún (1969; translated as Still Another Day, 1984) ; La espada encendida; Las piedras del cielo (1970; translated as Stones of the Sky, 1987); Geografía infructuosa (1972, Barren Geography); and Incitación al nixonicidio y alabanza de la revolución chilena. These years were what critics have called the autumnal period of Neruda’s poetry. It was a period of enormous production for him, mainly of personal poetry. One volume had come after another in rapid succession since the early 1960s; despite his constant travels and public activities, the poet was no longer obliged to accept diplomatic work in order to make a living and could devote himself fully to writing. He spent more and more time at Isla Negra, and the peace he found there is reflected in a poetry that grew increasingly intimate and meditative as the years went on.
This serenity is one of the reasons why Neruda turned his attention to autobiography, both in prose and in verse. Free from financial concerns, the poet concentrated on his own life, although always ready to comment on political events that aroused his interest. He traveled everywhere he was invited, always with Urrutia at his side. Wherever they went, crowds gathered to hear Neruda lecturing and reading his poetry in his famous gravelly voice. His powerful presence and moving verses made him enormously popular. His career, which had integrated private and public concerns, had turned him into the people’s poet. In 1962 a second edition of his complete works had been published. In 1964 his Spanish version of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (circa 1595-1596) was his first venture into the theater, produced in Santiago by the Instituto de Teatro de la Universidad de Chile (ITUCH, Theater Institute of the University of Chile), and performed on 18 October; later in 1964, it was published as a chapbook in Buenos Aires by Editorial Talía. This performance was followed by his second and last, the staging in October 1967 of his Fulgor y muerte de Joaquín Murieta, also by ITUCH. In 1967 another edition of his complete works appeared.
His prolific writing at Isla Negra by no means meant that Neruda had abandoned active political participation, however, and in 1969 he was again deeply involved in Chilean politics, this time as the Communist Party’s candidate for the presidency of Chile. Neruda later renounced his candidacy, however, in order to support his friend Salvador Allende when the latter became the sole candidate of all the leftist parties. The poet campaigned vigorously for Allende, and the leftist victory at the polls brought the poet hope for a new Chile in which social justice might at last abolish classism and poverty. In 1970 he was diagnosed with a serious form of cancer, and yet he agreed to represent the new government as Chile’s ambassador to France.
The books Neruda published between 1968 and 1973, squeezed between the production of the mid 1960s and the later posthumous works, are, relatively speaking, not widely read or known. In part, this lack of attention might be owing to the fact that the 1967 Losada edition of Neruda’s Obras completas (which is what most people were buying or reading in libraries) of course does not include these books. A fourth edition, published in 1973, does include them, but by this time the posthumous works were already appearing in print, overshadowing the previous books. According to some critics, it might also be true that Neruda’s move toward mostly personal poetry in this period reduced his active reading public; he was no longer dealing with his principal themes of nature and history but more with his own life and introspection. Another consideration might be that Neruda was too prolific for his literary critics during this period. They concentrated on his autobiographical verse, Memorial de Isla Negra, and on the prose memoirs Confieso que he vivido. It seems as if the poet, firing off a seemingly unending series of short uncollected books, left little time for his readers to absorb one before others appeared.
Las manos del día, Fin de mundo, Aún, La espada encendida, Las piedras del cielo, Geograjia infructuosa, and Incitación al nixonicidio y alabanza de la revolución chilena call for a careful reading, since some of these volumes do include representative verse of Neruda the lyric poet, except for the last one. Incitación al nixonicidio y alabanza de la revolución chilena, as the title implies, is a diatribe against the U.S. president whom Neruda saw as a mortal enemy of the people of Chile. Nowhere else in his poetic work does Neruda express rage as he does on the pages of this book; this political pamphlet is full of furious broadsides, crafted in simple language with rhyme that is easy to understand and remember. Referring to the Vietnam War, his condemnation of Richard Nixon is absolute; clearly, the death of this man who has become a menace to the world, says the poet, is the only solution. Unlike the passionate and lyrical poems of Espana en el corazón or the epic historical dimensions of Canto general, here Neruda directs his energy to denouncing a single man, for him the incarnation of treachery.
In a different manner, Las manos del dÍa includes poignant verse about the role of the poet, full of imagery related to his writing, and expressing at times—in “El culpable” (The Guilty One), for example—his regret for not being a plain manual laborer: “Me declaro culpable de no haber / hecho, con estas manos que me dieron, / una escoba” (I declare myself guilty for not having / made, with these hands that they gave me, / a broom). The poems in this book are short and direct, but the tone remains one of introspection. Neruda is noting the passage of time and questioning whether his time on earth has been well spent.
A year after the publication of Las manos del día, another book of his poetry, Aún (literally meaning “still” or “yet”), appeared. Aún is a single poem of 433 lines, written in the space of two days in July 1969. The dominant theme, personal like so many of the other works of this period, is the earth. Once again Neruda is seeking contact with nature and with his roots. If this book anticipates, as some critics say, some of the poetry published posthumously in the dominant role it gives to nature, it equally signals the new positive role that silence plays in those later books: “Yo alí solo, buscando la razón de la tierra / sin hombres y sin alas, poderosa, / sola en su magnitud, como si hubiera / destruido una por una las vidas / para establecer su silencio” (And I was there all alone, looking for the reasons / of the earth’s being, the earth without men / and without wings, yet all powerful, / alone in its majesty, as if it had / destroyed one by one every bit of life / in order to establish its silence).
In the same year as Aún, Neruda published still another, significantly different, book of poetry, Fin de mundo. Even though the purported theme of this collection of poems is to meditate on the state of global affairs, in the end the main topic remains the poet’s own self. Neruda recognizes this point in the poem “Siempre yo” (Always I): “Yo que quería hablar del siglo / adentro de esta enredadera, / que es mi siempre libro naciente, / por todas partes me encontré / y se me escapaban los hechos” (I who wanted to speak of our century / within this twining, / within my book still being born, / everywhere I found myself / while events escaped me). Indeed, this book reflects events of the times—incessant wars, the horrors of Vietnam, the death of Che Guevara, the invasion of Prague by Soviet troops—but it is, nonetheless, a personally oriented book. Events are seen through the poet’s own perspective, and he anguishes about the disappointments and unrealized dreams that have characterized the years during which he has lived. But the mood of Fin de mundo is more reflective than argumentative, and this quality makes the book more closely related to Neruda’s personal poetry.
In all the books from 1968 onward Neruda apologizes, asking for forgiveness not only for the things he has done but also primarily for the things he has not done. At times, there is a sense of despair in his poetry for not having been able to act more on behalf of human justice, as in Las manos del día. Nowhere does this despair take on such global proportions as in the poems of Fin de mundo. Neruda describes the twentieth century in the blackest terms: in “La ceniza” (Ash) he calls it “la edad de la ceniza” (the age of ash) and writes of “Ceniza de niños quemados” (ash of burned children) and “cenizas de ojos que lloraron” (ashes of eyes that cried); and in “Bomba” (Bomb) he writes: “en estos años nació / la usina total de la muerte / el núcleo desencadenado / y no nos bastó asesinar / a cien mil japoneses dormidos” (in these years was born / the complete factory of death, / the unchained atom, / and it wasn’t enough for us to assassinate / 100,000 sleeping Japanese). In Fin de mundo Neruda shows a subtle philosophical bent to his reflection on the state of world affairs that goes much beyond the political. There is a softer, gentler message about the human condition than in his purely political poetry. The collection also includes portraits of cities, countries, and well-known writers from Latin America, including Julio Cortázar, Vallejo, and Gabriel García Márquez.
La espada encendida is one of Neruda’s most unusual books. The title sets the work apart by referring to the Bible, specifically to Genesis in the Old Testament, and the sword with which an angel protected the entrance to the Garden of Eden after the Fall of Adam and Eve. This poem recounts a long and fantastic tale, the story or Rhodo and Rosía, survivors after the destruction of the world and its civilizations. Drawing strength from their love for each other, they sail out into the world in a new ark laden with escaping birds and beasts. As they draw clear of the land, they realize that the old god has died and that they are themselves the gods of the new age. They try to establish a dynasty to begin anew, only to be pursued by inner guilt and great explosions in the sky and in the center of the earth. The book ends on an optimistic note, however: through their love and through the presence of birds and animals around them, Rhodo and Rosía slowly learn that it is they who are in charge, not some unseen god, and the new world belongs to them. It might seem strange for a Marxist poet to use biblical themes and imagery, but the epic and mythological quality of Neruda’s long narrative conveys a message about material hope in a world that is doomed to fail if it follows only the old order.
Also in 1970, Neruda published Las piedras del cielo, which Manuel Durán and Margery Safir have called a “sister book” to Las Piedras de Chile. Here, the object of the poet’s contemplation is not the giant boulders of Chilean geography but rather small rocks and stones, as well as precious formations: in “Cuando se toca el topacio” (When You Touch the Topaz) he writes, “Cuando se toca el topacio / el topacio te toca: / despierta el fuego suave / como si el vino en la uva / despertara” (When you touch the topaz / the topaz touches you: / the smooth fire awakens / as if the wine in a grape / came to life). In this book the poet again questions the natural world, seeking out every secret that the silent minerals hold. At the same time Neruda reflects on humankind: his thoughts on stones are also observations about the difference between the solid, silent life of rocks and that of human beings. His identification with the natural world—expressed, for example, in “Yo soy este desnudo mineral” (I Am This Naked Mineral)—is total in these poems.
In October 1971 Neruda was in France, working to renegotiate Chile’s external debt, when he received the news that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Neruda’s name had been suggested for the Nobel several times since 1963, but the prize eluded him because of persistent rumors and negative campaigns regarding his alleged involvement in an attempt to assassinate Leon Trotsky in Mexico in 1940, or the previous accusations about his Stalinism (which supposedly made him grant exit visas to Chile only to hardline Spanish Republicans who were fleeing the Civil War in 1936, while some argue that he saved many lives this way), and a supposedly anticommunist CIA dossier against Neruda published in Sweden in the Cold War years of the 1960s. He was a “canonized yet controversial” world-renowned poet. Finally, his champion in the Swedish Academy, Artur Lundkvist (a Marxist scholar of Latin American literature and Neruda’s translator in Sweden, who is said to have proposed the Chilean for the Nobel since the 1950s) prevailed against the members of the Academy who gave credence and weight to the political or criminal accusations. In an interview granted to the BBC by phone on the day of the October 1971 announcement, Neruda said that the prize was a complete surprise to him, since it had been rumored so many times before that he was accustomed to the news “not being true.” Some detractors have said that Neruda so craved the honor that he lobbied for the prize by wining and dining Swedish writers and diplomats at his house in Isla Negra, Chile, and that the Chilean government lobbied in his name with the Swedish ambassador to the United Nations and even Prime Minister Olof Palme. The Chilean journal La Tercera published an article on the whole process, “El arduo camino de Neruda al Premio Nobel” (The Arduous Road of Neruda to the Nobel Prize). Neruda traveled to Stockholm in December to receive the prize, and in his Nobel lecture, Toward the Splendid City (published in 1974), he described his vision of a future for mankind, a paradise of everyday living in which poets—the same as bakers—would play a significant role. Neruda returned to Chile in 1972, too ill to continue working as an ambassador or to undertake the lecture tours and other public duties that are often expected of Nobel winners. In Chile he underwent radiation treatments but was still able to attend some events in his honor, such as a huge rally organized at the National Stadium, which was his last public appearance.
In 1972 Geografía infructuosa was published. This book was begun in Chile and finished in France, during the year before his death, when Neruda suffered from his terminal illness. The volume appeared in April 1972, after the Nobel Prize award, and this book and all subsequently published volumes were wrapped with a thin colored paper band that proclaimed the prize. Sales profited from the increased notoriety, and the critical reception was heightened as well.
The poems included in Geografia infructuosa are personal, referring to trips and surgeries and landscapes he will not see again, as well as to the hope that still lingers in his heart, and they reflect an impending sense of finality to his days on earth. In “El cobarde” (The Coward) there is a contrast between the observed regenerative powers of nature and the ebbing out of life: “voy sin vivir, ya mineralizado, / inmóvil esperando la agonía, / mientras florece el territorio azul / predestinado de la primavera” (I go along without living, already mineralized, / immobile, waiting for the agony, / while the blue hills flower / with the first fated signs of spring). Geografía infructuosa prefigures the major themes in the posthumous works: not only the awareness of oncoming death contrasted with the cycle of the seasons but also solitude. In this book Neruda affirms that his solitude is a special territory, a geography in which being and oneness become fused and confused. Because of these themes, and also because of the period in which it was written and published, Geografía infructuosa constitutes a link between the works of the late 1950s through the early 1970s and the posthumous volumes. It closes the “autumnal” cycle of Neruda’s poetry and anticipates the “winter” cycle: the eight books published after the poet’s death. As Robert Pring-Mill notes, the fact that Neruda chose Jard& de invierno (1974; translated as Winter Garden, 1986) as the title of one of the major posthumous works shows that with Geografia infructuosa he was fully aware of the end of one cycle and the opening of another, the final cycle in his life, with the works that followed.
In mid 1973 Neruda was bedridden, dying of cancer, yet working on his memoirs and the eight books of poetry he planned on publishing on his seventieth birthday, 12 July 1974. He had written appeals to his friends in Europe, in the Americas, and in the socialist countries, begging them to come to the aid of Chile, desperately trying to prevent the coup d’état that everyone knew was imminent. On 23 September 1973, twelve days after the coup that left General Augusto Pinochet ruling his beloved country, Neruda died. His houses were vandalized and ransacked, mainly by government troops.
Even though Neruda had been ill for more than a year, his death came somewhat unexpectedly. “What brought about his sudden collapse,” Pring-Mill wrote in the 3 October 1975 issue of TLS: The Times Literary Supplement,“was the shock of the coup and of Allende’s death. The President had been a close friend of the poet, and his end in the government palace hit Neruda as hard as García Lorca’s murder in Spain had hit him at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. His failing health gave way. His funeral, protected by the presence of foreign journalists, was the only time dissenting voices could be raised in Chile in defiance of the new regime.”
Two of the eight posthumous books, El mar y las campanas (translated as The Sea and the Bells, 1988) and La rosa separada (translated as A Separate Rose, 1985), were published shortly after Neruda’s death in 1973. Urrutia had been allowed by the new government to leave Chile in November of that year, taking with her the manuscripts of the unpublished poems and the drafts of Confieso que he vivido to the house of Neruda’s friend Miguel Otero Silva in Caracas. According to Losada, Neruda’s publisher, the poet wanted the works to appear in the following sequence: La rosa separada, Jard& de invierno, 2000 (1974; translated, 1997), El corazón amarillo (1974; translated as The Yellow Heart, 1990), Libro de las preguntas (1974; translated as The Book of Questions, 1991), Elegía (1974; translated as Elegy, 1983), El mar y las campanas, and Defectos escogidos (1974, Selected Defects). This arrangement was not followed, and in 1973 El mar y las campanas was the first to appear in print. No explanation has ever been given as to why Neruda’s desires were not followed. He had wanted to surprise his readers with the new books on his seventieth birthday, at the big celebration that President Allende was preparing for him on 12 July 1974. Since both men died in September 1973, all plans were canceled. The appearance of the first two books soon after Neruda’s death may have been a political move to reaf-firm Neruda’s inspiration as the poet of the masses in front of the right-wing military regime.
The posthumous books are a body of work that Neruda himself did not shape into its final form. All of these poems were salvaged from the ransacking of the poet’s homes after his death (La Chascona in Santiago, La Sebastiana in Valparaíso, and Isla Negra). The poet had nearly finished work on these books, but there is no way of knowing whether he would have published all the poems that were found, and in what order. The eight books vary in content, mood, and quality, and yet they can be seen as a group. For the most part, they are all short compositions; there is not any hint at monumental poems of the type found and gathered in Memorial de Isla Negra, for example. The movement toward personal poetry reaches its culmination in these works.
Neruda wrote many of these compositions at a country retreat in France, where he had used some of the Nobel Prize money to buy a converted slate mill at Condé-sur-Iton in Normandy. He and Urrutia gave this country refuge the name of La Manquel (a word meaning “female condor” in the Mapuche language of the Indians of southern Chile). The great oak beams of the old mill by the stream recalled other timber in his Chilean houses, for example, in his beloved Isla Negra. At La Manquel, he completed Geografia infructuosa and La rosa separada.
These eight volumes often touch private realms of Neruda’s life, an existence that he contemplates in solitude and silence. His great companion is, as always, nature. Some poems are metaphysical or even existential at times. The poet seeks to renew his bond with nature and to meditate on his own life, as well as on man’s relationship to the natural forces that surround him and outlast him. There is also a unity of mood in several of the posthumous volumes. El mar y las campanas and Jard&n de invierno are clearly written by a man who is aware of his impending death. He feels no fear or regret, however. Instead, an acceptance of destiny and a calm and tranquil mood pervade most of this poetry.
In El mar y las campanas, the first of the posthumous books to appear in print, the reader finds many of the great themes concerning human existence that Neruda explores in his other final works. The poet is taking account of his own life and his own being. The book is a collection of intimate personal poetry, and the two elements of the title signify two aspects of Neruda’s communion with nature that were always important to him: the sea, the primeval force that intrigued him and fascinated him since his youth, and which had always been physically and poetically present in his life; and the bells, which might also represent communication with the natural world, a call to remember life, and an upcoming death knell.
La rosa separada grew out of a trip Neruda made to Easter Island in January 1971 as part of a team working on a television documentary for Channel 13, the cultural television channel of Chile. The poet had been long fascinated with the island, a Chilean territory, and its huge stone statues, and he had included several poems on the subject in his Canto general, in the penultimate section, “El gran océano.” The series of poems titled “Los hombres” (The Men) is about the people who populate or visit this singular place: “Somos torpes los transeúntes, nos atropellamos / de codos, / de pies, de pantalones, de maletas, / bajamos del tren, del jet, de la nave, bajamos / con arrugados trajes y sombreros funestos” (All of us who walk around are clumsy people. Our elbows get in the way, / our feet, our trousers, our suitcases, / we get off the train, the jet plane, the ship, we come down / with our wrinkled suits and our sinister hats). The treatment of the topic of human beings in apposition to Nature is similar in this collection to what Neruda had done in Las Piedras de Chile. Moreover, in La rosa separada Neruda documents despair over the condition of modern man and his pitiful state.
Jardΐn de inυierno focuses, more than any other work in this group, on the poet’s consciousness of the cycles of life and death as they unfold in the natural world. In one of the most frequently quoted verses from the series, ’Con Quevedo, en primavera” (With Quevedo, in springtime), the poet’s wishes are stated in regard to his conception of immortality—a life in the earth, like the autumn leaves that return to the unending cycle of dissolution and regeneration:
dadme por hoy el sueño de las hojas
nocturnas, la noche en que se encuentran
los muertos, los metales, las raíces,
y tantas primaveras extinguidas
que despiertan en cada primavera.
(give me for today the sleep of nocturnal
leaves, the night in which we come face to face
with the dead, the metals, the roots
and so many extinguished springtimes
that awaken in each springtime.)
Notable in these poems is the absence of sadness. Neither death nor the winter is portrayed as a negative or threatening force, but with the essential optimism of one who has lived and understands how the cycles of life unfold.
While still reflecting the stance of a man taking account before death, 2000 is significantly different from Fardin de invierno. In this collection Neruda leaves behind lyrical meditations and contemplates contemporary reality, constructing a series of poems that constitute a commentary on the state of the world as he imagines it will be in the year 2000. 2000 is the slimmest of the last volumes, and the poetry included therein is not the most memorable left by the poet. Again, the primary thematic concern is despair over the condition of modern man.
El corazón amarillo offers poetry with a tone that is irreverent, playful, and even nonsensical at times. The themes are often social satire, with strange and amusing anecdotes to illustrate the absurdity of social customs. An example is the poem “Una situación insostenible” (An Untenable Situation), centered on the extravagant figures that make up the Ostrogodo family. Much of their conversation revolves around dead relatives, until one day something unusual happens: “Entonces en aquella casa / de oscuros patios y naranjos, / en el salón de piano negro, / en los pasillos sepulcrales, / se instalaron muchos difuntos / que se sintieron en su casa” (To that mansion of dark courtyards and orange trees, / to that drawing-room with its black piano, / to the tomb-like corridors, / many ghosts came to stay, / feeling perfectly at home). El corazón amarillo is not a substantial book, the poetry being often more pleasant than remarkable.
Libro de las preguntas, also from 1974, is perhaps the simplest and yet the most complex of the eight posthumous works. It is literally a book of questions: every verse ends with a question mark, and they are strung together without any necessary relationship between them. For example, in “Poema IV”: “Cuántas iglesias tiene el cielo? / Por qué no ataca el tiburón / a las impávidas sirenas? Conversa el humo con las nubes? / Es verdad que las esperanzas / deben regarse con rocío?” (How many churches does Heaven hold? / Why don’t the sharks attack / the serene mermaids? / Does the smoke talk to the clouds? / Is it true that hope must be watered with dew?). In each verse of these riddles, one is dealing with the unanswerable questions of life. Neruda, close to his death, provides the reader access into how he sees the world, the questions of his accumulated years of observing reality.
Elegía is Neruda’s last look at Soviet Russia. He had already written extensively on the subject, beginning with his “Oda a Stalingrado” (Ode to Stalingrad) in Tercera residencia. In the latter work he contemplates the country that for forty years had represented the center of his political ideology and ideals. Elegía is a sentimental journey through the Soviet Union: imagining a final walk through Moscow, Neruda recalls poets such as Vladimir Mayakovsky, Aleksandr Pushkin, and Nazim Hikmet. Above all, one finds in the book revolutionary nostalgia, the remembrance of antifascist struggles with his comrades in art. In comparison with Las uvas y el viento, a book of joyous discovery of socialist solidarity, Elegía contemplates and laments the passage of time for the same places that he wandered around twenty or thirty years earlier.
Defectos escogidos is the last posthumous collection to appear in print. It was planned as a collection of faults, both Neruda’s own and those of other people. Most critics agree that the book as it was published was not the book that had been intended, however. Only twelve of its nineteen poems fit the theme, and none in the collection is particularly impressive. Most of the poems are not of great interest or importance for an understanding of Neruda’s work, and there are printing errors (such as repetitions of lines from one poem to the other). Two poems, however, can be salvaged: “Otro castillo” (Another Castle) and “Orégano” (Oregano).
The second one is a composition in the style and theme of the elementary odes:
hasta que me encontré sobre un andén
o en un campo recién estrenado
una palabra: orégano,
palabra que me desenredó
como sacándome de un laberinto.
No quise aprender más palabra alguna.
(until I found on a railroad platform
or perhaps it was a newly sown field a word: oregano.
This word made me unwind,
as if guiding me out of a labyrinth.
I refused to learn any more words.)
The eight volumes of posthumous works constitute almost a microcosm, recalling aspects of almost all Neruda’s previous books: nature, love, politics, and an exploration of reality through the physical elements of life. In these collections the poetry reflects the poet’s bent toward both the private and public realms, although in maturity his tendency is to seek solitude. Neruda knew he was dying as he wrote them, and he turns inward to himself and to nature. He approaches death with serenity, taking comfort in his own concept of immortality: the eternal cycle of dissolution and renovation that the earth offers to all, including humans.
Pablo Neruda’s poetry reveals a deeply rooted, material spirituality that strengthened at the end of his days. If a few words could sum up the main thrust and import of the contribution his poetry made to the world, they might be found in his Nobel lecture:
Todos los caminos llevan al mismo punto: a la comunicación de lo que somos. Y es preciso atravesar la soledad y la aspereza, la incomunicación y el silencio para llegar al recinto mágico en que podemos danzar torpemente o cantar con melancolía; mas en esa danza o en esa canción están consumados los más antiguos ritos de la conciencia: de la conciencia de ser hombres y de creer en un destino común.
(All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. And we must pass through solitude and difficulty, isolation and silence in order to reach forth to the enchanted place where we can dance our clumsy dance and sing our sorrowful song–but in this dance or in this song there are fulfilled the most ancient rites of our conscience in the awareness of being human and of believing in a common destiny.)
Cartas de amor de Pablo Neruda, edited by Sergio Fernández Larraín (Madrid: Rodas, 1974);
Cartas a Laura, edited by Hugo Montes (Madrid: Ediciones Cultura Hispánica del Centro Iberoamericano de Cooperación, 1978);
Pablo Neruda, Héctor Eandi: Correspondencia durante “Residencia en la tierra,” edited by Margarita Aguirre (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1980);
Neruda joven: Cartas y poemas de Pablo Neruda a Albertina Rosa Azócar, edited by Francisco Fernández Ordóñez (Madrid: Edilán, 1983);
Para Albertina Rosa: Epistolario: Poemas y cartas de Neruda a Albertina Rosa Azócar, edited by Francisco Cruchaga Azócar (Santiago: Dolmen, 1992);
Epistolario υiajero, 1927-1973, edited by Abraham Quezada Vergara (Santiago de Chile: RIL, 2004).
Rita Guibert, “Pablo Neruda: The Art of Poetry XIV,” Paris Reυiew, 51 (Winter 1971): 149–175;
Margarita Aguirre, “Entrevista con Pablo Neruda,”Hispania, 57 (March 1974): 367-369.
Horacio Jorge Becco, Pablo Neruda: Bibliografía (Buenos Aires: Casa Pardo, 1975);
Hensley C. Woodbridge and David S. Zubatsky, Pablo Neruda: An Annoted Bibliography of Biographical and Critical Studies (New York: Garland, 1988).
Efraiín Szmulewicz, Pablo Neruda: Biografía emotiva (Santiago: Editorial J. Almendros-Orbe, 1975);
Volodia Teitelboim, Neruda (Madrid: Michay, 1984); translated by Beverly J. DeLong-Tonelli as Neruda: An Intimate Biography (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991);
Matilde Urrutia, Mi υida junto a Pablo Neruda (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1986); translated by Alexandria Giardino as My Life with Pablo Neruda (Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 1997);
David Schidlowsky, Las furias y las penas: Una biografía de Pablo Neruda 1904-1943 (Berlin: Wissenschaftlicher, 1999);
Adam Feinstein, Pablo Neruda: A Passion for Life (New York: Bloomsbury, 2004).
Marjorie Agosin, Pablo Neruda, translated by Lorraine Roses (Boston: Twayne, 1986);
Margarita Aguirre, Las vidas de Pablo Neruda (Santiago: Zig-Zag, 1967); second revised edition (Buenos Aires: Grijalbo, 1973);
Jaime Alazraki, “Pablo Neruda, the Chronicler of All Things,” Books Abroad, 46 (1976): 49–54;
Anales de la Universidad de Chile, special Neruda issue, 129 (January-December 1971);
Harold Bloom, ed., Pablo Neruda (New York: Chelsea House, 1989);
René de Costa, The Poetry of Pablo Neruda (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979);
Greg Dawes, Verses Against the Darkness: Pablo Neruda’s Poetry and Politics (Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 2006);
Manuel Durán and Margery Safir, Earth Tones: The Poetry of Pablo Neruda (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981);
John Felstiner, “Nobel Prize at Isla Negra,” New Republic (25 December 1971): 29–30;
Felstiner, Translating Neruda: The Way to Macchu Picchu (Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 1980);
Edward Hirsch, “Pablo Neruda at 100,” Washington Post Book World, 11 July 2004, pp. 8–9;
Teresa Longo, ed., Pablo Neruda and the U.S. Culture Industry (New York: Routledge, 2002);
Modern Poetry Studies, special Neruda issue, 5 (Spring 1974) ;
Robert Pring-Mill, “The Winter of Pablo Neruda,” TLS: Times Literary Supplement, 3 October 1975, pp. 1154–1156;
J. Frank Riess, The Word and the Stone: Language and Imagery in Neruda’s Canto general (London: Oxford University Press, 1972);
Eliana Rivero, “Análisis de perspectivas y significación de La rosa separada,” Revista Iberoamericana, 42 (1976): 459–472;
Emir Rodríguez Monegal, El υiajero inmóvil: Introducción a Pablo Neruda (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1966);
Alejandro San Francisco, Neruda: El Premio Nobel chileno en tiempos de la Unidad Popular (Santiago: Centro de Estudios Bicentenario, 2004);
Antonio Skármeta, Burning Patience, translated by
Katherine Silver (New York: Pantheon, 1987);
Eliana Suárez Rivero, El gran amor de Pablo Neruda: Estudio crítico de su poesía (Madrid: Plaza Mayor, 1971);
Suárez Rivero, “Simbolismo temático y titular en Las manos del día,” Mester, 4 (1974): 75–81;
Volodia Teitelboim, Neruda 100: Multiuso, todoterreno (Providencia, Santiago de Chile: Catalonia, 2004).
Almost all of Pablo Neruda’s writings are held by the Fundación Pablo Neruda, Santiago.