Human concerns – Pablo Neruda (1904-1973)

See on this site – Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) – Original name Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto: This Chilean poet, and diplomat, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. His original name was Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, but he used the pen name Pablo Neruda for over 20 years before adopting it legally in 1946. Neruda is the most widely read of the Spanish American poets. From the 1940s on, his works reflected the political struggle of the left and the socio-historical developments in South America. He also wrote love poems. Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1924) have sold over a million copies since it first appeared.

“Sucede que me canso de ser hombre.
Sucede que entro es las sasterías y en los cines
marchito, impenetrable, como un cisne de fieltro
navegando en un agua de origen y ceniza.”
(from ‘Walking Around’)
(I happen to be tired of being a man
I happen to enter tailor shops and movie houses
withered, impenetrable, like a felt swan
navigating in a water of sources and ashes.)

Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto was born in Parral, a small town in central Chile. His father, don José del Carmen Reyes Morales, was a poor railway worker and his mother, Rosa Basoalto de Reyes, was a schoolteacher, who died of tuberculosis when Neruda was an infant. Don José Carmen moved with his sons in 1906 to Temuco, and married Trinidad Candia Marvedre. Neruda started to write poetry when he was ten years old. At the age of 12 he met the Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, who encouraged his literary efforts. The American poet Walt Whitman, whose framed portrait Neruda later kept on his table, become a major influence on his work. “I, a poet who writes in Spanish, learned more from Walt Whitman than from Cervantes,” Neruda said in 1972 in a speech during a visit in the United States.

Neruda’s first serious literary achievement, an article, appeared in 1917 in the magazine La Manana. It was followed by the poem, ‘Mis ojos’, which appeared in 1918 in Corre-Vuela. In 1920 he published poems in the magazine Selva Austral, using the pen name Pablo Neruda to avoid conflict with his family, who disapproved his literary ambitions. From 1921 he studied French at the Instituto Pedagógico in Santiago. In 1924 Neruda gained international fame as an writer with VEINTE POEMAS DE AMOR Y UNA CANCÍON, which is his most widely read work.

At the age of only 23 Neruda was appointed by the Chilean government as consul to Burma (now Myanmar). He held diplomatic posts in various East Asian and European Countries, befriending among others the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. Neruda continued to write for several literary and other magazines, among them La Nación, El Sol, and Revista de Occidente. He also started to edit in 1935 a literary magazine, Caballo Verde para la Poesía.

“We did meet forty years ago. At that time we were both influenced by Whitman and I said, jokingly in part, ‘I don’t think anything can be done in Spanish, do you?’ Neruda agreed, but we decided it was too late for us to write our verse in English. We’d have to make the best of a second-rate literature.” (from Jorge Luis Borges: Conversations, ed. by Richard Burgin, 1998).

After Neruda ended his affair with the possessive and violently jealous Josie Bliss, he married in 1930 María Antonieta Hagenaar, a Dutch woman who couldn’t speak Spanish; they separated in 1936. At that time Neruda lived in Paris, where he published with Nancy Cunard the journal Los Poetas del Mundo Defiende al Pueblo Español. Nancy Cunard was the sole inheritor of the famous Cunard shipping company, who later followed Neruda to Chile with a bullfighter. Her mother disinherited her when she escaped from high society with a black musician. In the 1930s and 1940s Neruda lived with the Argentine painter Delia del Carril, who encouraged Neruda to participate in politics. Neruda and Delia del Carril married in 1943, but the marriage was not recognized in Chile; they separated in 1955. Neruda married in 1966 the Chilean singer Matilde Urrutia. She was the inspiration of much of Neruda’s later poetry, among others One Hundred Love Sonnets (1960).

Neruda’s first volume of RECIDENCIA EN LA TIERRE (1933) was a visionary work, written in the Far East but emerging from the birth of European fascism. During his Marxist period, Neruda rejected the Residencia (1933, 1935, 1947) cycle, but in 1960 he urged to include poems from the work to an anthology of his verse. In 1935-36 he was in Spain but he resigned from his post because he sided with the Spanish Republicans. After the leftist candidate don Pedro Aguirre Cerda won the presidental election, Neruda again was appointed consul, this time to Paris, where he helped Spanish refugees by re-settling them in Chile.

In 1942 Neruda visited Cuba and read for the first time his poem, ‘Canto de amor para Stalingrado’, which praised the Red Army fighting in Stalingrad. His daughter, Malva Marina, died in the same year in Europe. Neruda joined the Communist Party, and in 1945 he was elected to the Chilean Senate. He attacked President González Videla in print and when the government was taken by right-wing extremists, he fled to Mexico. He travelled to the Soviet Union, where he was warmly received, and in other Eastern European countries. Neruda was especially impressed by the vastness of Russia, its birch forests, and rivers. He met Ilya Ehrenburg, whose home was full of works by Picasso, and the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, who lived in exile in Moscow. The Soviet Union was for Neruda a country, where libraries, universities, and theatres were open for all. He referred to dogmatic views in the Soviet art, but optimistically believed that the views had been condemned. Neruda’s colleagues also read him Boris Pasternak’s poems but they did not forget to mention that Pasternak was considered as a political reactionary.

In exile Neruda produced CANTO GENERAL (1950), a monumental work of 340 poems. “Come up with me, American love. / Kiss these secret stones with me. / The torrential silver of the Urubamba / makes the pollen fly to its golden cup. The hollow of the bindweed’s maze, the petrified plant, the inflexible garland, soar above the silence of these mountain coffers.” (From ‘The Heights of Macchu Picchu’.) In this work Neruda examined Latin American history from a Marxist point of view, and showed his deep knowledge about the history, geography and politics of the continent. The central theme is the struggle for social justice. Canto general includes Neruda’s famous poem ‘Alturas de Macchu Picchu’, which was born after he visited the Incan ruins of Macchu Picchu in 1943. In it Neruda aspires to become the voice of the dead people who once lived in the city.

“I want to know, salt of the roads,
show me the spoon – architecture, let me
scratch at the stamens of stone with a little stick,
ascend the rungs of the air up to the void,
scrape the innards until I touch mankind.”
(from ‘The Heights of Macchu Picchu’)

While in exile, Neruda travelled in Italy, where he lived for a while. After the victory of the anti-Videla forces and the order to arrest leftist was rescinded, Neruda returned to Chile. In 1953 Neruda was awarded the Stalin Prize. He remained faithful to “el partido” when other intellectual had rejected Moscow’s leash; poetry was not for Neruda simply an expression of emotions and personality, it was “a deep inner calling in man; from it came liturgy, the psalms, and also the content of religions.” (from Memoirs, 1974). However, Neruda’s faith was deeply shaken in 1956 by Khrushchev’s revelation at the Twentieth Party Congress of the crimes committed during the Stalin regime. His collection EXTRAVAGARIO (1958) reflects this change in his works. In it Neruda turned to his youth. He presents the reader with his daily life and examines critically his Marxist beliefs. During a visit to Buenos Aires in 1957 Neruda was arrested and he spent a restless night in jail. Just before he was released, a policeman gave him a poem, devoted to the famous author.

Establishing a permanent home on the Isla Negra, Neruda continued to travel extensively, visiting Cuba in 1960 and the United States in 1966. When Salvador Allende was elected president, he appointed Neruda as Chile’s ambassador to France (1970-72). Neruda died of leukemia in Santiago on 23 September in 1973. His death was probably accelerated by the murder of Allende and tragedies caused by Pinochet coup. After Neruda’s death his home in Valparaiso and Santioago were robbed. During his long literary career, Neruda produced more than forty volumes of poetry, translations, and verse drama. Neruda is recognized to be among the major poets of the 20th century. Positive criticism have not managed to soften the edges of his vision. (Read more here).

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