Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
As stated above, in “A Few Things Explained” Neruda attempts both to explain why his poetry has become more sociopolitical and to denounce the Nationalist side of the Spanish Civil War.
Neruda’s poetry in the late 1930’s, and particularly in España en el corazón (1937, “Spain in the heart”), of which “A Few Things Explained” forms a part, was indeed different from the poetry for which the poet was known until that time. The vast majority of his earlier poetry was very personal, interior, concerned often with metaphysical issues, such as the question of existence in the modern, chaotic world. It was largely hermetic, aloof poetry, in both expression and theme. The poet’s experience in Spain at the beginning of the Civil War, however, radically changed his life and, consequently, his poetry. Rather suddenly he was less interested, for example, in metaphysical questions and far more concerned with issues of social and political justice, and this was reflected in his poetry. “A Few Things Explained” explains the reasons for this change.
The poet does not miss the opportunity, while explaining the reasons for the change in his poetry, to cast blame for the Civil War, and his attitude toward the Nationalists could not be clearer. He does not simply paint them as the ones at fault, but instead goes a step further, portraying them as “bandits,” “jackals,” and “turncoats” who slaughter innocent children. This poem and the volume of which it is a part (España en el corazón) were so well thought of by the Republican side of the conflict that the Republican Army had the book reprinted in 1938, complete with a dedicatory note from the army.
In spite of the potentially prosaic subject matter and the blatant political purpose of Neruda’s poem, “A Few Things Explained” is every bit as poetic a work as it is a work of political statement. It stands as a major poem in Neruda’s vast repertoire because of these elements and because of the turning point it marks in the poet’s life and career.