Neruda, Pablo (Vol. 7)
Neruda, Pablo 1904–1973
Neruda, born Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes y Basoalto, was a Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet, internationally renowned not only for the brilliance of his surrealistic poetry, but also for his intense involvement with political and social causes. (See also Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 2.)
In a post-apocalyptic Eden set in Patagonia, [in La Espada Encedida], the last two human survivors join in an elemental love. Rhodo the patriarch, who had seen seventy wives turn to pillars of salt before the wars that did away with humanity, heads south—leaving behind his complicity in the cataclysm—and becomes the new first man, el refundador. The young virgin Rosía flees the destruction of the golden city of the Caesars and finds her way to Rhodo's territory. Their couplings are fierce and mighty…. Expelled from the garden, the lovers escape on a boat crowded with jungle animals. Rhodo and Rosía are shipwrecked on a new shore where, now conscious of their own divine nature, they will recreate the race.
Fin de mundo (1969), a gloss on events of the sixties, was a gloomy assessment of planetary possibilities. In La espada encendida, Neruda projects new hope into a seemingly autobiographical allegory. The narrative material brings forth refurbishings of Biblical myths and a Chilean legend of El Dorado. The image of man is Promethean, weighted with neo-romantic hubris. Such archetypes are difficult to sustain nowadays, even with the support of Neruda's characteristically inventive, earthy vocabulary and his mastery of ceremonial rhythm. Often the celebration of rebirth and passion is attenuated rather than enhanced by the poem's necessarily self-conscious allusiveness to tradition. Thematic stereotypes are also in evidence in the new Eden. Yet another time woman is cast in the role of pure and fragrant matter, taking her form and her identity from man, who in turn receives inspirations from her…. As implicit autobiography, this long poem approaches the grandiose; its apotheosis à deux, distanced from the complexity of the world, seems facile. Considered intrinsically as poetic surface, the territory is overly familiar. Love's ecstasy deserves a fresher dramatization. (p. 669)
John Deredita, in Books Abroad (copyright 1971 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 45, No. 4, Autumn, 1971.
[Neruda's] first book in which a really personal voice emerges is 20 poemas de amor y una canción desesperada ('20 love poems and one song of despair', 1924). For one, the poems are statements of Neruda's personal experience as a lover. A specific story emerges from them about a man who tried to fulfil himself through love and failed….
Many of the poems are nostalgic evocations of an impossible hope that has long been abandoned. In short: 'Es tan corto el amor, y es tan largo el olvido' ('Love is so short, forgetting is so long').
This is not, needless to say, the first time a poet has told such a story. The originality of 20 poemas lies rather in the manner in which the story is told. For in this book, the first attempt is made by Neruda to sustain a deeply personal pattern of imagery. (p. 40)
[In] 20 poemas, an alienated man is battling for fulfilment in a woman. His alienation has been effected by the hostile environment of the capital city, and by the fact that in venturing there he has uprooted himself from the land of his birth, from the 'branches' and the 'drops' of the south. It is not surprising therefore that the woman is to become indistinguishable from the very earth he has abandoned, from the very branches that he cannot locate in the city's 'miserable alleys'. As he fingers the woman's body, it is the landscape of the south of Chile he is groping for. The woman becomes Mother Earth, the possibility of a southern pine forest germinating from the city's relentlessly paved streets. (p. 41)
In 20 poemas Neruda journeys across the sea symbolically in search of an impossible port. In 1927 he embarked on a real journey, when he sailed from Buenos Aires for Lisbon, ultimately bound for Rangoon where he had been appointed honorary Chilean consul. Neruda travelled extensively in the Far East over the next few years, and it was during this period that he wrote his first really splendid book of poems, Residencia en la tierra, a book ultimately published in two parts, in 1933 and 1935.
In 20 poemas one can discern the burgeoning of a conflict between nature and the city. In a damp city room the poet searches in a woman for the smell and sound of the earth. Orgasm is like a rain forest glimpsed in a room bound by four relentless walls. Residencia en la tierra is perhaps the ultimate expression of the failure of this quest. For it is very much a book of closed, claustrophobic rooms, of stifling Asian cities made all the more squalid by the tropical Asian heat that envelops them.
Many poets have felt liberated by the East: the most notable Latin American example is Octavio Paz…. Such poets for Neruda are ultimately phoney, pseudomystics, who in the end concoct bad parodies of the real thing. And what is the real thing? Not the dazzlingly liberating Buddha, not the wisdom of Confucius, but rapacious poverty, jaded English colonialists, and as far as mysticism is concerned, the same priestly treachery and inhumanity that he had witnessed in the West. (pp. 42-3)
Residencia is the expression of a desperate struggle—a struggle to avoid mediocrity and a struggle with time and with death. [Gallagher comments in a footnote: "For a description of the damp, elusive, and amorphous death that infests these poems, see 'Solo la muerte' ('Death alone'): one of the most horrifying litanies of dying ever written."] It is the story too of a struggle to glimpse the apocalypse in a damp room. But above all it is a book of images, images that attempt to convey the elusive nature of the moods and attitudes we have already described.
Neruda's images are never gratuitous or merely private. The choice of image is dictated by its compatibility with whatever it is being designed to signify…. [There are] the flying bird or the butterfly that signify dynamic release, the pigeon of hope, the all-embracing sea, the optimistic bell. Others include the copa—the cup or goblet, a life-enhancing sign of plenty and well-being; fertile horses, grapes, bees, and bread; the rose suggesting beauty; the sword suggesting virility, heroism, adventure; the poppy suggesting mystery and passion. All these images clearly depict positive qualities. None are abstruse, being the dictates of conventionally collective associations, not private ones. Other images, equally obvious, suggest negative qualities: ashes, dust, the salt that corrodes, the suspended wheel that moves but gets nowhere, dampness, and so on. Others, like the flame, or fire (llama, fuego), are double-edged, for they uplift or destroy with equal vigour. The images occur obsessively, but they are not mere keywords: they are always placed dynamically in a context, and the context modifies their significance.
Usually, the optimistic images predominate, but they are often savaged by the adjectives or adjectival phrases that qualify them or by the verbs they are governed by. Thus we have 'useless swords', 'dead bees', or, in 'Estatuto del vino' ('Statue of wine'), 'soaked wings'. The latter is a typical example of Neruda's frequent use of a synecdochic version of a key image, another being the petal for the rose. The synecdochic version of course contributes to the poems' general mood of decomposition. (What use a wing without a bird or a petal without a rose?) so that the sense of a statement like 'soaked wings' is that there is at best a glimpse of flight in the air, a very tenuous, dismembered flight that is not going to get very far. This particular phrase has an added significance in that it is the 'soaked red wings' of wine that are being referred to. The ultimate aim of the image is therefore to pay a very back-handed compliment to wine. It may make us fly, but if it does, it is with soaked wings and without a body!
The result of this adjectival or verbal annihilation of positive noun signs is to suggest an original substantival paradise savaged by the movement of time. For most of the adjectives used (like 'soaked' for instance) suggest the modification of an original state produced by an event. Indeed most of the adjectives are past participles that suggest decomposition: derretido (melted), gastado (wasted), podrido (rotten), and so on.
Very often, in the dynamic context in which they are inserted, Neruda's favourite signs are fused or confused: thus we have a 'rose with dry wings'. One comes to expect roses to fly (badly), birds to flower (jadedly), and cups to ring out (opaquely) like a bell. Sometimes the positive images have so little chance from the start that they are nothing more than a fleeting glimpse of what they might have been. Thus a bird makes an appearance in 'Estatuto del vino' but as the mere bone of a bird with which drunkards knock on a coffin. Other times they are splattered with surrealist horror: thus the 'Estatuto's' goblets are full of 'dead eyes'. Sometimes, they are left stranded in the very syntax of the poem. (pp. 50-2)
Residencia en la tierra is ultimately a dance of images: images listed, rejected, and reintroduced, images in conflict with each other, images in dialectical play, images that are fundamentally conventional but which acquire their dynamism through contact with each other, pigeons with ashes, swords with salt, bells with poppies, horses with fire; images that are commonplace nouns erected as signs of hope yet lacerated by vicious adjectives and verbs. Verbal and adjectival time has destroyed innocence (the rose, the pigeon); and it has also destroyed spontaneity: adventure, fertility, passion, and mystery (the galloping horse, the butterfly, the sword, the grape, the bee, the goblet, and the poppy). Time has destroyed these elemental, organic, tellurian qualities by driving them into the city, or into the tragedy of history. The adjective reveals what history, what the city, what time in general have done to them, so does the verb when they are its object. Sometimes, they are the subject of the verb, and then the verb reveals what time has made them do. It has made bells ring for the dreary faithful from a church, horses gallop for the army, birds look for prey, and grapes inebriate drunkards. Later, in Canto general, Neruda is to search for a prehistoric paradise, a world unruined by history, a dance of original nouns, and he is to search for a man defined by nothing but the earth that made him. (pp. 52-3)
The first fruit of his … political commitment [to communism] is the long sequence called 'España en el corazón' ('Spain in the heart') which was eventually included in Tercera residencia (1947) but which was first published in Chile in 1937. It is an extraordinary poem, different from anything Neruda had written before. It is the work of a once intensely gloomy man who had desperately sought to be absorbed and shaken by women, by the sea, by the very violence of his poetry, and, who suddenly found an all-absorbing passion on his doorstep in Madrid: Spain, not the woman of 'Barcarola', had reached his heart. It is a poem of stirring political propaganda, a wholly public, declamatory poem from a man who had never before really written about anything but himself. Yet there is no reason to doubt its sincerity, and it is not as inconsistent as it seems at first sight. After all, if Neruda is gloomy in Residencia, it is mostly because he is unwilling to accept mediocrity. He despairs because he wants something big, too big. Why should critics grudge his finding it? All too often they have, and it is the critics who are inconsistent, unless they do not perceive the extent to which his despair in Residencia is the consequence of a rather splendid ambition that man be excellent and happy, not a drab notary.
There is much consistency too in the way his imagery develops from Residencia. For Neruda sees the Republic, as he is later to see socialism in general, as the assertion of the tellurian and the organic. This may seem anomalous politically, since socialism has normally aimed at rapid industrialization. Yet Neruda might argue that it was the alienating effects of capitalist industrial society that disturbed him in Residencia. Maybe socialist industrialization can be organic. Anyway, it is as much his poetic right to see the Republic as a force of the earth as it was Esenin's poetic right, for example, to see the Russian Revolution (however improbably) as the reaffirmation of the ethos of the Russian village and therefore as a pastoral sanctuary from the urban debauchery in which he, like Neruda, had been gloomily immersed. Certainly, the fact that Neruda sees the Republic as a tellurian force is evidence of the extent to which his reaction to it is a personal one, and not an exercise in bad faith made to order, as his political poetry is often supposed to be. (pp. 53-4)
In 'España en el corazón' the historical solution aimed at is fairly tenuous. On the one hand it is recommended that Franco be confined to a hell where among other inconveniences blood will fall upon him like rain and where he will slip eternally on a river composed of the eyes he has gouged out. On the other hand, there is the hope, manifested in the last lines of the poem, that nature will summon its secret forces for the achievement of a 'mineral victory'. It is of course in a way an impotent hope. It is reminiscent of the conclusion to a novel by Miguel Angel Asturias, Viento fuerte (1950, 'Strong wind') where, when all efforts to fight an exploiting American company have failed, nature, having been summoned by the local witch-doctor, saves the day: a cyclone destroys the hated plantations. It is as though nature were the only weapon of the weak against the strong, or worse, as though it were merely an image of the fulfilment of impossible wishes. As such, however, it is a powerful image, comfortably menacing.
The spectacle of Franco slipping eternally in a river of gouged-out eyes marks the burgeoning of an art in which Neruda was to excel with particular relish in the Canto general, the art of savage invective. To begin with this aspect of his vast and diverse epic of the American continent might seem unfair to some, but only because his denunciatory poems have been too readily dismissed, on the grounds that they are not 'real poetry', or on the grounds that they are viciously biased. This seems absurd. We often accept a passionate poem about a woman as 'great poetry', and although we suspect that the woman in question was probably nothing like her description in the poem, we do not object that the poem is biased. And anyway, if the poem is a good one, it will carry the conviction that the passion was genuine and the poem will impress us as a true manifestation of passion…. [Hate] has just as much a right to be the subject of poetry as love. Even if Neruda, having latterly become a far more benign man, may now himself laugh at these poems, they remain the expressions of a hate he once truly felt. They are good hate poems, and the targets—third-rate rapacious politicians that have always infested the Latin American political scene—deserve what they get. Also one is so conditioned to see poets (and to have seen Neruda) in the doldrums that it is refreshing to encounter a man so sure of himself now that he can stand up to accuse others rather than accuse himself. The Canto general is a good antidote say to American confessional poetry and it is a good antidote to Residencia, however splendid that book was. (pp. 55-6)
The exaggerated goriness of Neruda's insults is itself within a readily recognizable tradition: one can find it as far back as Hilario Ascasubi's gauchesco denunciations of Rosas in Paulino Lucero. (p. 56)
Neruda uses many conventional clichés to denote hope, too, which can be found in the rhetoric of Latin American national anthems and military marches, or in the independence poems of, say, Andrés Bello and Jose Joaquín de Olmedo. They are the quickly recognizable clichés that children meet, as Pring-Mill points out, in the 'schoolroom context of conventional patriotism'….
Of course, there is much more in the Canto general than propaganda…. Indeed, the fact that there is so much excellent poetry in the book serves as a guarantee that the frequent bathos of the propaganda passages is intentional, not the result of ineptitude.
The fundamental purpose of the Canto general, of which the denunciatory poems mentioned are a symptom, is to write, or rewrite, the history of Latin America—to write a poetic version of the continent's historical trajectory and to refute the official version, the one imposed upon school-children in the classroom. Thus for one, Neruda aims to view history from the point of view of people who do not normally figure in the heroic tales of the textbooks, for instance, miners, peasants, or private soldiers. (p. 57)
Neruda's rewriting of history has a deeper significance though, one which is wholly consistent with the tellurianism we discerned as far back as 20 poemas de amor y una canción desesperada. Working on what we can presume to be the assumption that the written history of the continent is a lie from the very beginning, he attempts to return to its origins, not only to its pre-Columbine, indigenous origins, but also to its primeval ones, before the emergence of man…. Neruda returns to the primeval in order to trace the original tellurian nature of man, to rediscover and resurrect the vital, tellurian energies of a race originally created, as in the book of Genesis, from earth. (p. 58)
'La lámpara en la tierra' is, indeed, Neruda's Genesis. It is about the lighting of the earth's first lamp, the opening of the first quivering eyelid. It is a search for the 'green uterus' of the jungle, a search therefore for maternal nature in order thence to retread the steps of a historical trajectory trampled by the sins of the wreckless father—the Spanish conqueror. (pp. 58-9)
Yet curiously it is here that Neruda misses a splendid opportunity. He does not sufficiently renew his language. It remains too much tainted with the legacy he would appear to be endeavouring to overthrow. (p. 59)
The Odas mark a new departure for Neruda. They are brutally simple poems, strings of lines sometimes only three syllables long, sometimes containing only one word. The effect is to force breath stops on the rhythm where they would not normally occur, sometimes for suspense preceding a surprise image, always in order to maintain a fresh pace. Yet the originality of the poems does not lie in their metre—such strings of short lines had after all been deployed by Apollinaire or Mayakovsky many decades before. The originality of the Odas lies in the new vision of the world Neruda manifests in them. (p. 63)
One begins to detect a hedonistic vein in the Odas which is to become increasingly predominant in Neruda's poetry. It is as though Neruda had decided finally to jettison his early gloom with a vengeance and quite blatantly to assert his right to enjoy himself. The very titles of some of the odas ('To happiness', 'To love', 'To a happy day', 'To wine', 'To life') indicate the extent to which his neuroses have been finally, euphorically given the sack. Maybe those descents to the 'green uterus' of nature, those returns to the beginning of time, served as a sort of therapeutic recall, whereby not only the history of the continent was retraced in order to stamp out its agonies, but also Neruda's life. (p. 65)
[Neruda's later poems] are a far cry from all those damp rooms and drab notaries of Residencia. The poetry is now far less tense, far less dramatic, but it is equally valid, and it is written by a man who has never known his trade better. (p. 66)
D. P. Gallagher, "Pablo Neruda," in his Modern Latin American Literature (copyright © 1973 by Oxford University Press, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Oxford University Press, 1973, pp. 39-66.
There is a cosmic intensity throughout [Alturas de Macchu Picchu], an intermittent awareness of totality that gives the miniscule a special importance, one I would call Blakean were it not for the inevitable associations with mysticism. Neruda is no mystic, certainly. But his vision of the earth, of its evolution and engendering of man with his own peculiar, tragic history, makes the terrestrial sacred. Neruda loves the earth as Lorca did: not its rose gardens and seascapes alone, but first its minute creatures and basic elements—ants, seeds, sand, quartz, water, air, and of course stone…. (pp. 139-40)
Isolation, complexity, and disorder are the facets of man's soul that Neruda feels have always existed…. Touching, more than seeing, hearing, smelling or tasting, is the sense which discovers most in [Alturas de Macchu Picchu] and it is understandable that tactile qualities should attract Neruda as he explores part of the earth. What gives this book its peculiar radiance is that the poet never abandons his faith in touching, even when he is trying to 'touch' what is completely intangible: a thread of continuity from primitive to present man. The link, he suggests, is the earth; knowing and loving the only live presence which our forebears also experienced. The rest is dead: beliefs, artifacts, entire races of people, countries…. Architecture, whether mental or physical, is destructible, leaving only ruins to be studied, whereas the earth in obeying a cosmic order lives on. The substance of man, throughout its changes, is what the poet hopes to find. (p. 140)
Dealing with the most intimate area of each man, the soul, the poet must tread questioningly. This for me is one of the book's supreme achievements: Neruda reveals a prodigious amount about his soul, respects the mystery of others and gradually fuses us all in a vision of mankind. Neruda the lyricist has triumphed over Neruda the politician, the latter of whom in lesser poems makes immediate assumptions about what we are or should be, but who supplies only stereotypes. The issue is pertinent, I believe, for too often the political and the poetical have been mistaken in Pablo Neruda. Political implications may be detected in these poems, true; but politics is not necessary, nor even relevant really. (p. 141)
Like a pre-Columbian sculptor, Neruda insistently exaggerates hands, feet, eyes. Through the torrential metaphors that characterize his poetry, these three features recur again and again, as if obeying an instinct, or a wish to keep alive in verse the first South American man…. (p. 142)
Into the realm of the untouchable and indeed, the intangible, Neruda persists in his quest: to touch, even in disappearing matter, man. His insistently physical probing reveals a poet convinced of the power of every atom of life on the earth and determined to stay close to the organic matter that nourishes him. (pp. 144-45)
He, the living, hopes to perpetuate those gone; and as poet, hopes to unite us with them. He offers his words and his body to join men. The closing line of Alturas de Macchu Picchu is:
Speak through my words and blood.
A testimony to Pablo Neruda's concept of art and life. (p. 145)
Agnes Gullon, "Pablo Neruda at Macchu Picchu," in Chicago Review (reprinted by permission of Chicago Review; copyright © 1975 by Chicago Review), Vol. 27, No. 2, 1975, pp. 138-45.
[We] already have many translations of Neruda and if [Five Decades: A Selection (Poems 1925–1970), translated by Ben Belitt], is a retrospective showcase for the poet, which it clearly and delightfully is, it is also one for the translator….
Here there is none of the blatant politicism Neruda sometimes wrote—although the notorious poem on the United Fruit Company is included—and here there is relatively little of the beautiful obscurity of Residence on Earth. Mostly there is a poetry of things asserting
The real? It is there,
Never doubt it—the power of the real to augment
and enlarge us, to make our teeth chatter,
still able to write on the card of our hunger
an order of bread and an order of soul for the table.
Reality, for us Westerners, the etymologists remind us, is things (Latin res meaning thing is the root of the word) and Neruda is consistently real, in this sense. And so this time through the vast and varied poetry of Neruda I have been most pleased by poems like "Piano," "Elephant," "Horses," and "To the Foot from its Child"—all poems which are truly about those vital, organic things and not, as in so much modern poetry, about the poet's ability to make images from things….
With another poet it would be an ignorant disservice to single out such an apparently simple strain in his work; but with Neruda there is so much, one can afford to be prodigal. (p. 376)
Ronald Christ, in Commonweal (copyright © 1975 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), August 29, 1975.
Pablo Neruda once confessed that writing clearly had been one of his most difficult poetic achievements. Fully Empowered … is gratifyingly clear, even luminous. It is a full book, rich in experience alternately groping and sweeping, and a joy to read—a book that seems to chart an upward path for itself even when it looks back into the past. It celebrates life insistently from a perspective which radiates self-assurance. Though it touches on emotions as disparate as joy at the progress of a flower and sadness at the ebbing of a human life, the accent here is on reconciliation of opposites—life-death, light-shadow, love-hate, etc.—as integral, complementary parts of existence.
Fully Empowered, which appeared in Spanish in 1962, belongs to the serene, reflective latter period of Neruda's work. In the maturity, capacity for self-criticism, and occasional sense of humor which it reflects, Fully Empowered is a logical successor to Extravagaria and an augury of the somewhat recapitulative Memorial de Isla Negra. As in Extravagaria, the Neruda of Fully Empowered is one keenly aware of the passage of time and of the paradoxes inherent in life. In Fully Empowered he explores these paradoxes and brings them to a happy symbiotic synthesis. As he does so, he reflects on the poet's role, and traces a relationship between the reconciliation of paradox and the art of poetry even as he demonstrates it….
Neruda gives us an impressive sampling of emotions and experiences, ranging from the "occasional" poem to the universal. The tone, too, varies widely…. [Optimism] predominates…. Throughout, the poet stresses continuity, whether it be in the life process itself or in the art of poetry, as in "For Everyone." Everything, including ephemerality, has a reason for being in the context of Fully Empowered. The mortal stab of the sun in "The Tower," for example, only enhances the beauty of the dew. And from the height of his tower, the poet conscious of the "sword" of time, counters finality with expression. (pp. 35-6)
Gloria M. Ortiz, in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1975 by The New Republic, Inc.), November 1, 1975.
In the poem "Perdón si por mis ojos …" from "The Sea and the Bells" the major motifs of Neruda's posthumous poetry meet: solitude as an inalienable right, the sea as the embodiment of the poet's secret self, death as a reconquered unity, as a "sunken song" … which joins the total song of the great ocean. From these motifs a fourth one derives—silence—which, although already present in his later poetry, fully unfolds in his posthumous books. In the poem "El golpe" (The Blow) from Las manos del día (The Hands of the Day) Neruda despairs of language, of that long river of ink and countless voices, and proposes "just one dark blow without words"…. It is therefore a silence which contains all the words, the same silence with which the minute oceanide (a word Neruda recoined to mean sea creatures) and the tiny coleopteros build themselves with materials extracted from their own essence—a silence which rejects names and forms, interpretations and explanations, in order to realize itself in an absence which nonetheless comprises all presences. Here also, as in other instances, Neruda coincides, in a subliminal choice, with some recurring images of the Upanishads. In Svetasvatara Upanishad a silence of many is mentioned, a silence which is "pure radiance of beauty and perfection" and through which a cosmic consciousness is expressed, a silence whose substance is the peace of all. Another image from the Vedantic text, tantamount to that of silence, represents God's unifying principle as "a white radiance which contains all the colors of creation," reminiscent of the image of the ink stain in "The Blow." (pp. 40-1)
Neruda despairs of the so-called "language of communication" which has resulted in clogging communication, a language of alienation with which we understand each other and yet do not understand: knick-knacks, practical commodities, clothing which we put on and take off every day. In contrast to these signals and countersignals, which take us everywhere without taking us anywhere, Neruda suggests: "one must hear what is voiceless, / one must see those things which do not exist"—a language which resolves itself in silence and whose realization is the negation of language. (p. 41)
Libro de las preguntas (Book of Questions), another post-humous book, is a collection of about 400 questions on those enigmas of creation for whose secrets the poet has neither explanations nor answers…. The entire book is a new effort to show that the secrets of life defy the capabilities of human intelligence, that those marvels and miracles to which we have become accustomed are more powerful than our fragile logic…. Life wins also through death, because with its powers life recycles death into its own nourishment. In the vital cycle of nature, the wastes and excretions of death are life-sustaining. Being and not being are equally materials of a great kitchen; life and death mix together and complement each other as essential ingredients of a broth from which we are all fed. (pp. 44-5)
The word "winter" appears insistently again and again throughout his posthumous poetry, [as well as] supplying the title to the most intense book of the group [Jardín de invierno]…. Neruda feels it as a final season, a season of introspection and solitude, a season on whose bare branches a cycle of permutations dies and a circle of days, months and seasons closes. But winter is also the season which defines itself in the life of the poet as a reencounter with a solitude once unwanted but now welcome as a return to home—the old and long unvisited house of the self—and as an immersion into the great silence, where death is perceived as a liberation and as an act of final integration. From the center of his winter garden Neruda proclaims an irrevocable faith in the arrival of a new season, a new spring which converts the residue of the winter into the roots of new resurrections. Like nature, the poet recognizes himself as part of the same regenerative process, in which to die is also to be born, or reborn. (p. 45)
Jaime Alazraki, "Music as Silence in Neruda's Eight Posthumous Books of Poetry," in Books Abroad (copyright 1976 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 50, No. 1, Winter, 1976, pp. 40-5.
With Neruda, the question of identity is the starting-point: born Neftali Reyes, his disowning of the name signified a refusal to become identified with his regional background and an ambition instead to become a truly national poet. In the end, however, it was not merely a matter of writing for a wider readership, but of radically reworking the whole material relationship between poet and audience. Neruda's deep political involvement in Spain in the 1930s, and his rediscovery of public and oral modes of poetic production, are aspects of a single break which laid the foundation for his epic masterpiece Canto general. As such, his work finely exemplifies Walter Benjamin's case that political commitment in art lies not simply in injecting "committed" content into received forms, but in reconstructing the very productive forms of art themselves. So Canto general deploys oratorical and polemical language, calculatedly mixing genres in its intricate totalisation of Latin American history; and some of the later poems, written to be declaimed at public meetings, move towards the immediacy of song. What is most striking about Neruda (as opposed, say, to Brecht) is his ability to do all this without losing creative contact with the lyrical and mythological, with elaborated modes of poetic discourse saturated in the sensuous delicacies of personal experience. (p. 79)
H. B. Mallalieu, in Stand (copyright © by Stand), Vol. 17, No. 2, 1976.
Pablo Neruda is fecundly dead. His poems keep coming into English, sometimes bruised and tattered by the translator's egotistical ineptitude and sometimes decently clad…. Almost always enough survives the metamorphosis to serve as an invigorating example of how a truly universal poetic consciousness goes about its business. (p. 100)
Quite early, Neruda seems to have realized that an integral poetry, more like Rimbaud's than Baudelaire's, must aim to reproduce or represent that level of authenticity below censored consciousness at which mind operates in endless alternations and concatenations of contraries. These are [what Neruda termed] differing rhythms and conflicting currents…. Fidelity to his own feelings had forced Neruda to do violence to the niceties of language and to defy the logic of identities which, because it ignores time, can maintain that A is always A…. In Twenty Poems, love and unlove, trust and mistrust, Mary-sunlight and Mary-shadow alternately beat out a rhythm which is locked in time and which cannot come to rest in any permanent essence because nothing of the sort exists in time and nothing at all can exist outside it…. Intellect, Neruda [says, in explaining Residence on Earth,] has deprived poetry of its substantiality, has removed it from the arena of existential struggle so that it can no longer give sustenance. Neruda wants to re-endow the poetic message with substance and sustenance. He wants to "penetrate life and make it prophetic." But for the time being he can do no more than establish an authentically self-expressive language that accurately registers a relentless and desperate attempt to refloat a monstrously barnacled universe of human aspirations that has foundered in time. He has the language now, but no credible and life-empowering dream to make it fully intelligible, and the only form is the pressure of the effort itself. Forget this, and the pre-political poems of the Residencias (1925–47) seem opaque and aphasic; remember their intention, and they become unbearably articulate in a way as yet unavailable in English.
Canto General (1950) jubilantly records Neruda's release from the anxiety-laden nightmare quest of a bourgeois poet into the energizing dream of Historical Inevitability…. From now on Neruda's inexhaustible sensibility has a channel and a goal. His job is to speak to and for every downtrodden Jack and Jill, to bring everything in this world into relation with everything else through them, and to celebrate with a bridegroom's irrefragable optimism the coming consummation of History.
What is most moving about the later Neruda is not his occasional political stridency, but the enormous generosity of his vision and his unfailing sense of humor. "You learn poetry," he said in 1956, "moving step by step among things and beings, never isolating, but rather containing them all within a blind expansion of love." Fully Empowered (1962) is a triumphant expression of this all-encompassing expansiveness. Here is the house, whimsically built from the stars down; here is a child that needs washing; here are thistles and clocksmiths, friends and enemies, all have a place in this finally convincing Nerudian universe where, as Rilke has it, song is existence itself. You read these poems and you ask yourself sometimes: "Didn't Brother Pablo say this better somewhere else?" And the answer is, "Maybe, but never mind, no one ever said it better, ever." (pp. 101-02)
Luis E. Yglesias, "Out of Some Rumbling Wholeness," in Review 76 (copyright © 1976 by the Center for Inter-American Relations, Inc.), Spring, 1976, pp. 100-02.