Neruda, Pablo (Vol. 28)
Pablo Neruda 1904–1973
(Born Ricardo Eliecer Neftali Reyes y Basoalto) Chilean poet. See also Pablo Neruda Criticism, and volumes 1, 2, 5, 7.
Neruda is considered one of the finest poets of our time. A prolific and adventurous writer who was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1971, he passed through several literary and political stages in his long career. The poetry consistently celebrates love, nature, and human experience, and was in certain periods intensely political.
Neruda's passion for writing love poetry is particularly evident in the early Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada (1924; Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair). In the poems of this collection, Neruda presents woman and nature as "two aspects of the same reality" and uses nature imagery to describe women. Although it is now among the best known of Neruda's works, Chile's leading publisher refused to publish the book, claiming that it was too blatantly erotic. Neruda's poetry of that time is extremely personal and characterized by a melancholy view of the world and a preoccupation with unrequited love. In Tentativa del hombre infinito (1925; Venture of the Infinite Man) Neruda employs a freer style and surreal imagery. This movement toward the surreal culminated in Residencia en la tierra (1933; Residence on Earth), one of Neruda's most acclaimed works. The poems in this collection are anguished and despairing, full of surreal images of nature. They are perhaps the result of the loneliness Neruda was experiencing at the time of their writing.
The years 1945–1952 were turbulent and productive ones for Neruda. In 1945 he joined the Communist party in Chile and was elected to the Senate. In 1946 he supported the leftist presidential candidate who, once elected, became a pawn of the nation's industrial leaders. Communism was outlawed and Neruda's arrest ordered. In 1948 Neruda fled to Mexico and lived there until his return to Chile in 1952. During his exile he wrote the poems that were published as Canto general in 1950; they represent, in the opinion of most critics, Neruda's most significant work. The collection expresses his outrage at the Chilean political situation in the late 1940s. The work is his attempt to analyze and interpret the political and cultural directions being taken by South America. The book was banned in Chile.
After Canto general, Neruda's poetry underwent an important change. Subsequently, he began to write in a clear and simple style to powerful effect. The poems in Odas elementales (1954; Elemental Odes), for instance, take as their subjects everyday, familiar objects and raise them to a point of dignity and grace. At the time of their publication, these earthy, realistic poems came under critical fire for being too simple, but they are now considered among Neruda's most significant works.
At the time of his death Neruda was working on his memoirs and several volumes of poetry, including El mar y las campanas (1973) and Jardin de invierno (1974). Although the subjects of these collections are similar to Neruda's previous works, they were written with the knowledge of his imminent death. Death and winter are the most dominant themes.
James Wright and Robert Bly
What is most startling about Neruda, I think, when we compare him to Eliot or Dylan Thomas or Pound, is the great affection that accompanies his imagination. Neruda read his poetry for the first time in the U.S. in June of '66 at the Poetry Center in New York, and it was clear from that reading that his poetry is intended as a gift. When Eliot gave a reading, one had the feeling that the reading was a cultural experience, and that Eliot doubted very much if you were worth the trouble, but he'd try anyway. When Dylan Thomas read, one had the sense that he was about to perform some magical and fantastic act, perhaps painting a Virgin while riding on three white horses, and maybe you would benefit from this act, and maybe you wouldn't. Pound used to scold the audience for not understanding what he did. When Neruda reads, the mood in the room is one of affection between the audience and himself.
We tend to associate the modern imagination with the jerky imagination, which starts forward, stops, turns around, switches from subject to subject. In Neruda's poems, the imagination drives forward, joining the entire poem in a rising flow of imaginative energy. In the underworld of the consciousness, in the thickets where Freud, standing a short distance off, pointed out incest bushes, murder trees, half-buried primitive altars, and unburied bodies, Neruda's imagination moves with utter assurance, sweeping from one spot to another almost...
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[In the poem "Ode to Bread," from his collection Elemental Odes,] Neruda wants to do with bread what Stevens did with his jar in Tennessee: to place it on a hill and let its presence tame the wilderness. The comparisons in the first stanza of the poem make it clear that he celebrates bread for being itself, not for being eaten. Making bread is a birth and a growing. Its shape suggests the birth of man, its growth the rebirth of spring, an "equinoctial terrestrial germination" (equinoccial/germinación/terrestre). It grows like a mouth, a breast, a hill, in a universe where everything is alive. Change is the sign of its life. If you cannot change, you cannot grow, and in Neruda's eyes you are less alive than the bread or the hill.
Because bread does not happen by itself, man is as much the subject of the poem as bread. But the "I" of the earlier poems has become "we," and Neruda no longer uses things to carry his private emotions. (p. 103)
In bread Neruda sees the kingdom of man. Contrary to Christian teachings, man does live by bread alone. Beauty and love have meaning nowhere but here. The pitiful spectators he sees at religious processions tell him that institutionalized religion destroys those it promises to save. The Indians are servile and abused; the hungry parochial schoolmasters, the nuns, and the clergy have lost touch with the earth. They deny life because they are afraid of death. But a...
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this time it is clear to everybody who has ever heard of him that Neruda is a very great poet.
It is the folly of Americans to assume that to say as much is to say that a man is a great man, worthy of worship, a relief to us in our frantic and temporary deaths.
But a great poet is a disturbance. If poetry means anything, it means heart, liver, and soul. If great poetry means anything, anything at all, it means disturbance, secret disturbance, that can be disposed of in public, as the pharmacist's delivery of prescription disposes of lonely midnight daydreams. But that cannot be so easily disposed of privately, as the insomniac discovers that the soporific provides him with sleep only to follow the hand of sleep into a land of secret wakening, nightmare, or illumination, that he wished to escape in the first place. It is bad enough to be miserable; but to be happy, how far beyond shock it is. To be alive, with all one's unexpected senses, and yet to face the fact of unhappiness.
There is a critic in the English language whose nobility and spaciousness allowed him to make the statement about poetry that can in turn allow us to cherish what is great. It is a statement about Shakespeare, and it applies to Neruda's poem The Heights of Macchu Picchu. In his preface to the works of Shakespeare, Dr. Johnson wonders why we should care about a poet after he has been dead for more than a hundred years....
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[Neruda] will keep on dying with the movement of our century and with us: a vast and profound death of incalculable significance, dying first here, later there, and then beyond; now in me and then in other men and women, without obvious rhythm, but really with the rhythm of the seasons, of the sea, the stars and the trees, through which he keeps growing, stretching, resting from his life, breathing at last all the atmosphere and all the earth, all of time, the components of his death….
I want to write a few things down about the friend I loved and the poet, who at the end faced up to the fact of his death, clothed as always in a magical complexity and simplicity. To my mind what is significant is how Neruda, dying so quickly, transformed this moment of truth into a fascinating and delicate balancing act of reserve, allusion, boldness, shyness, vertigo and tranquility. My evidence is … the ten poems which Neruda published in Crísis in August, 1973….
The first thing to be noted is the ordering of these ten poems: Neruda begins with "Integraciones," ends with "Una canción de amor" and sends special instructions to the publisher that both poems should be printed in italics. His death testimony is thus supported by two love songs, like a medal where the front and the back, the face and its shadow, sustain an affirmation of life. (p. 42)
[There are two poems] that refer directly to the theme...
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At the time of his death in Santiago in 1973, twelve days after the military coup, [Pablo Neruda] had just seen the fourth edition of his Obras completas through the press, he was nearing the completion of his memoirs (Confieso que he vivido), and was working on the last of eight volumes of new poetry [Larosa separado, Jardin de invierno, 2000, El corazón amarillo, Libro de las preguntas, Elegía, Defectos escogidos, and El mar y las campanas]. He had planned to publish these, along with his autobiography, on his seventieth birthday. Those eight collections make up a remarkable last chapter in the life of the most varied twentieth-century poet to have written in Spanish. Two of them—Jardin de invierno and El mar y las campanas—include some poems which rank among his finest. They represent the winter of his poetry, whose autumn had begun in 1958 with the return to introspection of Estravagario. With this final chapter Neruda becomes at last, in death, a poet for all seasons. (p. 1154)
2000 is the shortest [of the eight volumes]: a nine-poem sequence looking forward to the next millennium, in the tones of Fin de mundo. El corazón amarillo is largely whimsical, after the manner of Estravagario: one poem, beginning "The certainty of the green tree in spring / is something proven", reads almost like a deliberately nonchalant reply to the desengaño of "With...
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Rene de Costa
In relation to Neruda's previous public posture as a writer of the people, Estravagario seemed very individualistic, even frivolous in its self-indulgence. What is more, the frivolity was not unintentional. (p. 175)
How is one to interpret this about-face, Neruda's sudden lack of solemnity regarding himself and his work? Only eight years before, in 1950, at the end of Canto general, he had piously willed his books to the poets of tomorrow…. Then, speaking as the collective voice of his people, he went on to claim for his own work an enduring meaning for future generations…. In 1958 he makes no such claim on posterity. He does not even ask that his writings be practical or utilitarian as in the elemental odes; he shrugs literature off as a light entertainment. Neruda's stance in Estravagario is that of an anti-poet. His subject is himself. (pp. 177-78)
Estravagario is a very personal book. For this reason some critics suggested it be compared to Veinte poemas de amor. Others, noting a certain hermeticism, were inclined to consider it in the context of Residencia en la tierra. Actually, the book refuses such pat categorizations, for it contains recognizable snatches of almost everything: the serendipity of the odes, the episodic development of the epic, even a good measure of politics. The problem is that the repertory, while recognizably Nerudian, is completely reworked;...
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Manuel Duran and Margery Safir
Neruda's career as a poet began with love poetry and ended with love poetry. One of his very last works, written only days before his death, is "The End," a love poem to [his wife] Matilde. There were, of course, changes; there were deviations during the period of Residence on Earth, for example; there were turns and innovations during the period of political and epic poetry that began in the late thirties and culminated in 1950 with Canto General, but there was also a remarkable continuity. Erotic poetry and love poetry were for Neruda an important, essential part of his poetic life.
Pablo Neruda was one of the most prolific poets of our century. To trace the development of even one aspect of his poetic world is far from easy. Yet in the case of his erotic poetry and his love poetry the outline of that development is clear enough. The early Neruda, from his first published book, Crepusculario, and then especially in Twenty Poems, is a sensualist and a materialist in his approach to love and woman…. [In Twenty Poems] Neruda intensifies the complete fusion between woman and Nature. Joy and despair, like Marisol and Marisombra, mingle and alternate in this book, but whatever the emotion of the moment, the poet is constant in his identification of woman with Nature, in his use of Nature imagery to describe woman, and in his conception of woman as a vehicle for a return to Nature. In these richly...
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In 1962, Pablo Neruda began to set down some autobiographical poems centered around his house in Isla Negra, Chile. He wrote just over a hundred before he finished; it is this book ["Isla Negra"] Alastair Reid has now translated elegantly.
In some of the poems Neruda goes below the surface of life, with its poisoned flowers, snakes and waterfalls that he loves to describe, and talks of a mysterious "wicked King," who is allied with the terrifying jungle. It's not clear who this wicked King is, but Neruda knows that his life as a poet is associated with the jungle and that his growth resembled a jungle's….
Neruda's growth was amazing; he does find, following Whitman's lead, the secret route that allows him to leaf out, exfoliate, become more and more moist and massive, until his work includes the poor, wristwatches, rabbits, the history of South America. (p. 9)
Neruda means this book to sum up his life in poetry, to make clear what he wanted to do. If we compare him with Akhmatova and Yeats, we could say that Akhmatova wanted to join classical form with heart feeling; Yeats wanted to help Ireland regain greatness, to embody a high and unrequited love and to get to the other world. Neruda doesn't seem to want any of the things Yeats wanted: He doesn't believe there is any other world, doesn't believe in unrequited love and declared several times that the gods are "enemies of man." What did he...
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[Pablo Neruda's Isla Negra, A Notebook, was] written during 1962–63, and consists of about 202 pages of meditative, autobiographical poems. He seems to have written them "as a present to himself for his sixtieth birthday" (as Professor E. M. Santi observes in his Afterword). In this "present to himself," Neruda contemplates the various periods of his life, dividing the lyrical series into 5 sections: Where the Rain is Born, The Moon in the Labyrinth, Cruel Fire, The Hunter after Roots, and Critical Sonata. It is in the last of these, Critical Sonata, that the poet takes up the questions of his political belief, if not of his political acts in support of that belief, and suggests what he wanted to think of these matters himself, and what he expects the world to think of them. A man who writes such work as a present for his 60th birthday, a rather self-absorbed venture, to put it mildly, is not one capable of much guilt or remorse. And yet Neruda is not a hard man; just the opposite in fact: he is supersensitive, profoundly intuitive and sympathetic, and visionary, the quintessential lyrical poet, a poet who sees and who speaks in song…. [He] is a great and true poet, and his nature must be contemplated seriously, in the hope of understanding something most important about life and art.
In the pages of this private notebook of poems, informal and also meant for public scrutiny, Neruda is summing up...
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