What does Pablo Neruda specifically praise Walt Whitman for in "Ode to Walt Whitman"?

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Pablo Neruda praises Walt Whitman in the poem "Ode to Walt Whitman" for enabling Neruda to experience America through Whitman’s invigorating poetry. He states in the poem that:

I walked on the grass,

on the firm dew

of Walt Whitman.

In essence, Whitman’s poetry was a guide to Pablo Neruda in how to experience America – it’s landscape, society, culture and its people. Walt Whitman, through his poetry – was like a father to Neruda in the way he taught Neruda about America and how to experience America fully.

Therefore, Neruda learned about America through beautiful words conveyed to him by Whitman. This was important to Neruda, a Chilean writer, as he was now thinking beyond his country’s borders.

In addition, Pablo Neruda says in the poem that Walt Whitman encouraged him towards books and more reading. This is evidenced in the line:

you raised

my eyes

to books,

Furthermore, Whitman taught Neruda to “see.” Neruda learned to really look at and take in mountains, alfalfa, poppies, rivers- essentially the gorgeous natural world around him. Moreover, Whitman taught Neruda to see man (black men and women and white men and women in America), and to see the plight of black slaves in American society. Also, Whitman showed Neruda, via his poems, how to see the average American, such as a fireman, and what people do as they live their daily lives with all its challenges.

In conclusion, Walt Whitman, through his varied poems, taught Pablo Neruda to really look at America and discern its ways and to see the real America that was waiting there for him to explore further by any means that he chose. Whitman’s poems opened the door for Neruda into America.

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Walt Whitman's influence on Neruda is seen often in Neruda's work, specifically when one looks at themes of history, nation, and freedom.  Neruda creates a powerful metaphor by characterizing Whitman as the actual earth that is the United States, and at the same time a kind of father figure.  Neruda's ability to express vast ideals ad truths in such a brief and eloquent poem are a testament to his skill.  One can infer that Whitman IS America for Neruda, which makes sense when one looks at the frequency of America as a subject in Whitman's work.  At the same time, Neruda embraces Whitman's work and talent as an icon whom he clearly admires. 

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