At a Glance
Pablo Neruda is almost as famous for his political activism as he is for his eclectic, electric poetry. A communist who held several governmental posts in his native Chile, Neruda was a staunch supporter of Radical Party presidential candidate Gabriel González Videla and helped elect him to office. When Videla quickly turned against the Communist party, Neruda spoke out harshly against him. Fearing for his family’s safety, Neruda went into hiding for the next year, during which time the Communist party was banned from Chile. He remained in exile for three years and traveled throughout Europe, where he did a great deal of writing. He first became known for erotic poems such as “Tonight I Can Write,” but the masterpiece Canto General captures his range of ideas, concerns, and passions—from history and politics to nature and love.
Facts and Trivia
- Neruda was born Ricardo Eliecer Neftali Reyes Basoalto. He took his pen name from the Czech author Jan Neruda.
- Although Neruda’s father opposed his writing interests, he persisted and had his first essay published at the age of thirteen.
- His Veinte Poemas, which includes the acclaimed poem “Tonight I Can Write,” was considered highly controversial because of its explicitly sexual nature. Neruda was only ninteen years old when the volume was published.
- Neruda was invited to speak at the International PEN Conference in 1966 and, despite the fact that he was officially banned from the United States, he was granted a special visa to attend.
- Chilean leader Pinochet tried to outlaw the public from attending Neruda’s funeral, but thousands of people broke curfew and attended anyway. This is considered the first public protest against Chilean dictators.
Pablo Neruda was born Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, in the small town of Parral in southern Chile, on July 12, 1904, the son of José del Carmen Reyes and Rosa de Basoalt. His mother, a schoolteacher, died of tuberculosis not long after he was born. Neruda began writing poetry at the local schools but kept it hidden from his schoolmates and his relations, who were mainly agricultural or manual workers, and his father, a tough railroad worker. The family moved to Temuco in 1906, and Neruda grew up in a frontier atmosphere, becoming familiar with the forests and the native Indians who inhabited them. His father remarried, and Neruda grew close to his stepmother, a quiet, unassuming peasant woman named Trinidad Candia Marverde. The headmaster of the local school was the poet Gabriela Mistral, who encouraged the literary talent she saw in the boy. Neruda’s reading at this time was eager and indiscriminate. He grew to be a tall, slim youth and began translating Baudelaire and winning various local poetry prizes.
In 1921, he left high school and went to the teachers’ college in Santiago (the capital of Chile) but much preferred talking about literature in the cafés to studying French. He had submitted his earliest poems for magazine publication when he was only fifteen, signing himself “Pablo Neruda.” His range of literary acquaintances widened, but his early poetry, Crepusculario (1923), remained provincial and sentimental. At twenty, however, he published Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (1924; Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, 1969, 1976) and established his reputation as a love poet.
Neruda worked fanatically, earning money writing articles for newspapers and journals and writing translations. He edited his own magazine, wrote short stories and an immature episodic novel, and began work on a larger sequence, Residencia en la tierra (3...
(The entire section is 3,118 words.)