Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3541
Pablo Neruda stated in a prologue to one of four editions of Caballo verde, a literary review he had founded in 1935 with Manuel Altalaguirre, that the poetry he was seeking would contain the confused impurities that people leave on their tools as they wear them down with the sweat of their hands. He would make poems like buildings, permeated with smoke and garlic and flooded inside and out with the air of men and women who seem always present. Neruda advocated an impure poetry whose subject might be hatred, love, ugliness, or beauty. He sought to bring verse back from the exclusive conclave of select minorities to the turmoil from which words draw their vitality.
Neruda’s work is divided into three discernible periods, the turning points being the Spanish Civil War and his return to Chile in 1952 after three years of forced exile. During the first phase of his work, from 1923 to 1936, Neruda published six rather experimental collections of verse in which he achieved the poetic strength that carried him through four more decades and more than twenty books. He published Crepusculario himself in 1923 while a student at the University of Santiago. Crepusculario is a cautious collection of poems reflecting his reading of French poetry. Like the Latin American Modernistas who preceded him, he consciously adhered to classical forms and sought the ephemeral effects of musicality and color. The poem that perhaps best captures the message indicated by the title of the book is very brief: “My soul is an empty carousel in the evening light.” All the poems in Crepusculario express Neruda’s ennui and reveal his experimentation with the secondary qualities of language, its potential for the effects of music, painting, and sculpture.
There are several interesting indications of Neruda’s future development in Crepusculario that distinguish it from similar derivative works. Neruda eventually came to see poetry as work, a profession no less than carpentry, brick masonry, or politics; this conception of poetry is anticipated in the poem “Inicial,” in which he writes: “I have gone under Helios who watches me bleeding/ laboring in silence in my absent gardens.” Further, in Crepusculario, Neruda occasionally breaks logical barriers in a manner that anticipates much of his later Surrealistic verse: “I close and close my lips but in trembling roses/ my voice comes untied, like water in the fountain.” Nevertheless, Crepusculario is also characterized by a respect for tradition and a humorous familiarity with the sacred that Neruda later abandoned, only to rediscover them again in the third phase of his career, after 1952: “And the ’Our Father’ gets lost in the middle of the night/ runs naked across his green lands/ and trembling with pleasure dives into the sea.” Linked with this respect for his own traditions is an adulation of European culture, which he also abandoned in his second phase; Neruda did not, however, regain a regard for Western European culture in his mature years, rejecting it in favor of his own American authenticity: “When you are old, my darling (Ronsard has already told you)/ you will recall the verses I spoke to you.”
In Crepusculario, the first stirrings of Neruda’s particular contribution to Spanish poetry are evident—themes that in the early twentieth century were considered unpoetic, such as the ugliness of industrialized cities and the drudgery of bureaucracies. These intrusions of objective reality were the seeds from which his strongest poetry would grow; they reveal Neruda’s capacity to empathize with the material world and give it a voice.
Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair
One year after the publication of Crepusculario, the collection Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair appeared. It would become the most widely read collection...
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