Pablo Neruda

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Neruda, Pablo (Vol. 7)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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,...

(The entire section is 6,062 words.)