Neruda, Pablo (Vol. 2)
Neruda, Pablo 1904–1973
Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet, best known for Residencia en la tierra. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 19-20.)
There are two objections to [the] political phase of [Neruda's] work. Granted the many errors of our own diplomacy, the first objection is that it is simply not poetry, but rhetoric and propaganda, which is why another Nobel-winning exile, Juan Ramón Jiménez, called Neruda "a great bad poet." The other objection is that the alternative Neruda offered humanity was Stalinism, Maoism, and the satellite regimes, all of which won his uncritical praise….
[One] must acknowledge the truly great qualities of Neruda's nonpolitical muse. His sincere poems on love, anguish, nature, everyday experience, hopes for man, and a vast repertory of themes growing out of both perception and meditation have by now garnered wider acclaim than those of Chile's other Nobel laureate, the late Gabriela Mistral. He has often been called the Lorca or Alberti of Spanish America, and indeed Lorca coined a compliment that goes far to capture the dominant spontaneity and sensitivity of Neruda's nonpolitical verse: "a poet nearer death than philosophy, a real man who knows that the reed and the swallow are more immortal than the hard cheek of a statue."
Pablo Neruda's early Twenty Love Poems: And a Song of Despair (1924) established him at the outset as a frank, sensuous spokesman for love, as superb as his friend and fellow-communist Aragon. Later works, more complicated, show him adopting techniques of hermeticism, surrealism, and expressionism—none of which triumphed but all of which left their mark. After love, the vein of nature was the one that Neruda treated with the greatest mastery, especially when turning to the primitive aspects of the Chilean landscape….
Granted the greatness of much of Neruda's verse dating from the Twenties, why then was 1971 chosen as the auspicious year for the Nobel?… First of all, one can justifiably define much of Neruda's humanitarian (as opposed to Marxist) poetry by the formula upon which Alfred Nobel insisted: "distinguished works of idealistic tendency." Beyond that is the fact that Stockholm has consistently in recent years manipulated the prizes in such a way as to embarrass the trouble-making nations in the world community…. One may safely theorize that Neruda's bad Marxist verses were more help than hindrance in supporting his more legitimate claim as a major world poet eligible for this $90,000 prize.
Robert J. Clements, "Neruda Laureate," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1971 by Saturday Review; first appeared in Saturday Review, November 13, 1971; used with permission), November 13, 1971, pp. 50-1.
Though [Neruda] still writes, "like breathing," the strength and surprise of his major work lie behind him: several years ago his Obras completas were collected for the third time, nearly 1500 poems written over half a century. The recognition the [Nobel Prize] embodies (for no real reason outside its money value) comes ridiculously late….
Why has Neruda been an obscure name in the United States, yet the best-known poet of the rest of the world? Partly because he falls outside the Anglo-European tradition that T. S. Eliot and Robert Lowell equip us to recognize. His presiding spirit, Walt Whitman, this country has not yet assimilated. And Latin America lies too close, our relations have been too utilitarian, for us to get a true sense of it. We have by and large a sand-table image of Indian civilization, we are told to remember the Maine, or the halls of Montezuma. Above all, we cannot tolerate communism in the Western hemisphere, whereas to Chileans the Party is a familiar presence, almost domesticated. Until the late sixties very little of Neruda's poetry was available in English. Translations are now appearing every year: he has made his impact as an anti-academic, an open partisan, and a celebrant of the elemental, sensual forces that often meant disaster in Eliot's poetry.
(The entire section is 1,208 words.)