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.
John Felstiner, "Pablo Neruda: Nobel Prize at Isla Negra," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1971 by Harrison-Blaine of New Jersey, Inc.), December 25, 1971, pp. 29-31.
Any student of Latin American literature knows that if one were to choose a poet who best echoed the hopes and struggles of a whole continent, this poet would undoubtedly be Pablo Neruda. What is not so self-evident, however, is the fact that Neruda's work has been a sort of seismograph through which one could learn what was happening not only in the poetry of Latin America but also in contemporary poetry at large….
The truth is that Neruda's poetry was never exquisite. In fact he himself has coined the concept of "impure poetry" (as opposed to the French idea of "pure poetry"), which best defines his own poetic credo. Before and after the "conversion" [during the Spanish Civil War when the "hermetic texture of his poetry yielded to a quasi-coversational language"] Neruda's poetry was and remained open to human experience. Before, it aired much of his own solitude and anguish, but at the same time it revealed what was throbbing deep in the heart of modern man. Afterward, his poetry moved from the emotions of the inner ego to the emotions of the outer world. Neruda could no longer see himself detached from the conflicts and problems of his time….
By bringing together his own odyssey and the drama of the continent, Neruda has simultaneously given to Canto general the quality of a lyric and an epic poem. The lives of conquistadores, martyrs, heroes, and just plain people recover a refreshing actuality because they become part of the poet's fate and, conversely, the life of the poet gains a new depth because in his search one recognizes the continent's struggles. Canto general is, thus, the song of a continent as much as it is Neruda's own song.
Jaime Alazraki, "Pablo Neruda, the Chronicler of All Things," in Books Abroad, Winter, 1972, pp. 49-54.
[Pablo] Neruda's poetry inevitably calls forth Wagnerian language from overwhelmed observers—"force of nature," "avalanche," "volcano"—that sort of thing. This is understandable, for he has led an epic life as a revolutionary prophet and is now a national hero in Chile. And after all, he is a genuine bard, an absolutely vatic presence on stage and off, with the kind of Homeric power that has long since disappeared in the United States. At his worst, he is a poet by the yard and sheer weight, and with a commissar mentality at that—the "Ode to Lenin" and other propagandistic pieces (assiduously avoided by most North American anthologizers) denote a dispensable but essential part of Neruda. At his best, as in the sublime early poems from [Residence on Earth], sections from his epic [Canto General] or poems from the sardonic self-critique entitled [Estravagario], he can be a poet who ranges across the page with an astonishing multiplicity of voices, from that of an anguished pilgrim of the spirit to the benign populist and passionate lover found in the quiet [Hausmusik] of his later years. Neruda wouldn't be Neruda were he not a jumble of quality and perversity, all in the service of poetry and political activism. So we shouldn't be surprised if his grandeur is only intermittently visible in any anthology.
Alexander Coleman, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 7, 1972, pp. 4, 40.