Pablo Neruda Neruda, Pablo (Pseudonym of Ricardo Eliecer Neftali Reyes y Basoalto)

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Neruda, Pablo (Pseudonym of Ricardo Eliecer Neftali Reyes y Basoalto)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Neruda, Pablo (Pseudonym of Ricardo Eliecer Neftali Reyes y Basoalto) 1904–1973

A Chilean poet and diplomat, Neruda was active in various social and political movements. The recipient of the 1971 Nobel Prize for Literature, Neruda celebrates in his poetry love, nostalgia, experience, and the interior life. He is considered one of the finest surrealist poets of our time. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 5, 7, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 19-20; obituary, Vols. 45-48; Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 2.)

Pablo Neruda's Odas Elementales are particularly interesting for their fusion of a considerable amount of social doctrine and of many subjects traditionally considered "unpoetic" into very effective poetry…. Neruda's choice of poetic subject has made certain poetic techniques particularly apt. For it is evident that personification, catalogues, and the creation of foil relations between large parts of poems (frequently structured dialectically) are techniques common to most of these poems.

Nevertheless, as hasty equation of the dialectic structure common in Neruda's poetry with the dialectic form of his Marxist social doctrine (generally progressing from past to present to a more or less hortatory future) would certainly be an oversimplification. For these poems are odes, and their dialectic structure also corresponds to the traditional division of the Pindaric ode into strophe, antistrophe, and epode. The two influences would appear to complement and reinforce each other, the form of the ode perhaps supplying the tripartite structure, the Marxist doctrine the tendency toward the temporal division into past, present, and future.

Such a structure is readily apparent in "Oda a las Américas."… The strophe and antistrophe correspond to the typographical division between stanzas one and two, and their temporal division into past and present. But Neruda's dialectic here is somewhat complicated by his concern with universalizing his poem. This concern causes him to call upon America primarily in terms of the beauties of its nature, especially at the beginning, and only to present a more explicit and direct vision of its people in the middle section…. For America as a continent with its natural beauties has a greater direct appeal for the reader, regardless of national, class, or ideological affiliations, than a more partisan class or historical approach, say exclusively through the Pre-Columbian Indians, could possibly have. At the same time, specific historical, class, and even certain chauvinistic appeals to a Pan-Latin Americanism, must be and are made in the poem to fill both doctrinal and exemplary needs. This results in some tension and ambivalence between the two directions, finally united at the end.

It is evident from the prominent place nature has in this poem, and from its first lines, where the oceans are said to have kept the continent pure and intact in a more or less military metaphor ("guardaron"), that we are here in a world similar to the beginning of the Canto General, where nature is called upon to resist the Spanish conquerors and to act as one with the Indian defenders. A different emphasis, however, is apparent in this poem. Whereas in the Canto General nature's purpose was primarily to protect the largely helpless Indian civilizations, here it is clearly the other way around, and in the latter part of the poem there is a fairly explicit reproach to the Latin Americans for allowing their beautiful continent to be plundered by the new conquerors…. (pp. 41-2)

Much of the ambivalence evident in the second part of the poem over just where the real value of the Americas lies, whether in the unspoiled beauty of its nature, or in its people, is undoubtedly due to the poet's personal sense of outrage and disappointment at what he feels to be the complete failure of Latin Americans to achieve viable and independent political and economic institutions. A resolution of all ambivalence finally occurs when the speaker makes...

(The entire section is 3,494 words.)