Pablo Neruda 1904–1973
(Born Ricardo Eliecer Neftali Reyes y Basoalto) Chilean poet. See also Pablo Neruda Criticism, and volumes 1, 2, 5, 7.
Neruda is considered one of the finest poets of our time. A prolific and adventurous writer who was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1971, he passed through several literary and political stages in his long career. The poetry consistently celebrates love, nature, and human experience, and was in certain periods intensely political.
Neruda's passion for writing love poetry is particularly evident in the early Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada (1924; Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair). In the poems of this collection, Neruda presents woman and nature as "two aspects of the same reality" and uses nature imagery to describe women. Although it is now among the best known of Neruda's works, Chile's leading publisher refused to publish the book, claiming that it was too blatantly erotic. Neruda's poetry of that time is extremely personal and characterized by a melancholy view of the world and a preoccupation with unrequited love. In Tentativa del hombre infinito (1925; Venture of the Infinite Man) Neruda employs a freer style and surreal imagery. This movement toward the surreal culminated in Residencia en la tierra (1933; Residence on Earth), one of Neruda's most acclaimed works. The poems in this collection are anguished and despairing, full of surreal images of nature. They are perhaps the result of the loneliness Neruda was experiencing at the time of their writing.
The years 1945–1952 were turbulent and productive ones for Neruda. In 1945 he joined the Communist party in Chile and was elected to the Senate. In 1946 he supported the leftist presidential candidate who, once elected, became a pawn of the nation's industrial leaders. Communism was outlawed and Neruda's arrest ordered. In 1948 Neruda fled to Mexico and lived there until his return to Chile in 1952. During his exile he wrote the poems that were published as Canto general in 1950; they represent, in the opinion of most critics, Neruda's most significant work. The collection expresses his outrage at the Chilean political situation in the late 1940s. The work is his attempt to analyze and interpret the political and cultural directions being taken by South America. The book was banned in Chile.
After Canto general, Neruda's poetry underwent an important change. Subsequently, he began to write in a clear and simple style to powerful effect. The poems in Odas elementales (1954; Elemental Odes), for instance, take as their subjects everyday, familiar objects and raise them to a point of dignity and grace. At the time of their publication, these earthy, realistic poems came under critical fire for being too simple, but they are now considered among Neruda's most significant works.
At the time of his death Neruda was working on his memoirs and several volumes of poetry, including El mar y las campanas (1973) and Jardin de invierno (1974). Although the subjects of these collections are similar to Neruda's previous works, they were written with the knowledge of his imminent death. Death and winter are the most dominant themes.
James Wright and Robert Bly
What is most startling about Neruda, I think, when we compare him to Eliot or Dylan Thomas or Pound, is the great affection that accompanies his imagination. Neruda read his poetry for the first time in the U.S. in June of '66 at the Poetry Center in New York, and it was clear from that reading that his poetry is intended as a gift. When Eliot gave a reading, one had the feeling that the reading was a cultural experience, and that Eliot doubted very much if you were worth the trouble, but he'd try anyway. When Dylan Thomas read, one had the sense that he was about to perform some magical and fantastic act, perhaps painting a Virgin while riding on three white horses, and maybe you would benefit from this act, and maybe you wouldn't. Pound used to scold the audience for not understanding what he did. When Neruda reads,...
(The entire section is 11,925 words.)