Pablo Neruda

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What are the hidden meanings behind Pablo Neruda's Canto General sections?

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One hidden meaning behind Canto General is that Pablo Neruda intended it to be an epic lyric poem, or song, of the history and cosmology of the Southern American continent. Neruda also channels North American poet Walt Whitman, whose influence looms large on the work, in singing a song of himself, his life, and his struggles. The poem reflects Neruda’s Communist principles as well as a deep and defiant nationalism.

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The Canto General’s fifteen sections, or cantos, document a chronological record of the exploits of kings, conquerors, dictators, and revolutionaries, as well as of the voices of workers and common folk and the poet himself.

"The Lamp on Earth" describes the origins of the continent from the beginning of time until the arrival of the Spanish.

"Heights of Macchu Picchu" relates the narrator’s pilgrimage to the top of Macchu Picchu in Peru, where he connects with his native roots and reaches profound conclusions about his life and calling.

"The Conquerors" tells about the fifteenth Spanish conquest, which led to a brutal occupation and eventual extinction of the native civilizations.

"The Liberators" extols the heroism of those throughout time born on native soil who struggled against oppression and died for freedom.

"The Sand Betrayed" examines the previous century of foreign exploitation and finds the big American corporations as villainous a form of imperialism as the Spanish conquest.

"America, I Do Not Invoke Your Name in Vain" presents the poet as nurtured by and contained within all of the continent’s rich resources, justifying his critical and moral authority.

"General Song of Chile" imagines a lush creation myth of the people and natural features of Neruda’s country, similar to the first section, but more patriotic.

"The Earth is Called Juan" celebrates the human spirit and the enduring struggle of those belonging to the land who labor and fight for it.

"Let the Rail Splitter Awake" invokes Abe Lincoln, a North American that the poet admires and whose resurrection he longs for to restore peace and justice in the world.

"The Fugitive" is an autobiographical account of Neruda’s life among ordinary Chileans hiding out after running afoul of his former ally Videla’s new regime.

"The Flowers of Punitaqui" continues the previous poem’s theme of finding meaning and communion among the people, offering vivid impressions of contemporary life and social problems.

"The Rivers of Song" pays homage to other poets, friends of Neruda’s who like him affirmed life and freedom through their work whose currents continue to flow through the land and people expressing their songs and struggles.

“New Year’s Choral for the Country in Darkness” wishes Chile a happy new year at the dawn of the 1950s, reflects on its proud legacy, takes stock of its current political situation, and looks forward to better times.

“The Great Ocean” mirrors the lyrical creation myth form of sections 1 and 7, focusing on the evolution of the Pacific and its abundant life.

“I Am” looks back in verse on Neruda’s life thus far, recalling in sensual detail experiences and relationships he misses.

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Pablo Neruda's Canto General reflects the history of South America and its people. Each section of the Canto corresponds to a difference facet of this history:

1. A Lamp on Earth: The natural beauty of America prior to the arrival of the conquistadors. Neruda describes the creation of various aspects of the natural world.

2. The Heights of Macchu Picchu: This section conveys Neruda's political engagement following his visit to Macchu Picchu. He opposes the fascist Spanish government and incites his reader to speak out against it.

3. The Conquistadors: Neruda describes the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and their destruction of traditional ways of life for the American natives.

4. The Liberators: Neruda pays tribute to the resistance fighters and rebels of the past.

5. The Sand Betrayed: Neruda denounces the opponents to freedom.

6. America, I Do Not Invoke Your Name in Vain: Description of the natural resources of Latin America.

7. Canto General of Chile: a lyrical description of the natural world in Latin America as well as the traditional way of life of the natives.

8. The Earth’s Name is Juan: an anonymous voice describing the popular resistance to the invaders as well as the suffering and abuse they had caused.

9. Let the Woodcutter Awaken: a call to action for the United States, addressed to Walt Whitman.

10. The Fugitive: a biographical recounting of Neruda's persecution as well as an exaltation to the solidarity of the Chilean people.

11. The Flower of Punitaqui: A recounting of his personal experiences in Northern Chile and his involvement with the labor groups.

12. The Rivers of Song: An homage to the resistance fighters.

13. New Year’s Chorale for the Country in Darkness: a recognition of the resistance to the government of Gonzales Videla.

14. The Great Ocean: a description of the American coasts.

15. I Am: Neruda's affirmation as a heroic symbol of political resistance.

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