Pablo Neruda

I lived from 1904-1973. I was from Chile.

This Chilean poet, and diplomat, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. His original name was Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, but he used the pen name Pablo Neruda for over 20 years before adopting it legally in 1946. Neruda is the most widely read of the Spanish American poets. From the 1940s on, his works reflected the political struggle of the left and the socio-historical developments in South America. He also wrote love poems. Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1924) have sold over a million copies since it first appeared.

Pablo Neruda

Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto was born in Parral, a small town in central Chile. His father, don José del Carmen Reyes Morales, was a poor railway worker and his mother, Rosa Basoalto de Reyes, was a schoolteacher, who died of tuberculosis when Neruda was an infant. Don José Carmen moved with his sons in 1906 to Temuco, and married Trinidad Candia Marvedre. Neruda started to write poetry when he was ten years old. At the age of 12 he met the Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, who encouraged his literary efforts. Neruda’s first literary work, an article, appeared in 1917 in the magazine La Manana. It was followed by the poem, Mis ojos, which appeared in 1918 in Corre-Vuela. In 1920 he published poems in the magazine Selva Austral, using the pen name Pablo Neruda to avoid conflict with his family, who disapproved his literary ambitions. From 1921 he studied French at the Instituto Pedagógico in Santiago. In 1924 Neruda gained international fame as an writer with VEINTE POEMAS DE AMOR Y UNA CANCÍON, which is his most widely read work.

At the age of only 23 Neruda was appointed by the Chilean government as consul to Burma (now Myanmar). He held diplomatic posts in various East Asian and European Countries, befriending among others the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. Neruda continued to write for several literary and other magazines, among them La Nación, El Sol, and Revista de Occidente. He also started to edit in 1935 a literary magazine, Caballo Verde para la Poesía.

After Neruda ended his affair with the possessive and violently jealous Josie Bliss, he married in 1930 María Antonieta Hagenaar, a Dutch woman who couldn’t speak Spanish; they separated in 1936. At that time Neruda lived in Paris, where he published with Nancy Cunard the journal Los Poetas del Mundo Defiende al Pueblo Español. Nancy Cunard was the sole inheritor of the famous Cunard shipping company, who later followed Neruda to Chile with a bullfighter. Her mother disinherited her when she escaped from high society with a black musician. In the 1930s and 1940s Neruda lived with the Argentine painter Delia del Carril, who encouraged Neruda to participate in politics. Neruda and Delia del Carril married in 1943, but the marriage was not recognized in Chile; they separated in 1955. Neruda married in 1966 the Chilean singer Matilde Urrutia. She was the inspiration of much of Neruda’s later poetry, among others One Hundred Love Sonnets (1960).

Neruda’s Residence on Earth (1933), was a visionary work, emerging from the birth of fascism. In 1935-36 he was in Spain but he resigned from his post because he sided with the Spanish Republicans. After the leftist candidate don Pedro Aguirre Cerda won the presidental election, Neruda again was appointed consul, this time to Paris, where he helped Spanish refugees by re-settling them in Chile.

In 1942 Neruda visited Cuba and read for the first time his poem, Canto de amor para Stalingrado, which praised the Red Army fighting in Stalingrad. His daughter, Malva Marina, died in the same year in Europe. Neruda joined the Communist Party, and in 1945 he was elected to the Chilean Senate. He attacked President González Videla in print and when the government was taken by right-wing extremists, he fled to Mexico. He travelled to the Soviet Union, where he was warmly received, and in other Eastern European countries. Neruda was especially impressed by the vastness of Russia, its birch forests, and rivers. He met Ilya Ehrenburg, whose home was full of works by Picasso, and the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, who lived in exile in Moscow. The Soviet Union was for Neruda a country, where libraries, universities, and theatres were open for all. He referred to dogmatic views in the Soviet art, but optimistically believed that the views had been condemned. Neruda’s colleagues also read him Boris Pasternak’s poems but they did not forget to mention that Pasternak was considered as a political reactionary.

In exile Neruda produced CANTO GENERAL (1950), a monumental work of 340 poems. In this work Neruda examined Latin American history from a Marxist point of view, and showed his deep knowledge about the history, geography and politics of the continent. The central theme is the struggle for social justice. Canto general includes Neruda’s famous poem Alturas de Macchu Picchu, which was born after he visited the Incan ruins of Macchu Picchu in 1943. In it Neruda aspires to become the voice of the dead people who once lived in the city.

While in exile, Neruda travelled in Italy, where he lived for a while. After the victory of the anti-Videla forces and the order to arrest leftist was rescinded, Neruda returned to Chile. In 1953 Neruda was awarded the Stalin Prize. He remained faithful to „el partido“ when other intellectual had rejected Moscow’s leash. However, Neruda’s faith was deeply shaken in 1956 by Khrushchev’s revelation at the Twentieth Party Congress of the crimes committed during the Stalin regime.His collection EXTRAVAGARIO (1958) reflects this change in his works. In it Neruda turned to his youth. He presents the reader with his daily life and examines critically his Marxist beliefs. During a visit to Buenos Aires in 1957 Neruda was arrested and he spent a restless night in jail. Just before he was released, a policeman gave him a poem, devoted to the famous author.

Establishing a permanent home on the Isla Negra, Neruda continued to travel extensively, visiting Cuba in 1960 and the United States in 1966. When Salvador Allende was elected president, he appointed Neruda as Chile’s ambassador to France (1970-72). Neruda died of leukemia in Santiago on 23 September in 1973. His death was probably accelerated by the murder of Allende and tragedies caused by Pinochet coup. After Neruda’s death his home in Valparaiso and Santioago were robbed. During his long literary career, Neruda produced more than forty volumes of poetry, translations, and verse drama.


From the heights of Maccho Piccu

Rise up to be born with me, brother.
Give me your hand from the deep
Zone seeded by your sorrow.
You won’t return from under the rocks.
You won’t return from your subterranean time.
Your hardened voice won’t return.
Your gouged-out eyes won’t return.

Look at me from the depth of the earth,
laborer, weaver, silent shepherd:
tamer of wild llamas like spirit images:
construction worker on a daring scaffold:
waterer of the tears of the Andes:
jeweler with broken fingers:
farmer trembling as you sow:
potter, poured out into your clay:
bring to the cup of this new life
your old buried sorrows.
Show me your blood and your furrow,
Tell me, “Here I was punished,
Because the jewel didn’t shine or the earth
Didn’t yield grain or stones on time.”
Show me the stone you fell over
And the wood on which they crucified you,
Make a spark from the old flints for me,
For the old lamps to show the whips still stuck
After centuries in the old wounds
And the axes shining with blood.
I come to speak for your dead mouth.
Across the earth come together all
The silent worn-out lips
And from the depth speak to me all this long night
Like I was pinned down there with you.
Tell me all, chain by chain,
Link by link and step by step,
Sharpen the knives which you hid,
Put them in my breast and in my hand,
Like a river of yellow lighting
Like a river of buried jaguars
And let me weep, hours, days, years,
For blind ages, cycles of stars.

Give me silence, water, hope.

Give me struggle, iron, volcanoes.

Stick bodies to me like magnets.

Draw near to my veins and my mouth.

Speak through my words and my blood.

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