The Paris Review

What We Can Learn from Neruda’s Poetry of Resistance

When I first embarked on writing a biography of Pablo Neruda over a decade ago, I wanted to explore the political power of poetry and its capacity to inspire social change. Neruda’s social verse was an integral part of the humanity he expressed; even without pen in hand, he boldly inserted himself into direct action.

I happened to finish the book—Neruda: The Poet’s Calling—at the end of Trump’s first hundred days in office. As a result, the questions that I’d been exploring for years suddenly took on new urgency. As resistance increasingly becomes the operative word in our current political reality, what can one of the most important and iconic resistance poets of the past century offer us? What might he give us as we continue to shape the next chapter in our own cultural story? Some answers, or at least perspectives, can be found in the vivid details of Neruda’s life and work.

Neruda’s legacy was directly shaped by the historical events in which he played a part. In his early youth, during Chile’s revolutionary student movement, he played the role of an activist-writer, the voice of a young generation challenging the country’s controlling aristocracy. In his final years, he vigorously defended Chile against U.S. intervention and, as ambassador to France, represented Salvador Allende’s historic socialist government. His relationship to readers and to his own writing was shaped by these periods of acute political crisis and authoritarianism.

When the Cold War hit Chile in 1947, Gabriel González

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