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his remarkably down to earth nature of his was what led to him gaining the informal title

of “Poet of the People”. This title was apt for Neruda as he did not see the receiving of Nobel
Prize as a momentous occasion but for him the momentous occasion was when from the depths
of the Lota coal mine, a coal miner came up to him and said —“I have known you for a long
time, my brother”.

This according to Pablo Neruda was the laurel crown of his poetry. Neruda personally put in
efforts to achieve this love, this oneness. He said- “I have literally gone into every corner of
Chile, scattering my poetry like seeds amongst the people of my country.” He wrote versatile
poetry. He wrote his first love poem at 20. But later went on to writing much more serious
poetry. He went on to write about the marginalized, the oppressors and the oppressed. He lived
through difficult times. For instance the year of 1947, this was the year when Francisco Franco
was made head of state. Franco went on to become the longest ruling dictator in European
history. 1947 was also, the time when President Gonzaldez Videla agreed to violent attacks on
striking coal miners and also banned the communist party. Neruda personally too at this time
was going through a low phase as this was time (1933-1947) when he lived in great loneliness
as Consul in the Far East. During this year he brought out ‘The way Spain was’, one of his most
remarkable poems. The poem cherishes Spain with it “barren soil” and “rough bread” and
“stricken people”. He presents the blemishes of Spain in a glorious manner so as to instil the
people with a sense of pride. This is what is commendable about Pablo. He might be facing the
direst of times but had the ability to express the sorrow in a hopeful manner.

He also grew over the years. His poetry was not consistent. It matured with age. He started
with love poetry, then political issues he dealt with and then around 1953, his poetry showed a
major concern for the masses. He started writing in a very simple manner as he believed that
being esoteric is the first world’s way. He evolved and his readers evolved along with him.
Even today a reader is compelled to ponder on a range of issues. So being a 20 year old, I can
relate to the love poems, also his political poems and also the poems for the masses. And it all
makes me think about diverse topics. So the reader has a poem available for lonely times, for
tough times and so on. Neruda’s poetry never disappoints.

Atwood has the same ability. She has the inclination towards a magical mode of writing.
Atwood was born at the time of the Second World War. She was born into a generation which
was pre-occupied with questions of identity of their nation state. Thus, she is from her
dissenting point of view forever questioning civilization. She reveals how “the White man’s
burden” is a façade and they have ruined the natural and pristine civilizations around the
world. She is not one to accept prosperity and progress at face value, but one who will question

Her poem’s setup is such that the reader gets pulled into her make belief world and she has the
ability to get him him/her out of misery. And once the reader is out of the make belief world
he has enough strength to face the obstacles he/she might be facing.

Atwood explains “Our first stories come to us through the air. We hear voices”. So she notes
the values of religious stories, fairy tales and childhood books. The tricks of language make
the unbelievable, believable and the invisible, visible.

So the brilliant aspect about both of them is that they can deal with the problems and also at
times provide solutions to them. And at all times hope is present in their poetry. I feel they
should be in an inspiration for the youth. Both these poets of the third world have seen the
toughest time possible, yet they remained hopeful. They did not turn their poetry into a medium
of escape. They fly off to mysterious places and yet land firmly in reality in the end. So, today
when the youth of India face a terrible political scenario, where we have a presidential
candidate choice which is as a choice between the devil and the deep sea, we should not give
up. Neruda and Atwood teach us that we may be down at times, but never out.

No living poet is as famous today as Pablo Neruda was in his lifetime. He was a world figure,
as famous as Robert Frost or T.S. Eliot, but with the added cachet in some circles of being a
politically active man of the left. His poetry exerted an enormous influence throughout Latin
America, and he remains beloved in his native Chile. We think we know him, with his sensuous
songs of love, his tender odes to the sea, his melancholy lyrics of loss, and his fiery political
statements. But despite its popularity in this country, his work appeared here only in slim
volumes or truncated collections which provided mere snapshots of a larger, complicated life.
Now, 30 years after his death, the most comprehensive collection of Neruda's poetry is
available in English. It brings us not only more of the poetry we know, but also previously
unavailable material. We can appreciate his amazing productivity and his willingness to
experiment. We can follow his themes through the years, and trace changes in his thinking. At
close to 1000 pages it shows us, like a crowded mural by Diego Rivera, a complete life.

The son of a railway engineer, Neruda wrote poetry from an early age and won prizes as a
teenager. His first two books, self published and rather traditional, brought little attention from
the public, although they were well-crafted and polished. His third, Twenty Love Poems and a
Song of Despair (1924), was considered unpublishable because of its frank celebration of sex.
Only the recommendation of one of Chile's most respected writers convinced a publisher to
take it on.

Body of woman, white hills, white thighs,

you look like the world in your posture of surrender.
My savage peasant body digs through you
and makes the son leap from the depth of the earth.
(From "Song I")

It caused a sensation, and made him famous at 20. The frank eroticism brought attention, but
the book's technical merits and emotional intimacy made it endure. Rimbaud and Baudelaire
were strong influences, but Neruda's voice rang out clear. His striking images capture the
ecstasies and torments of young love. Looking back, we can see the melancholy that followed
him throughout his life, and the familiar themes, such as sex as a way to unite with the earth,
and love as a salvation from isolation. Twenty Poems remains his most beloved book; its sales
reached one million in 1961.

Famous, but poor, he entered avant-garde literary circles in Santiago, where he could be easily
identified on the streets by his cape and wide-brimmed hat -- the very image of the poet.

Seeking adventure, Neruda wangled an Honorary Consulship in Rangoon. Surrounded by

foreign languages and an alien culture, without a literary community, he was lonely and
disoriented, there, and at his later postings in Asia. "I learned what true loneliness was," he
wrote. "Solitude, in this case, was not a formula for building up a writing mood but something
as hard as a prison wall; you could smash your head against the wall and nobody came, no
matter how you screamed or wept."
Neruda turned inward. His poems from this time, which were published as Residence on Earth
(1933), are pessimistic, filled with themes of alienation and isolation, haunted by death. They
contain the nascent existentialism of that era. One can hear the inner dialogue of a man who is
being driven deep within himself by a chaotic and absurd world. Nature is destructive, sex is
depersonalized and futile. The objects of mankind disgust him.

I happen to be tired of being a man.

I happen to enter tailorshops and moviehouses
withered, impenetrable, like a felt swan
navigating in a water of sources and ashes.
The smell of barbershops makes me wail.
I want only a respite of stones or wool,
I want only not to see establishments or gardens,
or merchandise, or eyeglasses, or elevators.
I happen to be tired of my feet and my nails
and my hair and my shadow.
I happen to be tired of being a man.
(From "Walking Around")

With the publication of Residence his name began to be known internationally, especially in
the Spanish-speaking world.

Salvation came in 1934, when he was posted to Spain. Welcomed by the literary community,
surrounded by the Spanish language, Neruda was once again in his element. However, his
happiness was not to last. In 1936 General Franco launched the civil war. Neruda watched the
bombardment of Madrid, and lost his friend, the poet Federico Garcia Lorca, to Nationalist
assassins. Politically inactive before the war, Neruda committed himself to the Republican
cause in the war's first months. He worked so strenuously for the Republic that Chile, officially
neutral in the conflict, removed him from Spain.

Neruda wanted to put his gifts at the service of his politics. No longer would he scrutinize his
private experiences of life's bitterness. The cause needed stirring and optimistic exhortations
to fight. A change in politics demanded a change in style. His poems would be addressed to
the masses, and therefore had to be simple and direct.

Madrid, alone and solemn, July surprised you with your joy
of humble honeycomb: bright was your street,
bright was your dream.
A black vomit
of generals, a wave
of rabid cassocks
poured between your knees
their swampy waters, their rivers of spittle.
(From "Madrid, 1936")

Many of his poems about Spain are moving, whether they are elegies or fierce attacks, but
many are propaganda pieces that have lost any power they may have had.

Neruda had called himself an anarchist since adolescence. Spain changed him, and in 1945 he
declared himself a militant Communist. He publicly denounced his earlier, personal poetry. In
1948 Chile's President González Videla banned the Communist Party and ordered the arrest of
Neruda. The poet who had represented Chile abroad for over a decade went into hiding in his
own country, moving from house to house. Choosing exile, he left Chile on horseback. Staying
off the trails, he and his companions made the difficult journey through forests and rough
terrain, up into the snowy Andes, into Argentina and freedom.

Canto General (1950) is a history of Latin America done in epic poetry, at times lyrical, at
times plain spoken. It moves from prehistory through the Spanish Conquest, the revolutions
and tyrants, into the 20th century. Much of it is polemical. The combination of plain language
and history filtered through ideology is soporific, and the reader longs for some good old
decadent Symbolism or Surrealism to come to the rescue. But at times the poem does have a
grand sweep, and a cumulative power that makes it one of his outstanding works.

Before the wig and the dress coat

there were rivers, arterial rivers:
there were cordilleras, jagged waves where
the condor and the snow seemed immutable:
there was dampness and dense growth, the thunder
as yet unnamed, the planetary pampas.
Man was dust, earthen vase, an eyelid
of tremulous loam, the shape of clay --
he was Carib jug, Chibcha stone,
imperial cup of Araucanian silica.
Tender and bloody was he, but on the grip
of his weapon of moist flint,
the initials of the earth were
(From "Amor America, 1400")

Chile issued an amnesty for Neruda in 1950. Upon his return, his poetry changed once again.
The epic vision of Canto general was replaced by odes to the plainest objects of daily life: a
bicycle, an apple, a pair of socks, once again in the plain style meant for the proletariat. (He
once said that the greatest poet is the local baker.) Some of it is delightful:


what a marvel
to pronounce these plosive
and further on,

unfilled, awaiting ambrosia or oil
and others,
capsicum, caption, capture,
comparison, capricorn,
as slippery as smooth grapes,
words exploding in the light
like dormant seeds waiting
in the vaults of vocabulary,
alive again and giving life:
once again the heart distills them.
(From "Ode to the Dictionary")

Unlike Robert Frost, who married simple phrases to sophisticated thinking, Neruda combined
simple phrases with simple ideas, and this airy style, although lovely, can become tedious in
large quantities. Readers responded with enthusiasm however, and Neruda published four
volumes of odes during the 1950s.

In his last 20 years he produced an astonishing amount of work, much of it love poetry inspired
by his passion for his third wife, Matilde Urrutia (his first two marriages ended in divorce).
This collection allows us to follow the evolution of his romantic sensibility over five decades.
Whereas the young poet described an adolescent, tremulous experience of romance, the older
poet possesses a more mature love. In The Captain's Verses (1952), One Hundred Love Sonnets
(1959) and Barcarole (1967), happiness is not fleeting, but sustained. He appreciates, without
fear of loss, the shared love and sensuality that joins him to the earth and gives meaning to the

Today the tempestuous sea

lifted us in a kiss
so high that we trembled
in the flash of lightning
and, tied together, descended
and submerged without unraveling.
Today our bodies became immense,
they grew up to the edge of the world
and rolled melting themselves
into one single drop
of wax or meteor.
A new door opened between you and me
and someone, still without a face,
was waiting for us there.
(From "September 8" in The Captain's Verses)

In these years, Neruda wrote poignantly of aging and of his past. The theme of alienation, self-
censored in the 1940s, returned. He also wrote of his estrangement from people. The poet is by
nature separate from others, he felt. Criticism of his political poetry and his wealth stung, and
further alienated him. At times he felt embarrassed to be a poet surrounded by people who
make useful things. "I feel the world never belonged to me ... I was a child of the moon."

But in his poems from the 1950s and 60s, solitude is no longer unbearable. He has a lovely
wife, and a beach house where he draws solace from the sea. Death waits on the horizon, but
only as the final, long-sought union with nature. These poems have an atmosphere of stillness
and contemplation, especially in contrast to the turbulence of his youth. It is as if he is settling
into himself as just a man, not a famous poet.

In 1970 Neruda was diagnosed with cancer, which surgeries failed to remove entirely. The last
three years of his life were marked by official honors, the Nobel Prize, and an Ambassadorship
to Paris, but also by declining health, which isolated him from public life and eventually
confined him to his bed. Pinochet's coup d'etat on September 11, 1973 sent his health into sharp
decline, and Neruda died 12 days later.

Time has revealed a dark side to Neruda's work. Some of his overtly political poems express a
bloodthirsty desire for vengeance. Some readers may not appreciate the un-feminist tone to his
poems. Women are often symbolic vehicles for the poet's salvation and self-discovery. But a
large quantity of great work overshadows these drawbacks.

In his willingness to experiment and change styles repeatedly, and in the way in which these
changes released a flood of new work, Neruda resembled no one so much as Picasso. Contrary
to what he believed, the more personal he wrote, the more people he reached. He considered
himself primarily a love poet. Readers will be reaffirming that assessment for some time to

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s poetry has been inextricably linked to the politics of Spain, a land
which he accepts and loves as his foster-country, and for which he fought in the Spanish Civil
War, espousing the Republican cause. His collection of poems titled Spain in Our Hearts [1],
written amidst the bloodstained frenzy of the war, articulated in detail the terrible fate Spain
had met with from despotic generals, landlords and clergymen. His famous lines from I Explain
a Few Things [2] – “You will ask: / why does your poetry not speak to us of sleep, of the leaves,
/ of the great volcanoes of your native land? / Come and see the blood in the streets” – exhibit
his passionate sympathy with the vast multitudes of people killed, maimed and displaced from
their homes as a result of the war. By rejecting the audience’s plea to write about “sleep”,
“leaves” and “great volcanoes” he makes it clear that poetry is meant to shock and awaken the
reader to the violent reality of global politics, and not pacify or lull one into peaceful oblivion
with serene images. Neruda’s voice was aimed at being representative of the voice of the
working class, of peasants and factory workers, and of ordinary people whose perspectives are
often obliterated from the domain of politics and history. He assumes a duty to communicate
his sentiments to the public and make politics accessible to the common man, which is why he
chooses to write in simple words, dealing with the varieties of everyday life through tomatoes
and toothaches, with old shoes, haircuts and artichokes. As critic Roland Bleiker notes, Neruda
wrote “for simple habitants who request water and moon, elements of the immutable order,
schools, bread and wine, guitars and tools”. [3]Neruda is associated with Spain not only
through his participation in the Civil War, but also through an acute consciousness of belonging
to a country colonised by Spanish invaders and a deep understanding of the imprint
colonisation left on Latin American society and culture. It is through Chile, his mother country
that he begins to love and respect Spain and is appreciative of the mixing of cultures and races
as a result of Chile’s colonial past.
The varieties of everyday life that Neruda’s poetry explores; illustrated by Julie Paschkis

In his poem The Way Spain Was [4] from the Third Residence, he mourns the evanescence of
Spain’s rich, glorious past and recounts the tragedy that has befallen its people owing to Fascist
forces which he refers to as “an imbecile God”. Life has been made tedious – “a day’s drum of
dull sound”, and the land is now “taut and dry” under the “lashing weather” of conflict and
strife. Neruda makes clear to the reader the vulnerable position of Spain and simultaneously
asserts his sympathy and solidarity with its “barren soil”, “rough bread” and “stricken people”.
Widespread poverty among the farmers and labourers has resulted in harsh circumstances and
a lack of food and comfort. According to Neruda, the Spaniard has a bittersweet existence,
witnessing on one hand the beauty of Spanish culture, language, art, food and terrain, and on
the other, deplorable poverty and violence. It is for this reason that he fuses together “harsh
wine and sweet wine”, illustrating the two flavours of Spain and describes its vineyards as both
violent and delicate. Spain has been made to follow a downward trajectory, starting from a
point in history where it was rich with mineral deposit which Neruda describes as “bulging like
oldsters under the moon”, to the present day where it is “veined with blood and metals”. As
critic Ajanta Dutt aptly posits, “The softness and violence always interconnected are most
vividly presented in the final image of ‘petals and bullets’ where the incorporation of the word
‘proletariat’ affirms that Neruda is fighting for a cause. Neruda avers his love for the land and
promises never to forget the beauty of life that once characterised Spain – “the lost flower of
your villages” [5].
Neruda is unequivocally a chronicler of the Spanish Civil War, a mirror of society, but at the
same time understands that reflection alone does not suffice as a political memoir. He is of the
belief that to write poetry of political value, he has to, as critic Bleiker claims, “distort visions
in order to challenge the entrenched forms of representations that have come to circumscribe
our understanding of socio-political reality”. His task as a poet is to develop new ways of
viewing familiar objects, opening up the reader to more possibilities and perspectives. His
poetic ambition is to shatter the ideologically naturalised image of the world in order to allow
multiplicities to emerge and for poetry to be able to provide new solutions to old dilemmas. In
addition, Neruda is well aware of the necessity of any political communicator to be accessible
to the masses if he or she wishes to actively engage in struggles that shape societal dynamics.
This is why he sought to write in the language of everyday life. Simultaneously however, he
was also conscious of the need to break through existing linguistic habits in order to shock the
reader out of complacence, which is why his verses, though simple in language, are fragmented
and complex in structure. Neruda’s “shock therapy” can be seen played out in his poem Ars
Poetica[6] where he juxtaposes the crude against the beautiful to illustrate how an inquiring
mind may help us see old things in new ways. This in turn may help the reader in engendering
more critical, more tolerant and more ethical approaches to global politics. Ars
Poetica describes a scene in a haunted house where people are intoxicated beyond the point of
consciousness and the “stench of clothes scattered on the floor” in that haunted house awakens
in the poet “a yearning” for the sweet-smelling flowers. Neruda brings together contrasting
images of stench and sweet fragrance as well as disjunct ones like “young girls and garrisons”
to achieve his purpose. He also hints at the uncertainties and fragmentation of a country like
Chile in the aftermath of the violence of colonisation through disjoint sentences and phrases
like “a bell cracked a little”, “a mirror tarnished”, “a lurch of objects calling without answers”,
and “the unbounded expanse of night collapsing in my bedroom.” The struggle of a country
colonised is compared with “a grief-maddened widower bereft of a lifetime”. Ars
Poetica which can be loosely translated as The Art of Poetry reveals that the premise of poetry
is not just pleasant, beautiful objects and emotions. In other words, not just an ode to the beauty
of life as viewed from the sheltered living rooms of the upper classes. Rather, poetry ought to
see beyond the pleasant and the harmonious in order to grasp the complexities of life, its ups
and downs, its frustrations and hopes. As critics have oft pointed out, Neruda spent much of
his life trying to dispel the widespread perception that poetry is a mere entrance key to the
society of high culture, a pleasant distraction for those who have the leisure to pursue verse-
based fantasies, for those whose privileged education has rendered the obscure style of poems
accessible. [7] Neruda expressed this ambition of his in an essay on impure poetry: “Let [this]
be the poetry we search for: worn with the hand’s obligations, as by acids, steeped in sweat
and in smoke, smelling of lilies and urine, spattered diversely by the trades that we love by,
inside the law or beyond it. A poetry impure as the clothing we wear, or our bodies, soup-
stained, soiled with our shameful behaviour, our wrinkles and vigils and dreams, observations
and prophecies, declarations of loathing and love, idylls and beasts, the shocks of encounter,
political loyalties, denials and doubts, affirmation and taxes.” [8]
Another great example of Neruda’s use of the disjoint, fragmented style to explore political
tensions is Ode to the Tomato [9] from his Elementary Odes. The ode is a pictorial description
of a salad which is an essential component of the midday meal in both his motherland Chile
and his foster country Spain. As “light breaks in two tomato halves” which are representative
of the two hemispheres of the world to which the two countries Chile and Spain belong, the
making of a salad is initiated where the tomato blends beautifully with other ingredients like
the blonde onion, olive oil, pimento, parsley and potatoes, suggesting a cheerful, delectable
blending of Spanish and Chilean culture. According to critic Ajanta Dutt, “the melting pot of
culture of America has now been replaced by the concept of the salad bowl where all te colours
can mix without any losing their original shape, form, individuality and identity.” Preceding
this union of vegetables and flavours is however, a violent fratricide and bloodshed in Chile
because of civil strife and dictatorship. The act of cutting the tomato read like an actual murder
– “the knife sinks into living flesh, red viscera” – symbolic of the political strife and violence
of colonisation. However, the divisive forces have not succeeded in splitting the nation for the
spirit of camaraderie runs “through the streets”. The tomato is an important agricultural
produce of Latin America and of Spain, often a symbol of revelry and carnivalesque owing to
the Tomatina and by using the image of the tomato to comment on complex political themes,
Neruda reaches out to his readers and creates a picture of cohesiveness and unity in the face of
divisiveness and the variety of races in Chile. Neruda’s works fulfil the original function of
poetry as critical societal memory. Just as he uses the everyday object of a salad to connect
with the public, he also describes his country in its basic, simplistic physical form with phrases
like, “my thin country” and “silence lies in its long line” with the same agenda. The descriptions
of Chile’s physical form indicate its fragility and vulnerability against the powerful invaders
in his poem Discoverers of Chile [10]. And with these apt descriptions, conveys to the common
reader the story of how the natives were made to merge their own history and culture with that
of the colonial masters. Neruda’s simplicity is his greatest strength and it is through his verses
accessible to the masses that the values and struggles of an epoch will been conveyed to
subsequent generations.
Neruda’s poetry is therefore intertwined with the culture and politics of Spain and therefore by
extension, that of Latin America as well. He acts as a mediator between complex political
thought and the collective consciousness of the general public through simplistic verse which
employs relatable themes and images.