Authors: Pablo Neruda

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2017

Poet

July 12, 1904

Parral, Chile

September 23, 1973

Santiago, Chile

Biography

Pablo Neruda (nay-REW-duh) is one of the greatest South American poets of the twentieth century. He was born Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto in Parral, a small frontier town in Chile, to José del Carmen Reyes, a railway worker, and Rosa Basoalto, who died of tuberculosis shortly after Neruda’s birth. The family eventually moved to Temuco, where Neruda attended school and met, at the age of twelve, the poet Gabriela Mistral, who introduced him to the great classical writers. “In this frontier—or ‘far west’—of my country,” Neruda later wrote, “I was born to life, land, poetry, and rain.” At the age of seventeen, honoring his father’s wish that he be educated for a profession, Neruda left Temuco to study French at the University of Chile in Santiago. In October 1921, he won first prize in the Federacíon de Estudiantes poetry contest and subsequently began publishing poetry in Claridad, the organization’s magazine. One year later, initiating a long career that united poetry and politics, Neruda abandoned his studies, declared himself a poet and political activist, and took the pen name Pablo Neruda, after the Czech writer Jan Neruda. In 1923 Neruda published his first book, Crepusculario, at his own expense, and the following year he published Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, his most widely read book.

As a result of meeting the Chilean minister of external affairs, Neruda entered into a long career in his country’s diplomatic service. After his first consular post in Rangoon (now Yangon), Burma, other Chilean diplomatic positions took him to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Jakarta, Java, and Singapore. During his travels in Asia, Neruda wrote most of the poems in the first volume of Residence on Earth, and Other Poems, a book that shows its lonely author attempting to assimilate eternal images of time and place. In 1933 he was named Chilean consul to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he befriended the visiting Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. In 1934 Neruda was transferred to Barcelona, Spain, and later to Madrid. Still a diplomat in Spain when the Spanish Civil War began in 1936, Neruda witnessed widespread violence, the imprisonment of friends, and the execution of Lorca. “The world changed,” Neruda wrote, “and my poetry has changed. One drop of blood falling on these lines will remain alive in them, indelible like love.” Published during the Spanish Civil War, Spain in the Heart showed that Neruda had turned from purely personal themes toward political causes. His communist sympathies led him to organize support for Spanish Republicans, and he helped find asylum in Chile for refugees of the war. After serving in another diplomatic post in Mexico, Neruda returned to Chile, where he wrote one of his best-known epic poems, The Heights of Macchu Picchu. His political activity ended when the Chilean government moved to the right, forcing Neruda and other communists into hiding. He fled the country in February 1948 and did not return until 1952, when the Chilean government withdrew its order to arrest all leftist writers and political figures.

Pablo Neruda

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(Library of Congress)

Always a prolific writer, Neruda completed sixteen books of poetry in the final thirteen years of his life, including The Separate Rose and Winter Garden, two of several posthumously published volumes. In 1971 he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. A poet of many themes and styles, Neruda has been referred to as the “Picasso of poetry.” Although each of his volumes projects a distinct voice and persona, his work is often divided into three periods: the early period up to the time of the Spanish Civil War, characterized by the first volume of Residence on Earth, and Other Poems; the middle period, from the time of Spain in the Heart through Canto General, which was written during his exile and before his return to Chile in 1952; and the final, longest, and most prolific period, from 1952 until his death in 1973.

If there are consistent themes running through Neruda’s opus, they are those of love and death. In his earliest work Neruda identifies woman with nature; he uses nature imagery to describe woman, yet he also sees in woman a hopeful return to nature and the eternal life cycles. Later, in the middle period of his epic political poems, Neruda shows that life, corrupted by a world in disintegration, is only redeemed through love. In his epic vision, culminating in The Heights of Macchu Picchu, Neruda first sees human beings as weak and transitory against the eternal verities of nature; however, as his vision unfolds, Neruda defines impermanence not as death but as the individual’s isolation among the living. Thus he calls for love to transcend both the great deaths of civilizations, symbolized by the Inca ruins of Macchu Picchu, and the petty deaths each individual dies daily. In the last two decades of his life, although writing on a wide spectrum of themes in equally various styles, Neruda mainly returned to a personal expression of love. Throughout this final period Neruda expressed the wonder, play, nostalgia, and joy of passionate, romantic intimacy, what he calls “the entanglements of the genitals.”

The style of Neruda’s early work, especially that of the three Residence on Earth, and Other Poems volumes, is often compared with Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” Yet Neruda was a surrealist of the natural world. Fascinated with simple objects, animals, and plants, Neruda turned these into ambiguous symbols that, as translators have noted, are difficult to render in English, given that they are parts of larger patterns of association.

Author Works Poetry Crepusculario, 1923 Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada, 1924 (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, 1969) Tentativa del hombre infinito, 1926 El hondero entusiasta, 1933 Residencia en la tierra, 1933, 1935, 1947 (3 volumes; Residence on Earth, and Other Poems, 1946, 1973) España en el corazón, 1937 (Spain in the Heart, 1946) Alturas de Macchu Picchu, 1948 (The Heights of Macchu Picchu, 1966) Canto general, 1950 (partial translation in Let the Rail Splitter Awake, and Other Poems, 1951; full translation as Canto General, 1991) Los versos del capitán, 1952 (The Captain’s Verses, 1972) Odas elementales, 1954 (The Elemental Odes, 1961) Las uvas y el viento, 1954 Nuevas odas elementales, 1956 Tercer libro de odas, 1957 Estravagario, 1958 (Extravagaria, 1972) Cien sonetos de amor, 1959 (One Hundred Love Sonnets, 1986) Navegaciones y regresos, 1959 Canción de gesta, 1960 (Song of Protest, 1976) Cantos ceremoniales, 1961 Las piedras de Chile, 1961 (The Stones of Chile, 1986) Plenos poderes, 1962 (Fully Empowered, 1975) Memorial de Isla Negra, 1964 (5 volumes; Isla Negra: A Notebook, 1981) Arte de pájaros, 1966 (Art of Birds, 1985) Una casa en la arena, 1966 La barcarola, 1967 Las manos del día, 1968 Aún, 1969 (Still Another Day, 1984) Fin de mundo, 1969 La espada encendida, 1970 Las piedras del cielo, 1970 (Stones of the Sky, 1987) Selected Poems, 1970 Geografía infructuosa, 1972 New Poems (1968–1970), 1972 Incitación al Nixonicidio y alabanza de la revolución chilena, 1973 (Incitement to Nixonicide and Praise of the Chilean Revolution, 1979 also known as A Call for the Destruction of Nixon and Praise for the Chilean Revolution, 1980) El mar y las campanas, 1973 (The Sea and the Bells, 1988) La rosa separada, 1973 (The Separate Rose, 1985) El corazón amarillo, 1974 (The Yellow Heart, 1990) Defectos escogidos, 1974 Elegía, 1974 Pablo Neruda: Five Decades, a Selection (Poems, 1925–1970), 1974 2000, 1974 (English translation, 1992) Jardín de invierno, 1974 (Winter Garden, 1986) Libro de las preguntas, 1974 (The Book of Questions, 1991) El mal y el malo, 1974 El río invisible: Poesía y prosa de juventud, 1980 Long Fiction El habitante y su esperanza, 1926 Drama Romeo y Juliet, pb. 1964 (translation of William Shakespeare) Fulgor y muerte de Joaquín Murieta, pb. 1967 (Splendor and Death of Joaquin Murieta, 1972) Nonfiction Anillos, 1926 (with Tomás Lago) Viajes, 1955 Comiendo en Hungría, 1968 Confieso que he vivido: Memorias, 1974 (Memoirs, 1977) Cartas de amor, 1974 (letters) Lo mejor de Anatole France, 1976 Para nacer he nacido, 1978 (Passions and Impressions, 1983) Cartas a Laura, 1978 (letters) Correspondencia durante “Residencia en la tierra,” 1980 (letters; with Héctor Eandi) Cuadernos de Temuco, 1919–1920, 1996 Yo acuso : discursos parlamentarios, 1945–1948, 2002 Bibliography Agosin, Marjorie. Pablo Neruda. Translated by Lorraine Roses. Boston: Twayne, 1986. A basic critical biography. Durán, Manuel, and Margery Safir. Earth Tones: The Poetry of Pablo Neruda. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982. An excellent critical overview both of Neruda’s life and of his work. Feinstein, Adam. Pablo Neruda: A Passion for Life. New York: Bloomsbury, 2004. The first authoritative English-language biography of the poet’s life. Thoroughly researched and indexed. Longo, Teresa, ed. Pablo Neruda and the U.S. Culture Industry. New York: Routledge, 2002. A collection of essays examining the process by which Neruda’s poetry was translated into English and the impact of its dissemination on American and Latino culture. Méndez-Ramírez, Hugo. Neruda Ekphrastic Experience: Mural Art and “Canto general.” Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1999. This research focuses on the interplay between verbal and visual elements in Neruda’s masterpiece Canto general. It demonstrates how mural art, especially that practiced in Mexico, became the source for Neruda’s ekphrastic desire, in which his verbal art paints visual elements. Nolan, James. Poet-Chief: The Native American Poetics of Walt Whitman and Pablo Neruda. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994. A comparative study of Whitman and Neruda, and the influence upon them of both the theme of Native American culture and the practice of oral poetry. Orellana, Carlos, ed. Los rostros de Neruda. Santiago, Chile: Planeta, 1998. This collection of essays examines various aspects of the multifaceted poet. The editor collected testimonials from the poet’s contemporaries: literary and critical writers, journalists and critics familiar with Neruda and his work. Like a meticulous sculptor, the editor carefully re-creates the face of Neruda. In Spanish. Sayers Pedén, Margaret. Introduction to Selected Odes of Pablo Neruda, by Pablo Neruda. Translated by Sayers Pedén. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. Sayers Pedén is among the most highly regarded translators of Latin American poetry. Here her introduction to the translations in this bilingual edition constitutes an excellent critical study as well as providing biographical and bibliographical information. Teitelboim, Volodia. Neruda: A Personal Biography. Translated by Beverly J. DeLong-Tonelli. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991. A biography written by a close friend and fellow political exile. Wilson, Jason. A Companion to Pablo Neruda: Evaluating Neruda’s Poetry. Woodbridge, England: Tamesis, 2008. In addition to analyzing Neruda’s poetry, this book chronicles his life and explores the links between his political views and his writing. This is an excellent resource for anyone interested in, not only Neruda, but twentieth century poetry. Woodbridge, Hensley Charles. Pablo Neruda: An Annotated Bibliography of Biographical and Critical Studies. New York: Garland, 1988. Reflects the growing interest in Neruda following the translations of his works into English in the 1970’s.

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