Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry
I have never known how to be eloquent in my appreciation. The world’s magnitude, knowledge, acknowledgement, the joy of a gift received, smooth as a comet’s passing, all this and much more is contained within a single phrase. When one says “thank you,” many other words are included that come from times long past or present, from as far away as the origins of man, from as near as the secret beating of one’s heart.
So it is that with my thanks I want to express and encompass the movement, the surroundings, the unmarked roads, perhaps the inevitability, that causes me to return continually in my life and in my poetry to these frontiers in the rainswept South, to these great rivers of my homeland, to the generous silence of these lands and these men.
If I learned a poetics, if I studied a rhetoric, my texts were the mountainous solitudes, the pungent aroma of the undergrowth, the pullulating life of the golden carabus beneath fallen tree trunks in the forest, the dense thickets where the copihue dangles the jade capsule of its fruit., the ax ringing on the rauli beech, the roof leaking on the poverty of my childhood, the moon-filled love, the tears and jasmine of my starry adolescence.
But life and books, journeys and war, goodness and cruelty, friendship and menace, changed a hundredfold the vestments of my poetry. It has been my fortune to live at every latitude and in every clime, my fortune to suffer and to love like any man of our time, to love and to defend noble causes, to suffer my personal sorrows and the humiliation of our peoples.
Perhaps the duties of the poet have been the same throughout history. Poetry was honored to go out into the streets, to take part in combat after combat. When they called him “rebel,” the poet was not daunted. Poetry is rebellion. The poet is not offended if he is called “subversive.” Life is more important than social structures, and there are new regulations for the soul. Seeds spring up everywhere, all ideas are exotic, every day we await momentous changes, we are experiencing the excitement of a mutation in the human order; spring incites rebellion.
We poets hate hatred and make war on war.
Only a few weeks ago, in the heart of New York, I began my reading with some verses of Walt Whitman. Only that morning I had bought still another copy of his Leaves of Grass. When I opened it in my hotel room on Fifth Avenue, the first thing I read were these lines, which I had never particularly noticed before:
Away with themes of war ! away with war itself !
Hence from my shuddering sight to never more return that show of blacken’d, mutilated corpses
That hell unpent and raid of blood, fit for wild tigers or lop-tongued wolves, not reasoning man.
These lines brought an instantaneous response. The public that overflowed the auditorium stood and applauded wildly. Unknowingly, through the words of the bard, Walt Whitman, I had touched the anguished heart of the North American people. The destruction of defenceless hamlets, napalm burning entire villages of Vietnamese – all this, through the words of a poet who lived a hundred years ago, condemning injustice with his poetry, was palpable and visible to those who were listening. Would that my poems were so lasting, the poetry already written, and the poetry still to come…
From a speech delivered at the University of Concepción, 1968
Pablo Neruda Biography
Pablo Neruda (1904-1973, born Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto 12 July, 1904, in Parral,Chile). His father was a railway employee and his mother, who died shortly after his birth, a teacher. Some years later his father, who had then moved to the town of Temuco, remarried doña Trinidad Candia Malverde. The poet spent his childhood and youth in Temuco, where he also got to know Gabriela Mistral, head of the girls’ secondary school, who took a liking to him. At the early age of thirteen he began to contribute some articles to the daily “La Mañana”, among them, Entusiasmo y Perseverancia – his first publication – and his first poem. In 1920, he became a contributor to the literary journal “Selva Austral” under the pen name of Pablo Neruda, which he adopted in memory of the Czechoslovak poet Jan Neruda (1834-1891). Some of the poems Neruda wrote at that time are to be found in his first published book: Crepusculario (1923). The following year saw the publication of Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada, one of his best-known and most translated works. Alongside his literary activities, Neruda studied French and pedagogy at the University of Chile, in Santiago.
Between 1927 and 1935, the government put him in charge of a number of honorary consulships, which took him to Burma, Ceylon, Java, Singapore, Buenos Aires, Barcelona, and Madrid. His poetic production during that difficult period included, among other works, the collection of esoteric surrealistic poems, Residencia en la tierra (1933), which marked his literary breakthrough.
The Spanish Civil War and the murder of García Lorca, whom Neruda knew, affected him strongly and made him join the Republican movement, first in Spain, and later in France, where he started working on his collection of poems España en el Corazón (1937). The same year he returned to his native country, to which he had been recalled, and his poetry during the following period was characterised by an orientation towards political and social matters. España en el Corazón had a great impact by virtue of its being printed in the middle of the front during the civil war.
In 1939, Neruda was appointed consul for the Spanish emigration, residing in Paris, and, shortly afterwards, Consul General in Mexico, where he rewrote his Canto General de Chile, transforming it into an epic poem about the whole South American continent, its nature, its people and its historical destiny. This work, entitled Canto General, was published in Mexico 1950, and also underground in Chile. It consists of approximately 250 poems brought together into fifteen literary cycles and constitutes the central part of Neruda’s production. Shortly after its publication, Canto General was translated into some ten languages. Nearly all these poems were created in a difficult situation, when Neruda was living abroad.
In 1943, Neruda returned to Chile, and in 1945 he was elected senator of the Republic, also joining the Communist Party of Chile. Due to his protests against President González Videla’s repressive policy against striking miners in 1947, he had to live underground in his own country for two years until he managed to leave in 1949. After living in different European countries he returned home in 1952. A great deal of what he published during that period bears the stamp of his political activities; one example is Las Uvas y el Viento (1954), which can be regarded as the diary of Neruda’s exile. In Odas elementales (1954- 1959) his message is expanded into a more extensive description of the world, where the objects of the hymns — things, events and relations — are duly presented in alphabetic form.
Neruda’s production is exceptionally extensive. For example, his Obras Completas, constantly republished, comprised 459 pages in 1951; in 1962 the number of pages was 1,925, and in 1968 it amounted to 3,237, in two volumes. His later works include Cien sonetos de amor (1959), which includes poems dedicated to his wife Matilde Urrutia, Memorial de Isla Negra, a poetic work of an autobiographic character in five volumes, published on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday, Arte de pajáros (1966), La Barcarola (1967), the play Fulgor y muerte de Joaquín Murieta (1967), Las manos del día (1968), Fin del mundo (1969), Las piedras del cielo (1970), and La espada encendida.
Pablo Neruda won the 1971 Nobel Prize for Literature.
Biography adapted from the Nobel Library.