Pablo Neruda – Romantic Rationalist

Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto – Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), was born on 12 July, 1904, in the town of Parral in Chile. He was a Chilean poet, diplomat, and politician who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. Neruda became known as a poet when he was 13 years old, and wrote in a variety of styles, including surrealist poems, historical epics, political manifestos, a prose autobiography, and passionate love poems such as the ones in his collection Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1924). He is considered as one of the most important Latin American poets of the 20th century.

The poet spent his childhood and youth in Temuco, where he entered the Temuco Boys’ School in 1910, and finished his secondary schooling there in 1920. Neruda began to write poetry at age 10. He received encouragement from the future Nobel Prize winner Gabriela Mistral, who headed the local school.

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). From 1918 to mid-1920, he published numerous poems, such as “Mis ojos” (“My eyes”), and essays in local magazines as Neftalí Reyes. In 1919, he participated in the literary contest Juegos Florales del Maule and won third place for his poem “Comunión ideal” or “Nocturno ideal”.

According to the critics, his poems, subtle and elegant, were in the tradition of Symbolist poetry, or rather its Hispanic version, Modernismo.

While in Santiago, Neruda completed one of his most critically acclaimed original works, the cycle of love poems titled “Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada”, published in English translation as “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair”, 1924. It was one of his best-known and most translated works, which marked Neruda as an important Chilean poet. Alongside his literary activities, Neruda studied French and pedagogy at the University of Chile in Santiago.

According to the Nobel Prize website, between 1927 and 1935, the government put Neruda 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.

Neruda served a term as a Senator for the Chilean Communist Party. When President Gabriel González Videla outlawed communism in Chile in 1948, a warrant was issued for Neruda’s arrest. Friends hid him for months in the basement of a house in the port city of Valparaíso, and in 1949 he escaped through a mountain pass near Maihue Lake into Argentina; he would not return to Chile for more than three years. He was a close advisor to Chile’s socialist President Salvador Allende, and, when he got back to Chile after accepting his Nobel Prize in Stockholm, Allende invited him to read at the Estadio Nacional before 70,000 people.

In 2003, an anthology of 600 of Neruda’s poems arranged chronologically was published as The Poetry of Pablo Neruda. The collection draws from 36 different translators, and some of his major works are also presented in their original Spanish.

“There is something about Neruda – about the way he glorifies experience, about the spontaneity and directness of his passion – that sets him apart from other poets. It is hard not to be swept away by the urgency of his language, and that’s especially so when he seems swept away.” Mark Strand (The New Yorker)

Pablo Neruda, Getty Images

100 Love Sonnets: XVII (I don’t love you as if you were a rose)

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,

or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.

I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,

in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms

but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;

thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,

risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.

I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;

So, I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,

so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,

so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

100 Love Sonnets (“Cien sonetos de Amor”), is a collection of sonnets written by the Chilean poet and Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda, originally published in Argentina in 1959. Dedicated to Matilde Urrutia, it is divided into the four stages of the day: morning, afternoon, evening, and night.

The sonnets have been translated into English numerous times by various scholars. The most widely acclaimed English translation was made by Stephen Tapscott and published in 1986. In 2004, Gustavo Escobedo translated the 100 sonnets for the 100th anniversary of Neruda’s birth.

Cover photo: Pablo Neruda, 1952, Keystone-France / Getty Images