“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.”” ― Pablo Neruda.
A romantic and revolutionary, Pablo Neruda was one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century. But with this, he was also the most accessible and controversial poet of the time. Not just because of his poetries, it was his revolutionary ideals that made him a topic of hot discussion. He began his career writing odes and poems filled with sexuality and sensuous love that echoes with his readers throughout the world, even today.
Neruda is often considered the national poet of Chile. His works have been so popular that people from all corners of the world have translated his poems into multiple regional languages so that the magic could prosper into a wider audience. Even the great novelist Gabriel García Márquez, considered him the greatest poet of the 20th century.
Pablo Neruda and his romantic approach to politics
Born as Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto in 1904, Neruda started writing since a young age. His father was a railway worker and was against his writing passion, thus he started writing under the pen name Pablo Neruda. He composed his first poems in the winter of 1914. At the age of 13 in 1917, Neruda published his first work called “Entusiasmo y perseverancia” – Enthusiasm and Perseverance. Though his father opposed his talent, he was supported by several people including the future Nobel Prize winner Gabriela Mistral. And by the fall of 1920, he became a well-known author of many poems, prose, and journalism.
In 1923, his first volume of verse, Crepusculario (Book of Twilights) was published. A year later he published ‘Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada’- Twenty Love Poems and A Desperate Song. It was a collection of love poems that became widely popular but also received critics for his erotic description of women and sensual audacity. But over the decade, the collection sold millions of copies worldwide helping Neruda establish international fame.
But despite his global recognition, Neruda lived in poverty. Due to which he worked several jobs from being a consulship in Rangoon to working in Colombo, Batavia, and Singapore as a diplomat. Later, he married a bank employee named Marijke Antonieta Hagenaar Vogelzang. Yet during all this time, he never stopped writing poetry and published many other works like ‘Residencia en la Tierra’ and ‘Tentativa del hombre infinito’.
Originally all the poems were written in Spanish and delivered easy and straightforward language. He used his everyday experiences to write surreal poems often describing random objects with great meaning. His work ‘Twenty Love Poems and A Desperate Song’ was beautifully delicate yet perspective, portraying tender love and despair within a relationship. Like in A Desperate Song he writes- “There were thirst and hunger, and you were the fruit. There were grief and the ruins, and you were the miracle”, which reflects the vulnerability of love and enchantment.
In his collection ‘All The Odes’, he transformed this affection into everyday objects. He used watermelon, a bench, or even a shoelace to describe the majestic approach of apparently insignificant items. He used these as a metaphor to portray his unexplainable feelings and encounters of romance and relationships.
In 1936, when Neruda was working in Madrid, civil war broke out. As Spain became engulfed in civil war, Neruda for the first time stepped into politics. It was chaos here and there, and Neruda was left to watch thousands of children becoming orphans and tons of families broken. Thus he planned the evacuation of more than 2000 people from Spain to Chile. For the next 20 years, Neruda recalls his experience of civil war into a three-volume poetry collection- ‘Residents Of Earth’. In his collection, he heavily emphasized his responsibility to speak against injustice. While in ‘I Explain A Few Things’, he brought out the brutal realities of civil war.
Pablo Neruda became a Revolutionary
This one incident made him a revolutionary, he became an ardent Communist for the rest of his life. And his contribution to politics resulted in divorce from her wife and several years in exile. With his revolutionary ideas, he often gave speeches and participated in several anti-government acts due to which in 1948 a warrant was issued for Neruda’s arrest. He hid in the basement of one of his friends for one year and later escaped to Argentina, where he stayed for the next three years.
During his days in exile, he wrote many more poems like ‘Canto General’. The book is an attempt to retell the entire Latin American history through poetry and romance. The collection emphasized the romantic yet violent perspective of the ground reality including war and destruction.
In 1952, Neruda returned to Chile and spent the rest of his life there. But this wasn’t an end to Neruda’s story. In 1970, he ran for the presidential election of Chile, at the age of 66. He soon became a close advisor to Salvador Allende and ended his presidential run. As expected Salvador won the election and Neruda soon became the Chilean ambassador to France. In 1971, Neruda was awarded the Nobel Prize and later with the prestigious Golden Wreath Award.
In 1973, Salvador was overthrown in a military coup, and weeks after that Neruda became severely ill and died in the hospital. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Because the timing of both the incidents were close, many assumed that Neruda might have died out of sadness or could be assassinated. However, his medical report clearly suggested cancer.
Died or killed, Neruda the man is certainly a problem. His legacy is directly shaped by the historical events in which he played a part and his revolutionary ideals still remain a motivation behind today’s revolution. His lines are often recited by people in protest or marches. And the impacting effect of Neruda’s poetry could be felt by its endurance and awakening perspective.