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The Radical Genius In Pablo Neruda

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  • Category: Poets

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            As intensely acknowledged as he is, Pablo Neruda led a personal, political and literary life in extremely controversial, epic proportions.  Pablo Neruda’s destiny to become a most revered, recognized, reputed literary genuius started to manifest at a very young age of 13.  He had already works published at the age of 19.

 Many literary enthusiasts, critics, academicians have translated Neruda’s works into so many languages.  As one of the most influential and greatest poets of this modern age and time, Neruda’s writing styles have been noted for its varied tones; style; temper.  The texture of his poetry is rich and extensive.  Classifying and summarizing his works can be difficult.

Pablo Neruda has indeed written some of the best poetry of our era because his literature celebrates love, nature, and human experience.

 “’He was once referred as the Picasso of poetry, alluding to his protean ability to be always in the vanguard of change. And he himself has often alluded to his personal struggle with his own tradition, to his constant need to search for a new system in each book.’ [Rene de Costa in The Poetry of Pablo Neruda, 1979]” (“Pablo Neruda”, 2000)

            Thus, Pablo Neruda was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.


Born in Parral, Chile as an only child to Jose del Carmen Reyes and Rosa Basoalto on July 12, 1904, Neruda’s real name is Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto.  He changed his name because his father did not want him to write and become a poet.

            Neruda’s mother Rosa died when he was just 2 months old.  When he turned 2 years old, his father Jose married Trinidad Candia Marverde which Neruda categorically considered as his mother.  However, Trinidad and Jose has already had Rodolfo, their son born in 1895 – way before Neruda was born.  And eventually, his father Jose also sired in 1907 a daughter, Laura, from another woman (Aurelia Tolra).   Laura was later on adopted by  Thus, Neruda’s family as he started awakening to from his young mind is composed of an elder brother Rodolfo, a younger sister Laura, his father Jose and his “Ma’madre” Trinidad.   To which, he saw a simple, poor, quiet, lifestyle.

            He graduated high school from Temuco High School and pursued. studies in Pegagogy and French in the Unviersity of Chile.  From a very early age, Neruda was determined to pursue his literary and writing skills.  But his father was defiant in stopping him.  Therefore, he decided to write using the pen name “Pablo Neruda” – which he eventually adopted as his legal name.  He go the name “Neruda” from a Czechoslovakian writer and poet, Jan Neruda.  Pablo Neruda narrates in his “Memoir”:

“ When I was fourteen, my father was always at me about my literary endeavors. He didn’t like the idea of having a son who was a poet. To cover up the publication of my first poems, I looked for a last name that would throw him completely off the scent. I took the Czech name from a magazine, without knowing it was the name of a great writer loved by a whole nation, the author of elegant ballads and narrative poems, whose monument stood in Prague’s Mala Strana quarter. Many years later, the first thing I did when I got to Czechoslovakia was to place a flower at the foot of the bearded statue.”  (Neruda, 1974)

There were influences that inspired Pablo Neruda in his chosen passion.  One is Gabriela Mistral, his high school principal and who is also another Chilean poet and a Nobel Prize winner.  Gabriela made Pablo study the greatest Russian literary greats that contributed to furthering his enthusiasm in poetry.

Then there is also Walt Whitman, an American poet, whose photograph Neruda even kept by his side.  Pablo Neruda considers the what he learned from Whitman as a greater influence than his studying Cervantes.

            His friendship with other literary enthusiasts made him further lured and confident of his pursuits.  The Spanish poet Federica Garcia Lorca was someone Pablo Neruda shared friendship with at the age of 23.  They both were Walt Whitman admirers.  In one of Neruda’s anecdotes, he jested:

“’We did meet forty years ago. At that time we were both influenced by Whitman and I said, jokingly in part, ‘I don’t think anything can be done in Spanish, do you?’ Neruda agreed, but we decided it was too late for us to write our verse in English. We’d have to make the best of a second-rate literature.’ [from Jorge Luis Borges: Conversations, ed. by Richard Burgin, 1998]” (“Pablo Neruda”, 2000)


            Pablo Neruda naturally awakened to inspirations of love as the tenor of his poems.  “Veinte Poemas De Amor Y Una Cancion Desesperada” (Twenty Poems Of Love And A Song Of Despair), were written when he was 20 years old.   This work is mystifying in the sense that Pablo Neruda was very young to have relatively evoke such eroticism, sensuality and passion in poems.  True, Neruda has lead a bohemiam life at that age, yet, Veinte Poemas et al are just seemingly beyond of such young mind.

The impact and intensity of Veinte Poemas…… touched to many adolescents of South America.  The youth related to Neruda’s work and just recited them to heart.  The popularity and acclamation made it instantaneously a big success.

“Over the years, that little book got translated into every important language. It made Neruda’s enduring reputation as a love poet, a poet of rapture who made myths out of facts and desires.”  (Gorton, 2004)

Pablo Neruda likewise wrote in 1952 his Los Versos del Capitan.  The infectious and palpable tenderness, sadness and passion of his creation is easily felt.  One can picture deep yearnings and desires.  It can be gleamed that such exemplifications of his early works that touched on love are truly profound.


            Therefore, Pablo Neruda’s early literary venture could not have depicted the eventuality of his overall political and radical genius.  Because of his early literary success, Neruda was given diplomatic assignments in many parts of the world:  Burma, Argentina, Spain and Mexico  Then his life and outlook thereat seems to be a paradox.  He is quiet, shy, yet youthful and very amorous in his romantic pursuits.

But it was in 1936 when the Spanish Civil War broke and his much loved friend, Federico Garcia Lorca was assassinated – that remorsely affected Pablo Neruda.    He turned his inclination towards communism.  Neruda laments in his memoires:  “From that time on, with interruptions now and then, politics became part of my poetry and my life. In my poems I could not shut the door to the street.”

            Therefore, in his poetry “Residencia en la Tierra”, an aura of sadness and depression permeates.  He expressed how demonic and dark the world is as a result of his experiences in his diplomatic assignments.

“ 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.”  (Nobel Lectures, 1993)

Neruda’s other work entitled “Canto General” traversed on the fight for freedom of the Latin American masses.

“Neruda’s epic poem for South America, Canto General, became a rallying song for revolutionaries; Che Guevara carried it in his backpack and died with a copy of it in his pocket. Neruda himself became an icon for the left when he spoke out against president Gabriel Gonzalez Videla; he became a political hero and an exile, hiding in partisans’ houses and fleeing Chile on horseback over the Andes.” (Gorton, 2004)

Further reflection of how legendary his life has been, Neruda expressed in his poem “Insomia” that he considers himself as totally immersed in every aspect of life and this world.  A portion of the poem says:  “

“In the middle of the night I ask myself,/ what will happen to Chile?/ What will become of my poor, dark country?// From loving this long, thin ship so much,/ these stones, these little farms,/ the durable rose of the coast/ that lives among the foam,/ I became one with my country./ I met every one of its sons/ and in me the seasons succeeded one another,/ weeping or flowering . . .”

Neruda manifested very sublime attitude in life.  He is not inclined to raucus and deep anger.  He is noted to be timid, kind and forgiving.  His only depression and frustration are manifested in his writings about politics.  And yet, he overflows with grandeour and awe of the richness and beauty of the countries he visited; his keenness about nature and people.  And most of all, he is immediately assuaged and soothed by his intimacy with his poetry.


            The vividness of Pablo Neruda’s imagination; the intensity of his passion; the depth of his experiences – enabled him to write extensively on every aspect of human existence.  His works became an extension of his personality:  his love for life; the effect of the depressing realities he saw during his consulship; the depth of his commitment to political and social causes; his sensitivity to every detail about life.

            In his work “Odas Elementales”, he spoke of his thoughts about common objects around us; of animals; of the plants in this planet we live in.    His book “Libro dela Preguntas” is written with deliberations on the mysteries and anxieties of life:  the past, present and future of human kind.

            Pedro Neruda has indeed a magnanimous story in his life and works.  It has been noted in the so many biographies and reviews written about him that he is an enigma.

“It is not easy to write the biography of a man who realised his imaginative life so effectively and who regarded the interaction of visions and facts as the stuff of human existence. In a preamble to his memoirs, Neruda posed the difference between a poet’s and biographer’s sense of life: “The poet gives us a gallery full of ghosts shaken by the fire and darkness of his time”; whereas the memoir-writer, who “may have lived less, but photographed much more, re-creates for us with special attention to detail”. (Gorton, 2004)


            Neruda nevertheless basically tried to undertone himself through his more than 55 literary works in a span of half a decade being a genius.  And yet the tone of radicalism in various incessant pursuits for meaning and reasons in his literary works cannot pin the sublimity he desired.

“Memoirs is presented basically in the form of many vignettes, generally (though sometimes loosely) connected, grouped together in chapters that divide up the main parts of his life. Many details are missing, but it does give a good sense of the man and his life. It is an agreeable meandering volume, a bit much to read at one go but enjoyable to slowly make one’s way through. There is rarely a page that doesn’t offer surprises, adventures, unexpected or unlikely encounters and occurrences: Neruda led a very interesting life, and met many interesting and illustrious people. His tone is amiable, and his love of life, nature, poetry, and especially his homeland shine through throughout.” (Complete Review, 1977)

Works Cited:

Gorton, L.  “Pablo Neruda:  A passion for life”.  A Review of “Pablo Neruda:  A Passion for

Life” by Adam Feinstein (2004).  The Age. 4 Dec 2004.


Nobel Lectures, Literature 1968-1980, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Sture Allén,

World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1993


“Pablo Neruda”.  1997-2008 The Academy of American Poets


“The Complete Review”.  1977.  A Review of “Memoirs” by Pablo Neruda.


Biography of Pablo Neruda.  Fundacion Pablo Neruda.


“Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) – original name Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto”. 2000


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