Pablo Neruda

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Pablo Neruda's Biography

Pablo Neruda is Latin America’s most well-known and most read poet of the twentieth century. He was born Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto on July 12, 1904, in the town of Parral, Chile. His father was a railroad worker and his mother died shortly after giving birth to him. When he was sixteen years old he began submitting articles to the literary journal “Selva Austra” using the pseudonym Pablo Neruda. Neruda chose to publish his poetry under a different name because his father adamantly opposed poetry as a career. Neruda quickly began publishing his books of poetry. Along with his literary exploits he studied French and pedagogy at the University of Chile in Santiago.

Neruda began a promising political career and moved to Europe to further that career; however, his writing never took a back seat. Neruda’s poetry can be seen as blueprints for his life. If you follow his poetry in chronological order, you can see every place he has been in his life –the young man full of blooming love, the depressed man writing of his home, the ardent politician, and the old man full-circle back to the rapture and passions of love. Beginning with 1927 until 1935, he was given consulships to many different countries: Burma, Ceylon, Java, Singapore, Buenos Aires, Barcelona, and Madrid. While in Europe, Neruda became a follower of Communism which would color his later poetry and politics.

In 1947 Neruda had to live underground, exiled from his home because of his anti-President González Videla sentiments. Neruda continued his poetry but during this time it expressed his fiery leftist political views. In 1952 he was invited back to Chile and he happily returned home.

In 1971 Pablo Neruda received the Nobel Prize for Literature among other awards.
Pablo Neruda passed way in a hospital in Santiago, Chile on September 23, 1973 from a battle with cancer. The beloved poet was dead, but his poetry would live on forever.

List of Works

Throughout his lifetime, Neruda wrote many books of poetry, but he was also a translator and a playwright. Pablo Neruda is most famous for his books of love poetry, such as, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, The Captain's Verses, and 100 Love Sonnets. His other famous works include Residence On Earth and Elementary Odes.

The following is a list of his works (in Spanish):

Crepusculario (1923), Viente Poemas de Amor y Una Cancion Desesperada (1924), Tentativa del Hombre Infinitivo (1926), Hondero Entusiasta (1932), Residencia en la Tierra (1935), Obra Poetica de Pablo Neruda (1948), Canto General (1950), Dulce Patria (1951), Poesia Politica (1953), Todo el Amor (1953), Las Uvas y el Viento (1954), Los Versos del Capitan (1954), Odas Elementales (1954), Nuevas Odas Elementales (1956), Extravagario (1958), Bestiario (1958), Navegaciones y Regresos (1959), Aun (1959),
Cancion de Gesta (1960), Cien Sonetos de Amor (1960), Cantos Ceremoniales (1961), Las Piedras de Chile (1961), Antologia Poetica (Ed. Pablo Luis Avila; 1962), Obras Completas (1962), Plenos Poderes (1962), Memorial de Isla Negra (1964), Poesias (1965), Arte de Pajaros (1966), La Barcarola (1967), Las Manos del Dia (1968), Obras Completas (1968), Fin de Mundo (1969), La Espada Encendida (1970), Antologia General (1970), Antologia Esencial (Ed. Hernan Loyola; 1971), Geografia Infructuosa (1972), La Rosa Separada (1972), Incitacion al Nixoncidio y Alabanza de la Revolucion Chilena, Posthumous: Jardin del Invierno (1973), El Mar y las Campanas (1973), 2000 (1974), Elegia (1974), Libro de las Preguntas (1974), Pablo Neruda (Ed. Carlos Rafael Duverran; 1977), Antologia Poetica (1981)

Description of The Captain's Verses

Neruda’s The Captain’s Verses is a book of poems concerning the different aspects of love. He explores his passions for his muse Matilde Urrutia. Matilde was his third and final wife and this book of poetry was written for her. The book was published anonymously in 1952 but in 1963 it was republished with a forward from the famous author himself. The Captain’s Verses is divided into his love for Matilde and his quarrels with Matilde. Neruda uses simple, direct language that is easy to understand. His flowing imagery allows the reader a sense of what he is feeling and describing. I have heard from many people that the reason poets exist is to define love because there is no real definition of love – Neruda manages to capture the elusiveness of this emotion.

I have included a few selections from The Captain’s Verses:


Ah you don’t want to,
You’re scared
Of poverty,
You don’t want
To go to the market with worn-out shoes
And come back with the same old dress.

My love, we are not fond,
As the rich would like us to be,
Of misery. We
Shall extract it like an evil tooth
That up to now has bitten the heart of man.

But I don’t want
You to fear it.
If through my fault it comes to your dwelling,
If poverty drives away
Your golden shoes,
Let it not drive away your laughter which is my life’s bread.
If you can’t pay the rent
Go off to work with a proud step,
And remember, my love, that I am watching you
And together we are the greatest wealth
That was ever gathered upon the earth.

"If You Forget Me"

I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
If I look
At the crystal moon, at the red branch
Of the slow autumn at my window,
If I touch
Near the fire
The impalpable ash
Or the wrinkled body of the log,
Everything carries me to you,
As if everything that exists,
Aromas, light, metals,
Were little boats that sail
Toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
If little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
You forget me
Do not look for me,
For I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
The wind of banners
That passes through my life,
And you decide
To leave me at the shore
Of the heart where I have roots,
That on that day,
At that hour,
I shall lift my arms
And my roots will set off
To seek another land.

If each day,
Each hour,
You feel that you are destined for me
With implacable sweetness,
If each day a flower
Climbs up to your lips to seek me,
Ah my love, ah my own,
In me all that fire is repeated,
In me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
My love feeds on your love, beloved,
And as long as you live it will be in your arms
Without leaving mine.

"Night on the Island"

All night I have slept with you
Next to the sea, on the island.
Wild and sweet you were between pleasure and sleep,
Between fire and water.

Perhaps very late
Our dreams joined
At the top or at the bottom,
Up above like branches moved by a common wind,
Down below like red roots that touch.

Perhaps your dream
Drifted from mine
And through the dark sea
Was seeking me
As before,
When you did not yet exist,
When without sighting you
I sailed by your side,
And your eyes sought
What now –
Bread, wine, love, and anger –
I heap upon you
Because you are the cup
That was waiting for the gifts of my life.

I have slept with you
All night long while
The dark earth spins
With the living and the dead,
And on waking suddenly
In the midst of the shadow
My arm encircled your waist.
Neither night nor sleep
Could separate us.

I have slept with you
And on waking, your mouth,
Come from your dream,
Gave me the taste of earth,
Of sea water, of seaweed,
Of the depths of your life,
And I received your kiss
Moistened by the dawn
As if it came to me
From the sea that surrounds us.

"Your Laughter"

Take bread away from me, if you wish,
Take air away, but
Do not take from me your laughter.

Do not take away the rose,
The lanceflower that you pluck,
The water that suddenly
Burst forth in your joy,
The sudden wave
Of silver born in you.

My struggle is harsh and I come back
With eyes tired
At times from having seen
The unchanging earth,
But when your laughter enters
It rises to the sky seeking me
And it opens for me all
The doors of life.

My love, in the darkest
Hour your laughter
Opens, and if suddenly
You see my blood staining
The stones of the street,
Laugh, because your laughter
Will be for my hands
Like a fresh sword.

Next to the sea in the autumn,
Your laughter must raise
Its foamy cascade,
And in the spring, love,
I want your laughter like
The flower I was waiting for,
The blue flower, the rose
Of my echoing country.

Laugh at the night,
At the day, at the moon,
Laugh at the twisted
Streets of the island,
Laugh at this clumsy
Boy who loves you,
But when I open
My eyes and close them,
When my steps go,
When my steps return,
Deny me bread, air,
Light, spring,
But never your laughter
For I would die.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Review of The Captain's Verses

The following is Alejandro Vernon's glowing review of The Captain’s Verses by Pablo Neruda:

This is a fabulous dual-language collection of some of the most sensual, passionate poems written in modern times. Whether he imagines himself as an insect making a journey "from your hips to your feet", traveling to distant places with his beloved by his side, or as a soldier who must leave but whose love will "go on singing until the end of life", Neruda writes with exquisite simplicity, and great beauty. He was fortunate to have had this remarkable relationship, as well as the ability to express his feelings with such uncommon depth, but for those men who lack Neruda's poetic genius, and who would like to melt the heart of the woman they love, this might be the perfect gift to go along with that bunch of flowers.

Obviously I am not the only who finds magic in Neruda’s passionate love poems.

Pablo Neruda Interview

Pablo Neruda was interviewed by Rita Guibert in 1970. The setting was the Isla Negra, Neruda’s favorite getaway and the theme for many of his poems. Neruda talked candidly about why he changed his name, political ideas and his staunch belief in Communism, and, of course, his poetry.

Neruda discussed his poetry in terms of his personal life, “A poet’s life must naturally be reflected in his poetry. That is the law of his trade, and one of the laws of life.” Neruda goes on to explain the different stages in his life and where the poems came from.

I thought it was interesting to hear his thoughts on all the different translations of his work:
RG (Rita Guibert) – In which language do the best translations exist?
PN (Pablo Neruda)– I would say in Italian, because there’s a similarity of values between the two languages. English and French, the only languages I know besides Italian, are languages which do not correspond to Spanish – neither in vocalization, nor in the placement, nor the color, not the weight of the words… It’s not a question of interpretive equivalents, no; the sense may be correct, indeed the accuracy of the translation itself, of the meaning, may be what destroys the poem. That’s why I think that Italian comes closest, because by keeping the values of the words, the sound helps reflect the sense… in French translations… my poetry seems to me to vanish.

Neruda has made the world laugh, cry, and even despair with his poetry, but what does the great man really think of his poetry?
RG – If you had to save one of your works from a fire, which one would you save?
PN – Possibly none of them. What am I going to need them for? I would rather like to save a girl… or a good collection of detective stories… which would entertain me much more than my own poetry.

And what does Pablo Neruda think of his critics?
PN - Oh, my critics! My critics almost shredded me to pieces. They have analyzed me and chopped me into little bits, with the utmost love or dislike. In life, as in work, one can't possibly please everyone; it's always the same thing. And one receives kisses or blows, caresses or kicks - that's a poet's life.

Neruda was ever the modest poet.

Pablo Neruda's Technique

Personally, I would not say that Neruda has a specific technique of his writing. His style is simplistic and in its simplicity it is clear and beautiful. Whatever he is feeling flows out of his pen onto his paper. Neruda said in an interview “After breaking my fingers in an accident I couldn’t use the typewriter for several months. Afterwards, when my finger got better and I could type again, I discovered that my poetry when written by hand was more sensitive. I realized that my hand was somehow involved in it.”

Neruda uses all the senses to get the reader completely involved in the poem. The reader can, therefore, feel everything the writer is experiencing:
Wind on the Island

The wind is a horse:
Hear how he runs
Through the sea, through the sky.

He wants to take me: listen
How he roves the world
To take me far away.

Hide me in your arms
Just for this night,
While the rain breaks
Against sea and earth
Its innumerable mouth.

Listen how the wind
Calls to me galloping
To take me far away.

With your brow on my brow,
With your mouth on my mouth,
Our bodies tied
To the love that consumes us,
Let the wind pass
And not take away.

Let the wind rush
Crowned with foam,
Let it call to me and seek me
Galloping in the shadow,
While I, sunk
Beneath your big eyes,
Just for this night
Shall rest, my love.

Neruda explores the passion in nature and love, giving personification to these inanimate ideas. As we have read in the aforementioned Wind on the Island, the wind is described as a horse and wants to take him away. By using metaphors and personification, Neruda allows us to look at things in a different light and gain new understanding:
September 8th

Today, this day was a brimming cup,
Today, this day was the immense wave,
Today, it was all the earth.

Today the stormy sea
Lifted us in a kiss
So high that we trembled
In a lightning flash
And, tied, we went down
To sink without untwining.

Today our bodies became vast, they grew to the edge of the world
And rolled melting
Into a single drop
Of wax or meteor.

Between you and me a new door opened
And someone, still faceless,
Was waiting for us there.

Neruda is writing his poems for himself and for his lover whom the poems are about. However, each poem can be interpreted to mean something unique and beautiful to each reader. The reader may not know what Neruda was actually feeling or trying to portray in his metaphors, but he understands his own reactions and gives his own meaning to the poem. This is the beauty of Neruda’s verse and language.


Neruda, Pablo. The Captain's Verses. trans Donald D. Walsh. New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1972.

Guibert, Rita. Seven Voices. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1973

"Pablo Neruda - Biography", from Les Prix Nobel/Nobel Lectures. April 23 2004.

"Pablo Neruda".