Pablo Neruda

THE LAUREATE: Pablo Neruda is a good example of why some people think the Nobel prize committee is biased toward the political left (the actual political left, not the slightly right of center we have here in the US). Neruda was for most of his life an ardent communist- he actually served as a communist senator in Chile in the late 40s. He also almost got into a fist fight with Octavio Paz (another Nobel Laureate) over Stalin and how awful great he was. Neruda also served as a Chilean ambassador several times, the last in Paris in the early 70s. He criticized the US in the 60s for the Cuban missile crisis and in the 70s for the Vietnam war. He is, essentially, the radical left-wing writer our parents/grandparents warned us about. The fact that he got the Nobel and Jorge Luis Borges did not (as everyone knows, Jorge Luis Borges is Argentinean, so of course he had to be the exact opposite of Neruda. Of course.) is fair proof of this.
WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT HIM?: Nothing I haven’t read on Wikipedia. I think I read half a poem while waiting at a red light the other day (he said from the future)

WHAT ARE YOU READING?: Fin de Mundo, or World’s End. It looks like this was a posthumous publication. I guess I’ll have to read the introduction or something to find out. Update to follow. I kind of also want to read Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, which was the collection that first got Neruda public attention, but that might have to wait. The library has a copy and I will examine it tomorrow (he said from the past). EDIT: Reading Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair and then World’s End. The latter was written in the late sixties, by the way, when the revolutionary ideal around the world was fading fast. It will be interesting to see Neruda’s take on what drove Hunter S. Thompson to take all the drugs and Thomas Pynchon still hasn’t been able to get over.

REVIEWS: Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair was excellent. I can see how it revolutionized Chilean poetry, as I’d read it did. There were also some excellent individual lines. My personal favorite was “I want to do to you what spring does to a cherry tree.” Stay classy, Pablo!

World’s End was a whole lot bleaker than I thought, but that is perfectly understandable. If you can say nothing else about the 20th century, we did kill a whole lot of people. Neruda is incredibly critical of, for instance, the U.S. and Europe for their roles in world affairs. He lionizes Fidel Castro (literally) and it’s clear that, later in his life than the fistfight with Octavio Paz, he regretted his earlier love of Stalin (probably after word got around that Stalin filled a lot of graves himself). Neruda only really seems happy, at least in this book, when talking about people, divorced from the grand narrative of history or living in marginalized nations (he speaks highly of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and other Latin American writers, for instance), or the natural world.

DO YOU RECOMMEND IT? Yes. Good poetry is always welcome on my bookshelf. It should be on yours, too.

WHAT’S NEXT? Probably Rabindranath Tagore, since I need to get the collection of his stuff back to the library. After that, who knows?


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