Pablo Neruda: Life and Literary Works

May 5, 2021 by Essay Writer

Pablo Neruda Thesis

Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, stands as one of the most famous and widely read poets throughout the world today. His most famous book, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, which portrays his love of women, was translated in over twenty languages and, like much of his other works, has over one million copies in print (Stackhouse). As the 1971 Nobel Prize winner in literature, Neruda has a spot in literary history as one of the greatest poets of his lifetime. Despite having gone through self-conflicting times, most of Neruda’s poems are about love, his longing for his home country, and Latin America (Sobejano).

Neruda was born in Parral, Chile on July 12, 1904 and given the name Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto. He was the son of Rosa de Basoalto, who died of tuberculosis only weeks after Neruda’s birth, and José del Carmen Reyes, a railroad employee. As a young boy and adolescent, Neruda was fond of nature and his surrounding environment and often wrote poems and essays with themes based on his environmental interest, gaining him many local writing prizes. His father had hopes of Neruda having a profession, so in 1921, Neruda left high school and relocated to Santiago, the capital of Chile, to study French Literature. This was also the time that Neruda began writing serious poetry. After submitting his a few of his works for magazine production, the young adult adopted the pseudonym of Pablo Neruda, after Czech short-story writer Jan Neruda, to hide his poetry from his disapproving father.

In 1923, after leaving his university career, nineteen year old Neruda “sold his furniture and borrowed money from his friends”, in order to publish his first book of poems Crepusculario – which translates into “Twilight” (Stackhouse). Though the book generated little income, it instantly received positive critical reviews, justifying Neruda’s attempts. The author moved on to his next and even more successful book, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, which was published in 1924. In it, Neruda remarks a casual love affair he was involved in. The book shifts from a passionate and loving attraction to apathy and despair. This collection of love poems marked the beginning of Neruda’s romantic reputation.

His literary career was not the only thing growing. As his poems became more and more prominent, Neruda began his political career. In 1927, Neruda met with Chile’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs where “he was appointed as the Chilean consul in Rangoon, the capital of Burma” – an Asian country (Diamond). Not having any experience in diplomacy, Neruda was appointed as ambassador of his country, solely for his gregariousness and accomplishments with his writing. Neruda traveled as consul around the world to places including Dutch East Indies in 1930, Buenos Aires in 1933, and Barcelona in 1934 (Maynard).

Although often ascribed to surrealism, Neruda’s poems have also been associated with the modernist era. Granted that he almost never wrote with the style modernists were so famous for, Neruda wanted to alter the way Latin American and Spanish poetry was perceived. He repeatedly changed his style of poetry from book to book, going from romantic and passionate in Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair to surrealistic poetry in Residence on Earth. “Neruda’s style of surrealism is not intended to shock or to make his reader laugh; rather, he uses the absurd to represent the complexity of the human mind and modern life” (Diamond). During his life, Neruda’s style was even called Nerudaism because of how diverse his poetry was. Quickly after Residence on Earth, Neruda, once more, changed the way he wanted his poetry to be remarked and began to write about social and political issues (Sobejano).

The Surrealist era of literature began in 1924, originally in France. Seen as another experimental avant-garde stage in literature and other arts, the founder of this movement, André Breton, characterized Surrealism as “pure psychic automatism by means of which we propose to express either verbally, or in writing, or in some other fashion, what really goes on in the mind” (Quinn). “Surrealists believed the unconscious mind was the true source of valid art and knowledge and, therefore, relied on the thoughts and images from the subconscious as revealed in dreams and natural or induced hallucinations” (Werlock). Though the movement remained dominant in Europe, American poets began to adopt the movement after World War II.

Pablo Neruda’s poem, “Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines”, is a prime example of how Neruda is able to mix different writing styles. The poem contains no regular meter but manages to express rhythm through assonance and consonance. Author Marjorie Agosin writes in an article how Neruda’s “Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines”, “marks a clear transition from the era of Spanish-American modernism to that of surrealism, with its often disconnected images and metaphors,” (Poetry for Students). When the book was first to be published, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair was refused to print by Chile’s leading publisher. Nonetheless, the book and poems within the book including, “Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines”, received overwhelmingly positive feedback. Neruda’s poem is applauded and even called Latin America’s most beloved poem in an essay written by Dean Rader, a professor at the University of San Francisco:

Neruda’s poem both participates in and refuses to participate in expected conventions of modernist aesthetics. At once, the text feels shockingly unpoetic and overwhelming so. The “confusion” in the poem, its paradoxical nature, mirrors the confusion within the speaker of the poem and his own paradoxical stances on the woman who has left him. The poem succeeds because it, like love, like human emotion, cannot be quantified, classified or confined…To express such common and such strong emotions without succumbing to cliché or sentiment or cloying language is an amazing achievement. (Poetry for Students)

“Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines” acquired admiration from the public and critics for its simplistic and easy to understand yet passionate language. The speaker states, “I no longer love her, that’s certain, but maybe I love her,” illustrating to his reader the void and confusion he feels from the absence of a woman.

Having a large growth in popularity after Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, Neruda continued writing for the majority rest of his life. In the 1960’s Neruda began writing for the theater. He also, however, became a cancer patient during at that time. Neruda grew weaker and weaker and on September 23, 1973, died in a hospital in Santiago, Chile. Pablo Neruda wrote public-favorites and gained himself a poetic career that would mark him in history as a poet to be remembered.

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