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In Neruda had returned to Chile, where he renewed his political activity, traveling throughout the country in and writing prolifically. During that year, his father died in May and his stepmother in August. In he was appointed as a special consul in Paris and given the task of supervising the migration to Chile of the defeated Spanish Republicans who had fled to France. He was away from his native country for a total of four years, traveling to Cuba and Guatemala but spending most of his time in Mexico.
Upon returning to Chile in , the poet visited Cuzco and the ancient Inca fortress of Machu Picchu during a short trip to Peru. This experience proved highly significant in the evolution of his poetry. Neruda was elected to the senate two years later and joined the Communist Party. In he also received the National Prize for Literature; that same year he began writing Alturas de Macchu Picchu translated as The Heights of Machu Picchu , , which was published separately in and became the cornerstone of Canto general.
Subsequently, he was arrested as a seditious politician. He went into hiding, living underground for several months, and finally in fled the country and went into exile, carrying a thick manuscript with him. During those years he had written the poems of Canto general, published in Mexico in and also underground in Chile.
The book was first intended as a long poem to Chile, but while in Mexico, Neruda transformed it into an epic poem about the whole American continent, its nature, its people, and its historical destiny. Shortly after its publication, Canto general was translated into ten languages. Many of the poems are undeniably political; yet, throughout the book there is a deep undercurrent of love for his native soil and for the continent, expressed in powerful but delicate lyric verses.
One of the best sections of Canto general is formed by Alturas de Macchu Picchu. Canto general is a poetic interpretation of continental history expressed in highly erotic love images. America is the bride and the woman raped by the pillaging European conquistadors, and later by multinational corporations such as United Fruit and Anaconda Mining.
At the same time, America is also the great mother, the feminine earth force configured into a large continent and into countries that were once inhabited by indigenous peoples and later invaded and conquered by Spaniards. Canto general, unified by a single vision, has been seen as inspired both by the Bible and by the poetic techniques of Whitman in Leaves of Grass Throughout its pages, the figures of the men and women who populated and created Latin America and suffered injustice and death appear against a magnificent background of mountains, forests, oceans, and volcanoes.
The voices of the common people speak; their everyday lives are described; and their struggles are sung by a poet who embraces their lives and their stories. The heroes are the indigenous American populations and the common men and women; the villains are the invaders, the conquerors, the dictators, and the multinationals.
Nature imagery is powerful in Canto general, and one of the most recognized symbolic representations found in the book is the tree, which represents the forceful surge of natural currents against an order imposed from outside. Neruda writes of more than the common man and the natural wonders of South and Central America , however. The exile that had started in turned out to be longer than Neruda had anticipated. He traveled and lived in Europe for three years with a Chilean woman whom he now loved, Matilde Urrutia. She was his secret inspiration for years since he was still married to del Carril and later became his third wife.
The book was written during the secret stay with Urrutia in Capri, and Neruda wanted to avoid hurting del Carril, hence his silent authorship. Del Carril and Neruda divorced in , after which he married Urrutia. The woman is represented as a combatant, and as such, will march through life with the poet; the lovers are united fighting for a cause. During this time Neruda also wrote Las uvas y el viento The Grapes and the Wind , a collection of poems published in In that work he recounts his travel during exile, under the influence of his political militancy, and, in the second part, the clandestine love affair with Urrutia.
The poet writes joyfully of his socialist commitment, although the harsh denouncing tone of some of his compositions is softened by the presence of his beloved companion.
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From the late s until his death, even though he touched on all the great themes he had already cultivated, his poetry is essentially personal. In the Chilean government withdrew the order to arrest leftist writers and political figures, and in that year Neruda returned to Chile and married Urrutia.
The return to the land of his birth was the beginning of a new period in his poetic evolution. Never had everyday objects, family life, and the essential substances of human existence been so elevated by poetry as in these deceptively simple verses. At the University of Chile, Neruda gave five lectures in which he explained the origins and evolution of his poetry and the trajectory that his verses had followed until then.
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In Odas elementales was published in Buenos Aires and received critical acclaim. In these poems, Neruda returns to the basic elements of life, whether they be an onion, the smell of firewood, a child with a rabbit, a pair of blue socks, fish soup, a dictionary, or the atom.
The poet abandons all artifice and rejoices in simplicity and purity, at the same time making an ideological statement: his materialistic view of life and politics. In a sense, the odes could be said to have been written in a realist style that sing the praises of earth, of human life and its most basic components. Together these three volumes include more than poems. Each poem celebrates being alive and enjoying the elements of ordinary life and examines objects as if they were under a microscope.
This approach, it has been said, can be explained also by the fact that Neruda was an accomplished naturalist, specializing in marine life, and an avid collector of shells a great part of his Nobel Prize cash award was spent on acquiring rare specimens. A stylistic detail important to the odes is the typographical arrangement of the poems.
Pablo Neruda, First Edition
In earlier collections Neruda had written in traditional Spanish meters or in long verses reminiscent of Whitman. This simplified syntax contributes to the poetic effect of describing each object in detail, step by step. In addition, the imagery in the odes has become transparent in its meaning. The poems of Residencia en la tierra often include strange visions in which objects and abstract ideas are inextricably fused, and his earlier poems are often forged in long, flowing verses full of symbolic images. In the odes, however, and in the books that follow, Neruda has achieved his mature style, which is far from obscure.
From the Spanish Civil War on, his poetry becomes simpler and simpler. By this time, translations of his works had been published in many languages, including Japanese and Persian.
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According to his close friends, Neruda was a vain man who expected, even demanded, praise from his critics; but he was also charming, good-humored, and a great conversationalist who enjoyed inviting people to his home and cooking for them. He collected many things, apart from shells: rare books, old bottles, knickknacks, postcards, and carved figureheads from ships. The royalties from his books had allowed him to build two new houses in which he often retreated from the world, one in Valparaiso, and the one that was his favorite during his last years, the wood and stone house in Isla Negra, facing the southern Pacific and its giant waves.
The house on Isla Negra became a veritable museum, filled with all the objects he collected. During these years, he wrote Estravagario ; translated as Extravagaria, , Cien sonetos de amor ; translated as One Hundred Love Sonnets, , and La barcarola , The Barcarole , as well as other texts of memoirs and travel prose.
Estravagario is a collection of diverse poems about life, on which the poet reflects—at times whimsically—with the maturity and serene gaze of a man who has seen much in the world. The opening poem sets the tone with its unconventional style and typography:. The act of reading this text requires an open, playful mind and a willingness to let go of preconceived notions about poetry. One can also see the influence of the vanguard poets, including the French and the Brazilians, in the creation of these lines that play not only with meaning but also with form.
His home at Isla Negra, which served as a retreat from the world, appears often in the pages of the collection. Sand, seashells, ocean waves, the objects he has collected throughout his life, and driftwood and other items floating in from the Pacific are all present in the poems, as is Urrutia. The poet counts and recounts, in a manner reminiscent of his enumerations in Residencia en la tierra, although here objects have the luminosity imparted to them by a mind at peace, not struggling with pain and human misery:.
Neruda published a slim volume of verse, Navegaciones y regresos Voyages and Homecomings , in These poems were meant to be a continuation of the ode cycle, and in the prologue Neruda defines and defends his art: the poet is a worker, a craftsman. As in the other volumes of odes, this book mostly shows the Chilean as a joyful poet, immersed in the wonder of nature. The topics he treats range from the sublime to the mundane, as they had before: there are odes to an anchor, to the wings of the swallows that return in September, to his pet cat, to an elephant, to a chair, to fried potatoes.
The setting for these poems is the house at Isla Negra; there are only two figures in the book, the poet and Urrutia. In the manner of a mystic poet, Neruda finds the intensity of his experience almost too much to describe in words, but he succeeds in conveying his passion as he had before during his younger years. Nevertheless, it is not of Urrutia alone that Neruda writes in these poems but also the objects that surround them and make up their lives together.
Their house, the beach, nature surrounding their space, and the elements of night and day are all part of the poetic world created in the book. In this work Neruda once more returns to his solidarity with the Communist cause.
The poems retain some of the flavor once displayed in Canto general, but as a whole, revolutionary fervor succeeds over poetic prowess. In the preface to the former collection, the poet explains:. Pero no olvidemos las piedras! This flinty book, born in the wastelands along the coast and in the mountain ranges of my country, has lived for twenty years in my mind The poet must sing with his countrymen and give to mankind all that pertains to being a man: dreams and love, light and darkness, reason and vagary.
But let us never forget the stones… We should never lose sight of these taciturn castles, the profile and bristling mass of our planet. In recognizing the sometimes austere reality of the Chilean landscape, Neruda mixes sadness and hope. Las piedras de Chile is both personal and public poetry.