Pablo Neruda- the poet and his poetry

(tr. M S Merwin)
Leaning into the afternoons I cast my sad nets
towards your oceanic eyes.

There in the highest blaze my solitude lengthens and flames,
its arms turning like a drowning man's.

I send out red signals across your absent eyes
that wave like the sea or the beach by a lighthouse.

You keep only darkness, my distant female,
from your regard sometimes the coast of dread emerges.

Leaning into the afternoons I fling my sad nets
to the sea that is thrashed by your oceanic eyes.

The birds of night peck at the first stars
that flash like my soul when I love you.

The night gallops on its shadowy mare
shedding blue tassles over the land.

Pablo Neruda was already famous in Chile as a poet-explorer of women and of nature. His love-poems were so enormously popular that they were memorized by the youth of Spanish speaking world like proverbs or folk songs. But a turning-point in Neruda's life occurred on his posting to Barcelona as Chilean Consul, at the age of thirty, just before the Spanish Civil war.

It was the Spanish Civil War, it's ordinary atrocities as much as the death of his friend Lorca,that began Neruda's drive to create a poetry for and of the people.

(tr. Nathaniel Tarn)
You are going to ask: and where are the lilacs?
and the poppy-petalled metaphysics?
and the rain repeatedly spattering
its words and drilling them full
of apertures and birds?

I'll tell you all the news.

I lived in a suburb,
a suburb of Madrid, with bells,
and clocks, and trees.

From there you could look out
over Castille's dry face:
a leather ocean.
My house was called
the house of flowers, because in every cranny
geraniums burst: it was
a good-looking house
with it's dogs and children.
Remember, Raul?
Eh, Rafel?
Federico, do you remember
from under the ground
my balconies on which
the light of June drowned flowers in your mouth?
Brother, my brother!
loud with big voices, the salt of merchandises,
pile-ups of palpitating bread,
the stalls of my suburb of Arguelles with it's statue
like a drained inkwell in a swirl of hake:
oil flowed into spoons,
a deep baying
of feet and hands swelled in the streets,
metres, litres, the sharp
measure of life,
stacked-up fish,
the texture of roofs with a cold sun in which
the weather vane falters,
the fine, frenzied ivory of potatoes,
wave on wave of tomatoes rolling down the sea.

And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings-
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black frairs spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children's blood.

Jackals that the jackals would despise,
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate!

Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives!

see my dead house,
look at broken Spain :
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers,
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes,
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull's eye of your hearts.

And you'll ask: why doesn't his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land?

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
The blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
In the streets!

After a brief stint as Consul in Mexico, he was elected Senator and joined the Communist Party. He was constantly involved with workers and ordinary people. He began to read his poetry aloud at trade union meetings and political rallies. He later described the first of such readings as 'the most important fact in my literary career'.

(tr. Alastair Reid)
Whoever discovers the who of me will find out the who of you,
and the why, and the where.
Early on, I discovered the range of injustice.
Hunger was not just hunger,
but rather a measure of man.
cold and wind were also measures.
The proud man racked up a hundred hungers, then fell.
Pedro was buried at the hundredth frost.
The poor house endured a single wind.
And I learned that centimeter and gram,
spoon and tongue, were measures of greed,
and that the harassed man soon fell
in a hole, and knew no more.
Nothing more. That was the setting,
the real gift, the reward, light, life.
That was it, suffering cold and hunger,
not having shoes, feeling fear
in front of the judge, in front of the other one,
the other being with his sword or his inkwell,
and so, digging and cutting,
sewing, making bread, planting wheat,
hammering every nail the wood needed,
burrowing in the earth as in intestines
to drag out, blind, the cracking coal,
and, even more, going up rivers and mountains,
riding horses, tending to ships
baking tiles, blowing glass, washing clothes
in such a way as to make that seem
a kingdom newly brought into being,
grapes shining in their clusters,
when man set his mind on being content,
and was not, and was not so. I was discovering
the laws of misery,
the throne of bloodstained gold,
the whore freedom,
the land with no overcoat,
the wounded, worn-out heart,
and the sound of the dead, tearless,
dry, like falling stones.
And then I left off being a child
because I understood then that for my people
life was not allowed
and the grave has forbidden them.

When Chile's Communist Party chose Neruda as it's Presidential candidate, he stood down in favor of his friend Salvador Allende. Allende became the President and Neruda was appointed ambassador in Paris, and while serving there in 1971 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Soon after the US sponsored army coup in which his friend, President Allende was killed, Neruda died heartbroken.

Fittingly, his funeral became the first public demonstration against the military government covertly installed by US.
The struggle still continues in the form of protests against Gen. Pinochet.

more of Neruda:

Nobel PrizeInternet Archive:

Life And Times:( with extensive poetry links)

Poems of pablo neruda

Site dedicated to Pablo Neruda

Regine's Neruda page

Life of Pablo Neruda.

More Links...