Youth doesn’t come alone. The flux of youth often brings grief. sorrow and dejection tinged with melancholic blues. In the gloomy spring of our early youth we discover Pablo Neruda’s poetry and sitting alone in front of a glass window we see with an incurable numbness “The night gallops on its shadowy mare / shedding blue tassels over the land.” It is Neruda who first makes us aware that “Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” In a sense, in an arid desert where we went astray, Neruda’s poetry embraces us like a fountain of love and sprinkles its pious water all over our afflicted hearts.
Ricardo Eliécer Neftali Reyes Basoalto a.k.a Pablo Neruda lost his mother shortly after his birth in July 1904. While growing up under the watchful eyes of his disciplinarian father in ‘Temuco – a densely forested region in south Chile-Neruda devel- oped his immense interest in poetry. From his early childhood Neruda was a voracious reader. He indiscriminate- ly read Jules Verne, Victor Hugo and whatever came in his way. Neruda in his teens tried to translate the famous French symbolist poet Charles Baude- laire and also tried to tackle Miguel de Cervantes’ phenomenal novel “Don Quixote”. But Neruda’s father who was a railway employee and was. opposed to his son’s poetic aspirations-interrupted his literary practices. At the age of sixteen, leaving Temuco behind, Neruda arrived in Santiago to study French literature. But the memories of his birthplace never left him. Years later in the anthology of “Memorial de Isla Negra” (“Isla Negra”) he would write in a poem: “This rose of granite reminds me/ of something that dwelled in me or l in it.”
Neruda published his first book of poetry entitled “Crepusculario” (“Book of Twilight”) in 1923 when he was only nineteen and the following year his seminal poetry collection “Veinte poe-mas de amor y una canción desesper- ada” (“Twenty love poems and a song of despair”) saw the light of day. By that time Ricardo Eliécer Neftali Reyes Basoalto had metamorphosed himself into Pablo Neruda. The name “Pablo” had probably come to his mind from the fictitious character named “Paolo” created by Dante Alighieri and he changed his surname to “Neruda” after the Czechoslovakian writer ‘Jan Neruda’.
This second book of Neruda deals with the everlasting sorrow and grief of a lover whose deep despondency seems unconquerable to the reader. Apart from Neruda’s personal memo- ries and exquisite sensibilities he per- haps had treated Gabriela Mistral’s first poetry collection “Desolación” (“Desolation” or “Despair”) as a liter- ary source for the composition of his own poems. Mistral – who knew Neru- da from his childhood – was another Chilean poet and like Neruda she too would get acknowledged by the Swedish Academy of Letters in the coming years.
Mistral composed her gloomy verses in “Desolación” after the tragic death of her lover. So, the dejected melancholia of a failed love which Mistral cultivated in her poems are also apparently present in Neruda’s poems too. For instance in one of her poems Mistral wrote: “Let us go now into the forest/Trees will pass by your face/ and I will stop and offer you to them/ but they cannot bend down” and Neruda writes in one of his poems: “Ah vastness of pines, murmur of waves breaking / slow play of lights, solitary bell/ twilight falling in your eyes, toy doll / earth-shell, in whom the earth sings!” Giving life to the inan- imate objects such as trees, ocean, earth-shell and mourning in the lap of nature are two important poetic tools used by both of these Chilean Nobel
laureates in their poetic works. Six years before the publication of “Veinte poemas de amor y una can-ción desesperada”, T.S. Eliot’s “Prufrock and other observations” was published. In the opening poem of the book named “The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, Eliot portrayed a loveless man who questions his existence by asking “Do I dare / Disturb the uni- verse”? And he believes that neither the women who “come and go talking of michelangelo” nor the mermaids would ever pay any attention to him. Perhaps because he thinks he is ugly.
It is interesting to note that when Europe was dealing with this particu- lar modernist view of love and love- lessness, existential questions and the volcanic eruption of thoughts going on inside a modern man. Neruda’s poems stood in an exact opposite position to Eliot. The love Neruda portrayed was his lived experiences and the sensuali- ty he depicted was the memories of the moments he spent with Chilean girls. When for Eliot nature and his surroundings had become ill and he personified the evening as a “patient etherised upon a table”, Neruda com- pared his beloved’s thighs with “white hills.”
Later in life Neruda changed his poetic trajectory. Living as a self-exiled diplomat in South Asia, World war II. the Spanish civil war, Cuban revolu- tion, the upheavals in Latin America and every other significant incident stirred Neruda’s mind. His poetry became more political. Neruda-a lifelong member of the Communist party-came back to his country in 1952 to support his comrade Salvador Allende’s campaign for presidency. Then in 1970 Neruda himself was named the candidate for presidency but eventually he withdrew his nomi- nation in favor of Allende. During this period of twenty years when Neruda grew his interest in politics, he pub- lished “Canto General”, which is con- sidered one of his best works till date.
In a poem from the “Canto Gen- eral” entitled “United fruit company” Neruda criticized North American tyranny by saying: “With the blood- thirsty flies/came the fruit company/amassed coffee and fruit/ in ships which put to sea like overloaded trays with the treasures / from our sunken lands.” This is how Neruda became more political and the 1970 Chilean election was successful too as Allende won the presidency and the people of Chile got their first ever Marxist president.
However, the Chileans didn’t have a moment of rest and misfortune came knocking at their doors. After the violent coup d’état, Salvador Allende died in September, 1973 and after his tragic death Neruda too died in the same month of the same year. After all these years the death of Pablo Neruda has still remains a mystery.
Neruda has always remained empathetic towards the inhabitants of his country and this empathy is lucid in his Nobel prize speech. The Colom- bian writer Gabirel Garcia Marquez revered Neruda’s speech while receiv- ing his Nobel prize and said: “Eleven years ago, the Chilean Pablo Neruda, one of the outstanding poets of our time, enlightened this audience with his words. Since then, the Europeans of good will-and sometimes those of bad, as well have been struck, with ever greater force, by the unearthly tid- ings of Latin America, that boundless realm of haunted men and historic women, whose unending obstinacy blurs into legend.”
Like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and other Latin American writers and poets. Pablo Neruda too opened up the mouth of the dark tunnel by his optimistic words through which we the natives of a third world country can see the clear blue sky. These words of Neruda must always resonate in our ears “There is no insurmountable solitude. All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. And we must pass through solitude and difficulty, isolation and silence in order to reach forth to the enchanted place where we can dance our clumsy dance and sing our sorrowful song.”