Pablo Neruda was the pen name of Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, who was born in southern Chile in 1904, sold everything he had to publish his first book at 19, was a political activist at home in Chile and on diplomatic assignments in Spain and Mexico, was exiled by the conservative Chilean government in the 1940s, and returned home to a literary career as the greatest of Latin American poets, the people’s poet. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971, two years before his death.
Neruda was an amazingly prolific and wide-ranging poet, producing more than 40 volumes in his lifetime. Some consider the early love poems his masterpieces and many still reread them. But he was also known as a people’s poet, delineating the inner darkness he experienced as a young man in Asia (Residence on Earth, 1933), chronicling Latin American political history and social struggle in the epic he wrote in exile (Canto General, 1950), and always writing poems of daily life (Elementary Odes, 1954).
Neruda’s credo (from his Nobel Prize speech):
“I believe that poetry is an action, ephemeral or solemn, in which there enter as equal partners solitude and solidarity, emotion and action, the nearness to oneself, the nearness to mankind and to the secret manifestations of nature. And no less strongly I think that all this is sustained... by an ever-wider sense of community, by an effort which will forever bring together the reality and the dreams in us because it is precisely in this way that poetry unites and mingles them....
“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—but in this dance or in this song there are fulfilled the most ancient rites of our conscience in the awareness of being human and of believing in a common destiny.”
Where to begin:
- The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems (translators including Alistair Reid, Stephen Mitchell, Robert Hass, Stephen Kessler and Jack Hirschman, City Lights, 2004)
Just what its title says, essential. This new selection includes many new translations and has been greeted by readers with acclaim—reviewers have called it “indispensable” and “the best introduction to Neruda available in English.” The book’s editor, Mark Eisner, is also the executive director of Red Poppy, a non-profit dedicated to furthering Pablo’s commitment to humanitarianism and spreading his poetry around the world.
Books by Neruda (in translation):
- Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (trans. W.S. Merwin, Viking Penguin reprint, 1993)
The book that sparked Neruda’s international fame as a poet and eventually sold more than a million copies, an enduring favorite, full of erotic longing, sensuous and vibrant metaphor and spectacular romanticism, here in a wonderful translation.
- Residence on Earth/Residencia en la Tierra (bilingual edition, English trans. Donald D. Walsh, New Directions Press, 1973, reissue 2004)
Some consider this his most important work, profound in its probing of the human heart.
- 100 Love Sonnets/Cien Sonetos De Amor (bilingual edition, English trans. Stephen Tapscott, University of Texas Press, 1986)
“Joyfully, playfully erotic...” “passionate and imaginative...” these poems written for Neruda’s third wife, Matilde Urrutia, are among his most appealing works, justly counted as classics.
- Canto General (50th anniversary bilingual edition, English trans. Jack Schmitt, University of California Press, 2000)
Neruda’s epic “traces the history of Spanish America from the pre-Colombian innocence to present corruption” in more than 300 poems, always in the light of his Communist convictions.
- Odes to Common Things (bilingual edition, English trans. Ken Krabbenhoft, Little Brown & Company, 1994)
- The Book of Questions (bilingual edition, English trans. William O’Daly, Copper Canyon, 1991, 2nd edition 2001)
Poems in the form of questions, about life, death, rebirth, written in the last year of Neruda’s life.
- On the Blue Shore of Silence: Poems of the Sea (bilingual edition, English trans. Alastair Reed with illustrations by Mary Heebner, RAYO, 2004)
A new selection published in honor of Neruda’s centenary.