Romance and revolution: the poetry of Pablo Neruda - Ilan Stavans

Romance and revolution: the poetry of Pablo Neruda – Ilan Stavans

Pablo Neruda published his first
collection of poems at age 19. He went on to win the Nobel Prize
in Literature— and also rescue 2,000 refugees, spend three years in political exile, and run for president of Chile. A romantic and a revolutionary, Neruda was one of the most celebrated
poets of the 20th century, but also one of the most accessible and
controversial. Originally written in Spanish, his poems often use straightforward
language and everyday experience to create lasting impact. Neruda was born Ricardo Eliezer Neftalí
Reyes Basoalto in a small Chilean town in 1904. His father didn’t want him to be a poet, so at sixteen he began to write under
the pen name “Pablo Neruda.” The poems in his early collection "Twenty
Love Poems and a Song of Despair" were tender and perceptive, illuminating the subtleties
of love and enchantment. In "Poem VI," for example, he writes: “Tu recuerdo es de luz, de humo, de
estanque en calma!/ Más allá de tus ojos ardían
los crepúsculos.” Later, he poured this attention to detail
into poems of appreciation for everyday objects. Many of the 225 short poems in his
collection "All the Odes" are dedicated to the assortment of small, apparently insignificant items
that surround us, from a pair of shoelaces to a watermelon. An onion is más hermosa que un ave/ de
plumas cegadoras, while a tuna in the market is a bala
del profundo/ océano, proyectil natatorio,
te vi, muerto. Despite this early literary success, Neruda struggled financially, and took a series of diplomatic jobs
in places such as Burma, Indonesia, Singapore and Spain. In 1936, while Neruda was working at the
consulate in Madrid, civil war broke out and the government was overthrown
by a fascist military dictatorship. Neruda organized an evacuation of
refugees from Spain to Chile, saving 2,000 lives. Over a period of twenty years, Neruda captured his experiences abroad in
a three volume poetry collection titled "Residence on Earth." Many of these poems were experimental
and surreal, merging epic landscapes,
supernatural themes, and feelings of longing with discussion
of political strife and a poet’s responsibility to
speak out against injustice. In “I Explain a Few Things” he lingers on haunting details of the
destruction of the Spanish Civil War. For the rest of his life, Neruda remained committed to
revolutionary ideals. His politics led to several years of exile before he was able to return
to Chile in 1952. While in exile, he published his influential
"Canto General." The book attempts to retell the entire
history of Latin America through poetry, touching on everything
from its flora and fauna to its politics and wars, but above all paying homage
to the common people behind its civilizations’ achievements. Although he continued to travel, after returning from exile Neruda lived in Chile for the
rest of his life. In 1970, at age 66, Neruda ran for president of Chile before
yielding to Salvador Allende and becoming his close advisor. But in 1973, Allende was overthrown in a
military coup by General Augusto Pinochet. Neruda died in the hospital
a couple of weeks later. Because of the timing of his death
so soon after the coup, rumors swirled that he had died of sadness
or even been assassinated, but the hospital recorded his cause
of death as cancer. Today, Neruda’s lines are recited at
protests and marches worldwide. Much like his life, Neruda’s poems bridged romance and
revolution by emphasizing the everyday moments
worth fighting for.

21 thoughts on “Romance and revolution: the poetry of Pablo Neruda – Ilan Stavans

  1. One of the greatest. I never will forget my father's last words:

    Por qué no me lleva preso,
    Pa que se coma un choripán

    He went to buy cigarettes and never came back… Love you dad

  2. Jackals that the jackals would despise,
    stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
    vipers that the vipers would abominate
    Truly the most provoking lines ever

  3. Please give it a go with a portuguese author (Fernando Pessoa, Luís Vaz De Camões, José Saramago),household names still anonymous to a great number of people, as you guys have done beautifully well with some authors i had the pleasure of being stimulated to read because of your videos. Let me and others find paths yet closed to our imagination and delight.

  4. Pablo Neruda el gigante de America Latina, Chile y su amazing poetry.
    Neruda y el Winnipeg ayuda a los refugiados españoles.
    Su amor por la vida, su contacto con el con el mundo.
    Neruda el hombre de Temuco y Isla Negra.
    Love Neruda poetry

  5. Interesting. We also had guy called Pavel Neruda in Czech Republic. I wonder who of these two poets was phony. But given the narrative that it is typically Czechoslovakian name, we know who inspired who. Or.. perhaps some facts here are wrong?

  6. Para ser sincera nunca me ha llamado la atención la poesía pero me parece muy rica en emociones e interesante

  7. If you need a cry, read my favorite poem of his:

    Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

    Write, for example, 'The night is shattered

    and the blue stars shiver in the distance.'

    The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

    Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

    I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

    Through nights like this one I held her in my arms

    I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

    She loved me sometimes, and I loved her too.

    How could one not have loved her great still eyes.

    Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

    To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

    To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.

    And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

    What does it matter that my love could not keep her.

    The night is shattered and she is not with me.

    This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.

    My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

    My sight searches for her as though to go to her.

    My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.

    The same night whitening the same trees.

    We, of that time, are no longer the same.

    I no longer love her, that's certain, but how I loved her.

    My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.

    Another's. She will be another's. Like my kisses before.

    Her voice. Her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

    I no longer love her, that's certain, but maybe I love her.

    Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

    Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms

    my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

    Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer

    and these the last verses that I write for her.

    by not me

  8. Chile una tierra de grandes poetas y pianistas (es un dicho usado aquí en Chile). Gracias por el video, muy claro. Saludos de un profesor de literatura chileno!!

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