April is National Poetry Month, and this year I’d like to honor one of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda. About 20 years ago, a friend gifted me a copy of Neruda: Selected Poems. My friend was bilingual in English and Spanish and like many of Neruda’s poetry collections, there is Spanish on the left hand side of the page and English on the right hand side.
In the Introduction to the book, Alastair Reid writes that in an interview Neruda said, “If my poetry has any virtue, it’s that it’s an organism, it’s organic and emanates from my body.” This statement resonated with me at a deep level, as I feel all my best poetry begins in my body. Most of my poetry, like Neruda’s, is full of emotions, and we tend to feel our emotions in our bodies. Everyone feels it in different parts, whether it’s the heart, neck, stomach or back.
Truth be told, I did not read the collection from front to back, but I flipped through seeing where my fingers landed. I was moved by each and every poem. So much of his poetry resonates deeply with me. His sensuous passion for life touches me. Neruda’s poetry, like much of my own, explores love, death, and life’s simple pleasures.
Neruda began writing poetry sometime between the ages of 10 and 13, about the same time I began jotting poems in my journal. In addition to odes and love poetry, he wrote surrealistic poems, political poems, and prose autobiography. While Neruda’s poems were all written in Spanish and translated into English, even in translation it’s easy to sense their tenderness, sensuality, and passion. While reading, one feels a strong undertone of melancholy.
Neruda said that he lived for his poetry and that his poetry nourished everything in his life that he had striven for. As an active poet, Neruda claimed that he fought against self-absorption and was able to settle the debate between the real and the subjective deep within himself. Known as the people’s poet, his words merged public and private concerns.
I believe writing is healing, especially when writing about personal subjects but at the same time, others can relate to the subject when universal truths are shared.
Like many creative writers and poets, Neruda was touched by early childhood trauma. His mother died within a month of his birth. This could possibly explain why his poems have an undertone of melancholy. This sort of early trauma can become even more intense as one ages.
We can only imagine how he reflected back on childhood, what it was like growing up without his birth mother, and how life could have been different had she not died.
Two years after his mother died, Neruda’s family moved, and his father remarried. While not much was written about his stepmother, his father did not inspire the young Pablo to write poetry. In fact, he tried to discourage him. His father didn’t like his poems, which was why Pablo began to publish his poetry using his chosen pseudonym, which we’ve all come to know as Pablo Neruda.
At the age of 14, he took the name from a magazine without knowing that it was the name of a beloved Czech poet whose monument stood in Prague. By the time Neruda was 20, he had published two poetry books and become one of Chile’s best-known poets.
I completely relate to what he says in his memoir: the writer’s work has much in common with the work of Arctic fisherman. “The writer has to look for the river, and if he finds it frozen over, he has to drill the hole in the ice. He must have a good deal of patience, weather the cold and the adverse criticism…”
Neruda was married three times. After his second divorce, he married Matilde Urrutia, a Chilean woman who, until his passing in 1973, inspired most of his passionate poems. According to Urrutia in her memoir My Life with Pablo Neruda, they first spotted one another in 1946 at a concert in Santiago, Chile. It was her deep love for him (and possibly her bohemian streak) that inspired and enticed him at the same time.
Neruda was the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. His poems have touched me and so many others in many ways, which is why I have dedicated my forthcoming chapbook, An Imaginary Affair: Poems Whispered to Neruda, to him. Each poem in the collection is in response to one of his poems.
Are you a Pablo Neruda fan? Has the poet touched you on some level? When did you first hear about him? What works have you read by him?
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I fell in love with Neruda’s poems when I was in my twenties and falling in and out of love. I have the small book of poems Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair and now in my sixties still read it and how deeply the poems still touch me.
Just started reading Pablo Neruda’s Love Poems. Thank you for introducing him. The poems are a true and unique expression of love.
Yes I always loved Neruda.
I am trilingual, French, Spanish, English.
Lived and studied in Madrid and loved a lot of Spanish poets, so many of them , I think the language is very welcoming to poetry.
Oh, Pablo…Neruda’s poetry touched me deeply beginning in my teens, reread over many decades since those tender times…His words are grounded in the physical, originating in his heart, written in words then launched into flight. A true Artist, Poet and Muse. Thank you for reminding me to pull his book from my collection…
My pleasure. Do check out my collection, AN IMAGINARY AFFAIR: POEMS WHISPERED TO NERUDA which i hope will motivate you even more!
Why check it “out”?
I am a poetry fan but had not heard of this one until today. He definitely warrants a read! Thank you for this.
Sure and thanks for reading my blog!