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An Extraordinary Poet - An Extraordinary Life!
on July 1, 2003
Pablo Neruda's "Memoirs" is not a comprehensive autobiographical document. It is a personal memoir, recounted as if the author was sitting around a table, with good friends and a bottle of excellent Chilean wine, telling tales of the people, anecdotes and incidents that were so important in his life. "Confieso Que He Vivido," means I confess that I have lived. And Sr. Neruda certainly did that...with zest, zeal and so much talent. The translation by Hardie St. Martin is a good one, but it does not do justice to Neruda's beautiful skill with the Spanish language. He romances the language, like no other, even with his prose.
Neruda was born, the son of a railroad worker, in the then frontier wilderness of Southern Chile in 1904. He led a bohemian lifestyle, dressing in black "like the true poets of the last century," during his university years in Santiago. His shyness, the "kink in the soul,"...especially of women, took him a while to overcome. He describes the people and places of that period with great 'carino' (love). His political ideology began to form at that time also, and politics became an integral part of his writing. The Student Federation, student demonstrations and the subsequent repression, had a great impact on the young intellectual.
Neruda led a rich and fascinating life. World traveled throughout his life, he served as Chilean consul in Burma, Ceylon, and Java. He was the consul in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, and during this time "Nine Love Poems" from "Veinte Poemas de Amor y Una Cancion Desesperada" was published. It was at this time also, that his friend Federico Garcia Lorca was killed. Neruda was present in Paris to organize a worldwide anti-Facist congress of writers that would be held in Madrid. His writing about Spain during the war is heartbreaking. Returning to Chile in 1938, he found a burgeoning Fascist movement in his own beloved land.
I particularly enjoyed his account of the time he spent in Mexico, as consul. He tells of his encounters with the great Mexican painters there.
After returning home, Neruda ran for political office and was elected to Chile's Senate in 1945. He was later removed from his Senate seat after joining the Communist Party.
His friends included: Garcia Lorca, Ehrenburg, Picasso, Siqueiros, Diego Rivera, Octavio Paz, Miguel Angel Asturias, Gandhi, Nehru, Mao, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and most sadly, Salvador Allende.
Pablo Neruda's death, just weeks after the brutal murder of Chile's President Allende, is something I will never forget. I was living in Colombia at that time, and remember where I was and what I was doing when I learned of Allende's death, and later heard of Neruda's passing. It called to mind, then and now, my recollections, as a young girl, when President Kennedy's assassination was announced. I always thought Neruda died of a broken heart.
This is an exceptionally good memoir, told with great charm, in a series of vignettes. I highly recommend it, especially to anyone who has read and enjoyed Pablo Neruda's poetry - to my mind some of the most beautiful in the world. It also gives us a glimpse of the politics of the left from the point of view of a Latin American - not the usual perspective, and well worth while.