July 12, 2013: Pablo Neruda, Presente!
July 13, 2013
Gar Smith / Environmentalists Against War
Chilean poet and activist Pablo Neruda was born 99 years ago, on July 12, 1904. When the Chilean outlawed communism in Chile in 1948, a warrant was issued for Neruda's arrest. Years later, Neruda was a close advisor to socialist President Salvador Allende. When Neruda returned to Chile after his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Allende invited him to read at the Estadio Nacional before 70,000 people. The following poem was written after a visit to Neruda's home in Santiago.
Special to EAW
La Casa de La Chascona
A Visit to Pablo Neruda's House in Santiago
A calm flows from the mountainside.
A murmur spiced with the sound of birds
Envelops the enclave of Neruda and Matilda:
The upstairs café serves espresso
With bait-sized bits of 70% cacao.
Metallic Nerudafish and figurines
Hover near windows, catching light
As visitors wait to navigate Neruda's rooms.
Eyes rise to rooflines
Where the branches of trees
Erupt though outdoor decks
Crossing a wrap of metal rails
That raises a hint of unseen sails.
Beneath the sky, halfway to the open door,
We move in groups of ten—
in Spanish, French and Yankee—
And hear the story of the two lost streams.
Once, across this yard, two small rivers rolled,
Engraved in stone by Neruda's water-loving hands,
Today, though, only memories, dust, regret—
Neruda's peaceful cove another wound from Chile's 9/11.
With Pinochet's bayonets and bullets
and the hail of bombs that fell on La Moneda
Came angry troops whose hearts were filled with howls,
Whose mouths burned hot with hate for folks like Pablo.
In the vice of cancer in a far-off town,
Neruda heard his radio echo with the
Concussions of Santiago's struggle
As the Generals dropped dynamite on
The shoulders of Allende's embattled era.
Angry men with tortured hearts
Descended on Neruda's quiet, hidden home
Demanding the poet's blood.
Outraged to discover empty rooms—
No bones to crush, no flesh to tear—
They turned their madness on the poet's words.
His books were torn.
Letters thrown to the floor.
Flung through the glinting frames of broken windows,
Neruda's library turned to rubbish
In the sacramental yard
Where two innocent streams coursed,
Shoved into muddied heaps, by screaming men,
Neruda's books were used
To choke the water's song.
But water needs to flow.
Bowing to the landscape's call,
The brooks rose from their violated beds.
Words and water mixed and
tumbled in a mud-strewn swirl,
Filling the lower floors.
Ducts and tracts spilled down the stairwells
Carpets floating amidst a cascade of
poems spiraling away forever.
And then the flames.
As the anger took bright, all-consuming form,
Portraits left by celebrated friends
Presented over the dancing, wine-soaked years
Were chased by fire and madness.
Canvas curled crisp by hatred's furnace breath.
Neruda's home aflame.
Matilda's bed ablaze.
The thesaurus of an artist's life
Blown to smoke and ashes in the startled night.
And in the hills above Neruda's lair
Were lemurs in the city's zoo
Confused by sounds of human riot?
Were tigers dismayed by the scent
Of dreams devoured by hate and flame?
The metal hood falls.
The candle's gleam is snuffed.
A trail of smoke rises in the dying night
And all is dark.
-- Santiago, Chile. July 2012
Pablo Neruda (July 12, 1904 - September 23, 1973) was the pen name and, later, legal name of the Chilean poet, diplomat and politician Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto. He chose his pen name after Czech poet Jan Neruda. In 1971, Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Neruda became known as a poet while still a teenager. He wrote in a variety of styles including surrealist poems, historical epics, overtly political manifestos, a prose autobiography, and erotically-charged love poems such as the ones in his 1924 collection Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. He often wrote in green ink as it was his personal symbol for desire and hope with his poetry.
Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez once called him "the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language."
On July 15, 1945, at Pacaembu Stadium in São Paulo, Brazil, he read to 100,000 people in honor of Communist revolutionary leader Luís Carlos Prestes. During his lifetime, Neruda occupied many diplomatic positions and served a stint as a senator for the Chilean Communist Party.
When Chilean President González Videla outlawed communism in Chile in 1948, a warrant was issued for Neruda's arrest. Friends hid him for months in a house basement in the Chilean port of Valparaíso. Later, Neruda escaped into exile through a mountain pass near Maihue Lake into Argentina.
Years later, Neruda was a close advisor to socialist President Salvador Allende. When Neruda returned to Chile after his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Allende invited him to read at the Estadio Nacional before 70,000 people.
Neruda was hospitalised with cancer at the time of the Chilean coup d'état led by Augusto Pinochet. On 23 September 1973, Neruda died of heart failure; however, there are doubts as to whether or not the junta had a hand in his death.
Already a legend in life, Neruda's death reverberated around the world. Pinochet had denied permission to transform Neruda's funeral into a public event. However, thousands of grieving Chileans disobeyed the curfew and crowded the streets.