Neruda, Pablo (Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto)

Pablo Neruda

Poet, diplomat affiliated since 1945 to the Communist Party, born in the city of Parral (central Chile) on July 12, 1904, under the name of Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto, later legally changed to the pseudonym. He is one of the 26 authors of the canon of western literature elaborated by Harold Bloom. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 and died two years later, supposedly of prostate cancer, in Santiago, Chile, exactly on September 23, 1973, twelve days after the bloody coup d’état against President Salvador Allende. His body was later exhumed due to the suspicion that Neruda had been poisoned during the days he remained hospitalized in the midst of the criminal repression ordered by Augusto Pinochet.

His adolescent poems later integrated his first book, Book of Twilight. From the age of 17 he began to use the pseudonym Pablo Neruda to avoid the reaction of his father, who did not want to have a poet son. At the Temuco High School he met Gabriela Mistral and in 1921 he moved to Santiago where he wrote avidly, published his first book and studied Education in French.

Neruda wrote: “Federico was the spendthrift elf, the centrifugal joy that collected in his bosom and radiated like a planet the happiness of living. Ingenuous and comedian, cosmic and provincial, singular musician, splendid mime, frightening and superstitious, radiant and gentle, he was a sort of summary of the ages of Spain.”

In 1927, he began his career as a diplomat in Burma. As consul of his country he worked in Ceylon and Singapore, among other destinations. Upon his return in 1933, he published one of his most important works, Residence on Earth. That year he was appointed consul in Buenos Aires, where he met up with Federico García Lorca, who had traveled for the premiere of Blood Wedding by Lola Membrives. The Pen Club of Buenos Aires prepared a tribute to both writers who took the opportunity to read their famous speech dedicated to Rubén Darío “because both García Lorca and I, without being accused of being modernists, celebrated Rubén as one of the great creators of poetic language in Spanish”.

Pablo Neruda and Federico García Lorca.
Pablo Neruda and Federico García Lorca.

The friendship between the two extended to the following years with the unexpected appointment of Neruda as ambassador to Spain in 1934. In Madrid he met Alberti and Miguel Hernández (“I met him when he arrived in espadrilles and peasant pants”), Manuel Altolaguirre and José Bergamín, Cernuda and Aleixandre, to Jorge Guillén and Pedro Salinas, aas well as Maruja Mallo and Gómez de la Serna…

Altolaguirre proposes that he should create and direct a magazine of verses, Green Horse for Poetry, whose first issue, of the five that lasted, appeared in 1935. In successive issues the magazine published Shelley’s Adonáis or the Fable of the Genil River by the Golden Age poet of the Granada-Antequera school Pedro Espinosa (“how much brilliance the golden and enamel stanzas of the poem gave off in that majestic typography!”). Federico, Cernuda, Aleixandre, Juan Ramón Jiménez and Alberti also collaborated in its pages. The sixth issue, dedicated to the Uruguayan Julio Herrera y Reissig (1875-1910), which was to appear on July 19,1936, was never published due to the Civil War.

That day (Federico was already in Granada to celebrate his father’s name day) Neruda had arranged with Lorca to attend a show at the Price Circus Theater, but he did not show up. “Federico was the spendthrift elf, the centrifugal joy that gathered in his bosom and radiated like a planet the happiness of living. Ingenuous and comical, cosmic and provincial, singular musician, splendid mime, frightening and superstitious, radiant and gentle, he was a sort of summary of the ages of Spain”, Neruda recalls.

In unpublished annotations to his memoirs found in 2017, Neruda addresses Federico’s homosexuality and recalls his sentimental relationship with Rafael Rodríguez Rapún. “Is the public sufficiently devoid of prejudice to admit Federico’s homosexuality without undermining his prestige?” he asks. Neruda glimpses a “Spanish way” to hide the sexual tendency: “To carefully hide this personal inclination of Federico. There is much in this attitude of respect for the murdered poet. But there is also the taboo of the sexual, the ecclesiastical heritage of the Spanish empire and colonization, the nineteenth-century hypocrisy”.

In unpublished annotations to his memoirs found in 2017, Neruda addresses Federico’s homosexuality and recalls his sentimental relationship with Rafael Rodríguez Rapún. “Is the public sufficiently devoid of prejudice to admit Federico’s homosexuality without undermining his prestige?”,he asks.

Upon learning of his assassination he writes the Ode to Federico, and a few months later, upon realizing that the Republic was being defeated, he publishes Span in our Hearts, which many of the crusaders took with them into exile and were then commandeered at the French border.

Tribute to Luis Cernuda in 1936.
Banquet offered to Luis Cernuda (presiding the table) at Los Galayos, then Casa Rojo, on April 29, 1936. Seated, from left to right: Eugenio Imaz, (unidentified), Helena Cortesina, Manuel Fontanals (hidden behind Cortesina), Santiago Ontañón, María Antonieta Agenaar, Concha Méndez, La Argentinita and J. E. Morena Báez. Standing, from left to right: Vicente Aleixandre, Federico García Lorca, Pedro Salinas, Rafael Alberti, Pablo Neruda, José Bergamín, Manuel Altolaguirre, María Teresa León and Víctor María Cortezo / Photo: FGL Foundation.

After his experience in Spain, his activism multiplies. In 1939, he is appointed special consul for Spanish immigration in Paris where he manages the Winnipeg project, the ship that took 2,000 Spaniards to Chile. In his country he founded the Alliance of Intellectuals of Chile. In 1945, he was elected senator and joined the Communist Party, which eventually cost him exile for several years. In 1950, he published General Song, returned to Chile two years later and received the Lenin Peace Prize.

In 1969, the Communist Party nominates him as a pre-candidate for the presidency of the Chilean Republic, although he chooses to cede the post to Salvador Allende. In 1971, while serving as ambassador in Paris, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Two years later, after Pinochet’s coup and Allende’s death, already very ill in his country, he retired to his house in Isla Negra, where he died.

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