Oct/Nov 2004 Book Reviews

True Stone and Epitaph: The Poetry of Pablo Neruda

The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems
Mark Eisner, Ed.
San Francisco: City Lights Publishers (2004) 222 pages
ISBN 0-87286-428-6

Review by Gilbert Wesley Purdy

The year 2004 is the centennial of the birth of the poet Pablo Neruda. As a result, the already considerable amount of work published annually by and about the poet has increased exponentially. City Lights' 100th birthday gift is The Essential Neruda, a selection of poems, edited by Mark Eisner, a visiting scholar at Stanford University's Center for Latin American Studies.

Neruda was born Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, on July 12th, 1904, in Parral, Chile. Chile is a land with a diversity of climates, and Parral is in the temperate-zone. His mother died of tuberculosis a month after he was born. His father moved the family to Temuco, a frontier outpost in the far south of the country, where the young Richardo grew up among half finished houses and torrents of rain.

The poet seems to have thought of himself as a sickly child, but the details suggest a happy, healthy childhood on the edge of the civilized world. He was much too bookish and shy for his circumstances, true, and this may be the source of his sense of fragility. When he left Temuco, at sixteen years of age, for college in Santiago, Chile, he was already regularly writing poetry and had begun translating from the works of favorite European authors.

Basoalto was born at just the right time to become Neruda. The major cities of South America contained a mixture of European cosmopolitanism and New World naivete. The literati of Santiago were well informed of the movements underway on the other side of the Atlantic. They were in the process of adding a few ideas of their own into the mix. At the same time, the young poets and other artists of the city lived among peasants and stunning, discontinuous landscapes. The decadence that so many European artists clung to as their birthright was far less in evidence in the work or the lives of their South American counterparts.

Moreover, poets were still allowed to hold diplomatic posts—an old custom that European countries had nearly brought to an end and that the U.S. had never taken up. While Pablo Neruda—the name under which Basoalto's poems began to appear as of 1920—was living from hand to mouth and being published in Chile's finer literary journals, he suddenly found himself a member of the Chilean diplomatic corps. Presented with a list of available postings, he chose the name of the foreign city he knew the least about: Rangoon, Burma. He did not even know how to find it on a map.

As consul to Rangoon, his tasks were not onerous. His voyage to the city actually amounted to a tour of Europe and the Far East. He made his first visits to Paris and Madrid, communed with the ghost of Rimbaud at Djibouti, was robbed in Shanghai, and arrived in Rangoon after what would have been a lifetime of experiences for most people. For him it was only the beginning of a life of adventure and poetry that would make him an almost legendary figure.

Such minor diplomatic posts were apparently provided, from time to time, by the governing elite of the country, to educate promising young Chileans in the ways of the world. Burma, India, Ceylon, India again, Java and Singapore: Neruda's posting changed almost yearly. In the process he met Mahatma Gandhi and the Nehrus. His sense of the injustice of colonialism had already begun to form, and his attendance at the great Panhindu Congress, of 1929, encouraged it even more.

The work of a consul was nowhere particularly burdensome nor was the salary ever sufficient, and the young consul was left with long stretches of days to fill as best he could. He spent the time learning the local landscapes, seeking beautiful lovers, and, most of all, reading. After leaving the university and his homeland, he began desultorily reading the great works of the western tradition. He also continued his already extensive reading in Rilke and the great French writers from Baudelaire to Proust.

His own poetry was proceeding apace. His Twenty Love Poems and a Desperate Song (1924), first published some years before he left for the Far East, had already brought him a degree of fame in his homeland. It remains among his more popular books, and four selections from it appear in The Essential Neruda.

The Enthusiastic Slingsman (1933) and the first part of Residence on the Earth (1933) appeared during a two year hiatus in Chile from his diplomatic duties. The country had undergone a massive financial crisis, and his diplomatic post was suspended. He returned to find the Chilean currency all but worthless and jobs all but impossible to come by. He managed to find part-time positions in two different government ministries and watched from relatively comfortable circumstances as the workers of the country attempted to establish communist-style soviets. Six selections from Residence on the Earth appear in The Essential Neruda.

Neruda's early works are overtly romantic in tone. The sentiments are almost embarrassing at times, as in the poem "I like it when you're quiet" selected from Twenty Love Poems:

It's as if, a butterfly in dreams, you were my soul...

Such lines are saved only by the disarming naivete of a young poet. He also borrowed, with effect, from the poets that he loved, as in these lines mindful of the end of Rilke's "The Lay of the Love" and "Death of the Cornet Christopher Rilke," in which the swords of the infidels, overwhelming the Cornet, are "a festival./A laughing fountain"1

...for me who enters singing,
like a sword among the defenseless.

Rilke had been even more shameless in his romanticism, early in his own career, and, throughout the world, the ladies of Basoalto's childhood swooned to read of the death of the handsome Cornet.

The first two volumes of Residence on the Earth (1933, 35) can be said to round out a youthful poet's normal obsession with the themes of love and death. The poems are much darker, the images often brazenly violent in imitation of the poet Rimbaud. At times they strive to be Baudelairean. In the poem "Ode with a Lament," he takes Baudelaire's signature confession as his own:

incessantly I survey myself in mirrors and windows...

But he shares neither the narcissism nor the masochism of the author of Les Fleurs du Mal. Like Baudelaire, the favorite trick of the volume is to indulge his ennui, but he is much too active, much too positive to suffer either the corrosive or the creative depths of it. The effects are generally no more than derivative. The poet of Residence on the Earth, capable as he is, has still not found himself.

When he returned to his diplomatic career, Neruda was a poet respected throughout the educated population of Chile. Correspondingly, his assignments were now in Europe: Barcelona, Madrid, Paris. He established ties with the poet Garcia Lorca, whom he had first met during a brief assignment as consul to Buenos Aires in 1933. He moved in the company of the great names of early twentieth century European art and literature: Picasso, Lorca, Eluard, de la Serna, Cernuda, Alberti, and others too numerous to mention. He rented a Madrid apartment, dubbed "the House of Flowers," which became a center of the artistic life of Madrid. At the same time, his activities among the artists of Europe were being reported back to the government of Chile by his superiors and the transatlantic news services. As a result, he was dismissed from the diplomatic service. Still he remained abroad. Fascism was on the march, and he was at the forefront of a series of international efforts to oppose it. As World War II approached, he had become a poet revered throughout Europe and South America.

After another brief return to Chile, Neruda was named a special consul and returned to Paris in order to supervise the emigration to Chile of Spaniards who had been on the defeated Republican side during the Spanish Civil War. During most of the World War itself, he served as the Consul General to Mexico. The position was a prestigious one in line with his growing international notoriety. He resigned from the diplomatic service in 1943 and returned to Chile where some two years later he would be elected senator from a desperately impoverished mining region.

During these years, he wrote a number of scattered poems and chapbooks that would later be gathered together under the title Third Residence. It is with this volume that Neruda first comes fully into his own. The single selection from the volume included in City Lights' Essential Neruda, "I Explain Some Things," is a particularly felicitous choice:

do you remember my house with balconies on which
the light of June drowned flowers in your mouth?

The lines are redolent of Lorca, yes, but there is something more that is distinctly Neruda. The streets are filled with "piles of throbbing bread." The poet is openly marshalling his forces for a concentrated attack on Fascism—for a concentrated celebration of the downtrodden.

This was the house he had lived in when the Spanish Civil War began in 1936: the House of Flowers. Later in the same poem, the fairytale existence he recalls is demolished, just as the house was bombarded into rubble:

Bandits with airplanes and with Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars making blessings,
kept coming from the sky to kill children,
and through the streets the blood of the children
ran simply, like children's blood.

Any illusions the poet once had are gone. Yet the loss does not result in despair. He loves life too much to despair for long. Instead it arrives at a trademark contrasting of joyful recollection and present devastation, of brotherhood and exploitation, of celebration and accusation.

A year after the war, in 1946, the newly elected senator was named the campaign manager for the presidential candidate Gabriel Gonzalez Videla. Videla ran as a populist. He was elected and immediately realigned himself with the wealthy elite of the country and their powerful U.S. allies. His campaign manager's subsequent speeches on the floor of the senate were scathing. We can get the sense of those speeches in the poem "They received orders against Chile," from the volume General Song. Mark Eisner has generally stayed away from the more strident political poems for The Essential Neruda and this poem is not among the 11 selections taken from Song:

We must arm Chiang and the infamous Videla,
we must give them money for prisons, wings
with which to bombard compatriots, we must give them
a bit of bread, a few dollars... 2

The senator was suspended from his office and an order was issued for his arrest. Once in custody, it is all but certain that he would have been killed.

The story that Neruda tells, in his Memoirs, I Confess That I Have Lived (1974), of his escape through Chile and over the Andes Mountains into Argentina, is almost magical. He had given poetry short shrift for some years, in favor of his political activities, and suddenly he returned to it while hiding out in dark corners of the homes of Chilean sympathizers. By then he was a member of the Communist Party, and the party leadership struggled to arrange his escape. The usual mishaps occurred. Capture often seemed imminent. By the time he and his guides finally emerged on horseback from the wild, lawless Andean passes, safely into Argentine territory, he had passed through yet another lifetime of adventures.

The volume on which Neruda was working during his exile was his personal favorite: General Song. Its "Fugitive" poems attest to the fact that he was actively at work on the manuscript as he fled the Videla government. The poems of Third Residence had been a European prelude of sorts to this resoundingly New World collection. While there is the blending of celebration and lament, love and death, light and dark that speaks of strength tempered by experience, there is moreso a sense of having to prove himself to his people, to the campesinos for whom, to that point, he had chosen not to suffer. There is a lingering guilt to be atoned for:

—I grew and grew
hardened by the miserable alleyways,
without compassion, singing on the frontiers
of delirium.

Rather than sing for his own people, in their need, he had submerged himself in a personal dereglement. The volume is filled with rage at European colonials, and praises freedom fighters such as Tupac Amaru, Bernardo O'Higgins and the Haitian revolutionary Toussaint L'Ouverture. The context of the poet's great poems is forged here, and a number of those poems are composed in the process. A bridge is being built from his earlier Eurocentric, personal, aesthetic poetry to his mature, engaged, resoundingly Latin American poetry.

The thought that he might never return to his homeland had sharpened his hunger for it. His political experiences had taught him how impossible it would be to align himself with its government any longer. He serenaded its people from a distance: no longer as a member of that government or a European poet but as a full blood relative, a common Chilean, a brother. In this way he could also be there once again, in his thoughts; he could be surrounded by its beauty and appeal for its dignity.

During Neruda's exile, the Chilean government tried, from time to time, to have him repatriated for trial. The artists and revolutionaries of the world repeatedly rose to his defense. In Italy, finally, the ubiquitous presence of a world renowned Communist in the midst of a teetering postwar recovery, in which the Communist Party was making surprising gains throughout the country, brought matters to a head. He began to be followed by the police. The demand of the Chilean government that the fugitive be expelled began to sound sensible to the authorities. As the Italian government prepared to invalidate his visa, protests were arranged to let it know the people's mind. European intellectuals of every stripe began a counteroffensive. Within days he received an invitation to take a house on the Isle of Capri where he would be out of the limelight.

By the time his European exile ended, some three years after it had begun, Pablo Neruda was a legendary poet and citizen of conscience. His became a life of international conferences and congresses interspersed with periods of politics, rest and writing in Chile. With the exception of a brief arrest in Buenos Aires—in Argentina, once the land of his deliverance—he was welcomed wherever he went. Everywhere, that is, except for the United States, where his Communist Party membership and his support for populist movements throughout the globe made him highly suspect.

Beginning with the first volume of the Elemental Odes (1954), the war, betrayal and exile no longer dominate the poetry. Neruda's work begins to grow more personal, less political. Flashes of the poet of Third Residence and General Song are rarely maintained for more than a few lines. The long Whitman-esque lines grow short, often containing a single word. The subjects are nature, children, friends, lovers. Having passed the age of fifty, there is also the occasional sense of nostalgia for times when careening motor bikes didn't harry pedestrians.

While the three volumes of Elemental Odes (1954, 56, 57) were generally well received by his public, some were heard to say that they were facile. Mark Eisner has selected four poems from among them. These lines from "Ode to a Chestnut on the Ground" remind the reader that the volumes were not without their moments:

as a violin that has just
been born in the treetops
and falls
offering the gifts locked inside it,
its hidden sweetness...

Rarely has a fallen chestnut spilled such music.

As the years passed, Neruda more often sought the refuge of his Isla Negra home by the sea (one of several he owned in and around Santiago). He aged gracefully until he became the poet, so famously described in the introduction to an interview with Rita Guibert, who:

...in whatever part of the world he happened to be... frequented antique shops and junk shops... in which he sought all kinds of objects, from doors and windows to ship figureheads, sextants, lanterns, bells, anchors, sea shells.3

His home was decorated in a shipboard motif. Visitors were ferried through a gallery furnished with a bide and pipe organ to a patio bar overlooking the sea. From time to time he served them Chilean wine there "in a porcelain jar in the form of a bird that sang when it was tipped."

This is the poet who, Guibert marvels, could, while at breakfast, keep up a voluminous correspondence, correct printer's galleys and "compose a long poem in a short time with few corrections." As might be expected, the volumes between General Song (1950) and Plenary Powers (1962) suffer for the attention they did not receive. That Mark Eisner has chosen only two poems from The Book of Vagaries (1958) and two from One Hundred Love Sonnets (1960)—that three volumes are not represented at all—is in line with the fact, however much it needs saying, that the choices from the Vagaries are probably not the best. "To the Foot from Its Child," arguably the single best poem between the two volumes, does not appear:

The child's foot does not yet know it is a foot,
it wants to be a butterfly or an apple.

While these delightful first two lines are the best in the poem, a level is sustained, throughout, that reminds the reader of earlier, more rigorous efforts.

With the exception of three posthumous poems, the volumes covered by The Essential Neruda end with the Memorial from Isla Negra (1964). The publisher claims to have made a "definitive selection" and it would not be unfair to agree that the poetry after the Memorial does not measure up to the work that went before. While the poet himself became more overtly involved in the political process of Chile, the poetry became facile and more personal. Or perhaps Robert Bly said it better, in his own interview with the poet, when he referred to the later poems as "more human, and affectionate."4

After his tireless campaigning for the Communist party ticket in the 1964 elections, Neruda himself was chosen as its candidate for President in 1970. He took the nomination very seriously and agreed to the interview with Guibert as candidate as much as poet. Poetry and politics had been inextricably intertwined in his life since the volume Third Residence. In this later variation, it was his notoriety as a poet that made him a meaningful candidate for the presidency, regardless that his party had the most limited influence, and an attractive subject for an interview.

Some thirty years later, it is perhaps too easy to forget the Neruda who battled the powers of imperialism tooth and nail, poetry and prose. The enemies of his people were too powerful, the battle too important, to mince words. Guibert's questions were answered in a most impolitic way:

[P]eople hoped for such extraordinary prowess from North Americans (which they have accomplished at times, as in their exploration of the moon) that one must ask oneself: How can this land dedicate all of its power to extermination and terror? It seems good to me that people have asked themselves such questions as what it is to be a human being, that it also has arrived at doubting the system, the establishment, and it has begun to produce the skepticism and often the desperation that one sees about the North American way of life. Furthermore, the infinite wave of terrorism, the criminal acts, like the death of Martin Luther King, of President John Kennedy, of Senator Robert Kennedy, and the killings committed by teenagers, criminals of a new type, incredible, demoniacal, those about whom Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood, or the crimes of Charles Manson, are not isolated cases, they connect to one another forming a thread that one must see together with a moral crisis of the system.

While he was directly referring to what he perceived as a moral collapse in the U.S. and the resulting terror it was unleashing in Viet Nam, his comments extended to the imperial role played by the U.S. in all its economic dominions. The poet was one of the few effective international voices that spoke for the poor in Chile, and throughout the world, and he strove to fulfill his responsibilities to the utmost.

This had earlier manifested itself, in such volumes as Third Residence and Canto General in extraordinary ways. Aware that political poems that lose their connection to poetry uniformly are failures, he remembered always to go to poetry for his strength, for the strength of his argument. Poetry was the ideal place to put the people into the equation. Even in the less overtly political selections generally chosen for The Essential Neruda, the particular relationship of the poetry to the people is new:

Shake the hard bread of the wretched poor
out from the ground, show me the servant's
clothes and his window.
Tell me how he slept when he lived.
Tell me if he snored,
if his dreams were half-open, like a black hole
dug by fatigue into the wall.

This is powerfully political because it is powerfully human, not because it is a "political poem." While its predecessor is clearly Walt Whitman, it just as clearly goes beyond the radical pantheism of the Good Gray Poet. There is a great deal that it does not celebrate.

Realizing that the Chilean left was badly fragmented, and that he and his slate of candidates had little chance of being elected, Neruda participated in the formation of a coalition called the Popular Unity Party. The UP named Salvador Allende as it presidential candidate. The poet resigned his candidacy and began to campaign vigorously for the Unity candidate.

When Allende was elected, the Nixon administration went immediately to work to prevent his inauguration by calling upon the C.I.A. to arrange a coup from among disaffected officers in the Chilean army. With so little time between election and inaugural, the coup failed. As the day of Allende's ascension grew near, Edward Korry, the American Ambassador, proclaimed that "Not a nut or bolt [would be] allowed to reach Chile under Allende." The new President graciously nominated Neruda as ambassador to France as one of his first acts in office.

Within days of the election, the U. S. State Department initiated a policy of covertly cutting off all economic aid and intercourse with the nation while funding and arming opposition elements. The senior officials of the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the U.S. Import-Export Bank immediately obeyed the broad hints issuing from the administration. Loans were cancelled retroactively. No new loans would be arranged. It was intended that the hardships that would result from the economic blockade would make the Allende government sufficiently unpopular that a successful coup would develop from within.

In October of 1971, as these events continued to unfold, Pablo Neruda was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. President Allende personally extended his congratulations via telephone. During a Presidential press conference, he declared the prize a great honor for all of the country's citizens. Chileans were ecstatic. The streets erupted in national flags and celebrations.

When the new Nobel Laureate ascended the podium in Stockholm, Sweden, to deliver his acceptance speech, he did not forget them, or any of those, throughout the world, who suffered with them:

rather than to repeat the worship of the individual as the sun and centre of the system, I have preferred to offer my services in all modesty to an honorable army which may from time to time commit mistakes but which moves forward unceasingly and struggles every day against the anachronism of the refractory and the impatience of the opinionated. For I believe that my duties as a poet involve friendship not only with the rose and with symmetry, with exalted love and endless longing, but also with unrelenting human occupations which I have incorporated into my poetry.5

While the occasion was too exalted to allow for politics, no matter how heartfelt, or how pressing the issues, he could explain what founded his poetry. His battle against Fascism and Imperialism—his championing of the common man—had become an integral part of what writing was all about for him.

The reactions of Kissinger and crew, waiting none too patiently for the collapse of the Chilean economy, and their subsequent coup, seem not to have been recorded. Allende had nationalized many of Chile's industries. He had increased the minimum wage, which increased consumption and reduced unemployment over the short term. Most of the major companies in the country had been owned by wealthy American investors who were the inspiration of the U.S. State Department's impatience.

In 1972, the lack of loans, investment capital and spare parts began to undermine the economy. The price for copper—the country's economic mainstay—had fallen at the same time. Public transportation ground to a halt as broken down vehicles could no longer be repaired for lack of parts. Pablo Neruda was invited to participate in a P.E.N. Club meeting in New York City to commemorate his hero Walt Whitman. Only the machinations of the U.S.'s own most politically influential poet, Archibald MacLeish, had managed to arrange that one of Neruda's international reading tours would start briefly in the states in 1966. After having won the Nobel Prize, presumably no such intervention should have been necessary in his behalf. This brief stop proved to be his last visit to the country. His much-awaited speech creatively wandered from the topic to a call for the U.S. government to relinquish its stranglehold on his beloved country.

Late in the year, the poet resigned his ambassadorial post due to health problems. He had been battling cancer for some two years and was no longer up to the rigors of active political life. From his Isla Negra retreat, he issued marching orders to the artists of the country, assigning them regions to canvas for the UP in the upcoming mid-term elections. He instructed them to explain what the C.I.A. and U.S. State Department were doing in an attempt to destroy their government. The C.I.A., for its part, was busy funding and providing information and expertise to the opposition. Allende had deftly outmaneuvered opposition majorities in the Chilean congress. If those majorities were expanded by even a small amount, the votes would be available to impeach him. Against all predictions, with the country in desperate economic straits, which it knew would be relieved if it would return power to U.S. backed politicians, the UP gained a considerable number of seats. The "People's Revolutionary Government" would continue, and Allende's fate was sealed. Nixon had no intention of putting up with three more years of socialist rule in Chile.

It has been claimed that Neruda heard the final radio announcements that the Chilean President made as his presidential palace, La Moneda, was being strafed and bombarded by the planes of his country's own military. Initially, the announcements were confident and forceful. With each new transmission, to the few of his people who could hear him, the radio transmission tower having been among the first targets destroyed, his instructions grew more desperate. At the last, he called upon them to persevere, by non-violent means, in memory of his death. The revolution must live on. He was reportedly found shot by his own rifle, a gift from Fidel Castro. The date was September 11th, 1973.

The poet's wife had been told that he might have a year or two left to him if he lived quietly. He watched as all he had hoped for was irrecoverably shattered. The workers were being fired upon. The peasants were being fired upon. There was wholesale slaughter. In the end, tens of thousands would be murdered. Pablo Neruda died of a heart attack on September 23rd.

It should be clear that no 200 bilingual pages selected from Neruda's work can properly be considered "definitive." What can be said is that the poems included in The Essential Neruda are well chosen as the rule. The decision—if there was a formal decision—to sample sparingly from the more strident political poems surely had more to do with the times than editorial predilection.

Still better chosen were the translators. They include Robert Hass, Stephen Mitchell and Alastair Reid. The group as a whole is drawn from among the finest in the field. With the exception of a single poem, "Walking Around," translated by Forrest Gander, their work is never less than solid and often exceptional.

Eisner is something of the junior partner among the translators and occasionally shows it by trying to help Neruda out with an extra-textual word or two. Simple answers sometimes escape him, as when he translates auroral alfombra as "rose carpet," not realizing that "auroral carpet" is exact in meaning, sound and slightly exotic tone. Only in the poem "I Explain Some Things," however, does something essential fail to make the journey from Spanish to English. The final lines, as rendered by Eisner, are:

Come and see the blood in the streets,
come and see
the blood in the streets,
come and see the blood
in the streets!

Neruda himself clearly used venid a ver—together with the choice of line breaks—to achieve a specific effect here:

Come to see the blood in the streets,
come to see
the blood in the streets,
come to see the blood
in the streets!

The meaning of the first "come" is captured in the translation. Come then comes to have another meaning in the original that does not survive the translation. Those who have eyes but can not see, as it were, must come to see. The effect of the double entendre together with the change in emphasis affected by repeating the line broken into differently stressed clauses is striking.

Another of the translations by Gander, "There's No Forgetting," contains one of those small lapses which unfortunately alters the poem. "I would have to talk/with shattered things" might better be translated something along the lines of "I would have to reply" or "express myself" in order to make clear that, in the original, the possessive sense of with is intended rather than the conjunctive.

On the other side of the ledger, Gander's "disfortune" for "desgracias," in "Ode with a Lament," is an especially nice answer to a small but difficult problem. Robert Hass's use of "throaty" for "enroquecida" in "Barcarole," a beautifully translated poem about a notably phallic heart, is inspired. Hass also does especially well, in the poem "Only Death":

No question, you can hear death's footsteps,
and its clothes rustle, quiet as a tree.

These deft touches are far more representative of the volume as a whole. Surely, The Essential Neruda, distinctively packaged in trade paper format with glossy red poppy on poppy-red cover front and back, with its uncluttered one poem to a page layout, is better done, on every level, than any selected Neruda to date.

The body of Pablo Neruda, Nobel Laureate, unofficially lay in state for several days, in his bedroom at the house he called "La Chascona" in Santiago. The house had been sacked, and little more than the shell remained. A nearby canal had been diverted into the Santiago streets during the coup, and the ground floor was covered with mud and water. To this tenebrous, ghostly place, strewn with debris, came friends, workers, newspaper photographers and foreign dignitaries, as Neruda's widow kept vigil. As General Augusto Pinochet—the newly installed dictator—was ordering the deaths of thousands throughout the country, he sent an aide to offer condolences and to announce that three days of official mourning would be declared. The offer was received with silence.

It would not be possible to bury the poet at Isla Negra as he had directed. He was processed to the family mausoleum of a friend. The media respectfully took no pictures in order to protect the identities of those who participated. As the police and army followed at a sometimes uncomfortably close distance, the crowd sang La Internationale and boldly shouted Communist slogans, all of which in other circumstances would have resulted in their death.

In a way, all of this was perfectly as it should be. The crowd also recited Pablo Neruda's poetry during the procession that day. On that day, as on any day, then and now, thousands throughout the world read that poetry, and not only as a political statement but for its personal insight, its beauty and its love of life as well. On that day, as on any day, it gave them strength, comforted them. No matter where his body lies, Pablo Neruda's poetry will always be his true resting place, his true stone and epitaph.6


1 Rilke, Rainer Maria. The Lay of the Love and Death of Cornet Christopher Rilke trans. M. D. Herter Norton. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1963. 67.

2 All unattributed translations throughout this essay are by the author.

3 Guibert, Rita. "Pablo Neruda: Entrevista con Rita Guibert." Siete voces. Mexico: Editorial Novaro, S.A.,1974. Literatura.us. 26 August 2004 http://www.literatura.us/neruda/guibert.html.

4 Bly, Robert. "The Lamb and the Pinecone." Neruda and Vallejo: Selected Poems ed. Robert Bly. Boston: Beacon Press, 1971. 156-164@159. The interview was subsequently reprinted in this volume, another chronological selected poems, shortly after the poet's death, and which ended, still earlier, with three selections from the Elemental Odes.

5 Neruda, Pablo. "Toward the Splendid City." Nobel e-Museum. 26 August 2004 http://www.nobel.se/literature/laureates/1971/neruda-lecture-e.html . Translation by Nobel e-museum.

6 This description of Neruda's wake and funeral has been distilled from Teitelboim, Volodia. Neruda: an intimate biography. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991. 470-479.


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