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pablo nerudaSunday, 11.7.04: Pablo Neruda

Today -- from the exile Goya to the exile Neruda. Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was a Chilean poet. He managed to be both poet and activist and in 1971 won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Along the way, he was a communist and his periods of being a Chilean diplomat alternated with periods of being in trouble -- depending on whether the Right or the Left was in power. His diplomatic travels opened is eyes to the world. He was especially affected by his time in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. He did much traveling for his causes, but finally wound up being persona non grata with his government. From his Nobel Prize bio:

Due to his protests against President González Videla's repressive policy against striking miners in 1947, he had to live underground in his own country for two years until he managed to leave in 1949. After living in different European countries he returned home in 1952 [when the arrest warrants were rescinded].

During part of this exile he lived on an obscure island in Italy. Based on this tidbit, the movie Il Postino was made. The story is told from the perspective of a simple postman assigned to deliver Neruda's mail. Neruda writes gorgeous love poems and women adore him, so the postman thinks there must be something to this poetry business. Neruda is amused and indulgent but then he goes back to his real life and the postman is left to discover his own poetry.

Until we saw the movie last week, I'd forgotten all about Neruda. In college I majored in Spanish literature. When I graduated in 1970, he was at his peak of fame. It's funny -- I don't remember him as a poet of lush sensuality. Maybe this was because I went to a Catholic women's college, where the faculty was more interested in revolution than in boy-girl kinds of things. Or maybe -- because I was reading in Spanish -- I simply didn't have the vocabulary or experience to appreciate his delicacy.

As a member of my collection of artist-dissident-exiles, Neruda stacks up this way:

He didn't write protest poetry -- at least not in the beginning. He exalted in women and words. I read that there is a Latin American tradition to give poets diplomatic posts. So he walked into the political world and I suspect Chile didn't know what a spitfire they had unleashed. His politics and his art were distinct from one another. Neruda was out front with his political beliefs and didn't have to convey them metaphorically in his poetry. Maybe it was his fame as a poet (his wealth and good connections around the world) that gave him the courage to dissent.

On the other hand, I have a hunch that great artists are innately courageous. Their thinking is independent, original. They take their fresh insights or observations and express them boldly, no punches pulled. And somehow, no matter how introverted they are, they love the audience because their work demands interaction and dialogue. Sounds like a revolutionary.

(I'm not sure I have any idea what I'm talking about. None of the sites I glanced at gave much insight into Neruda's psychology, so I just spinning my own web here.)


If You Forget Me
 I want you to know
 one thing.
 You know how this is:
 if I look
 at the crystal moon, at the red branch
 of the slow autumn at my window,
 if I touch
 near the fire
 the impalpable ash
 or the wrinkled body of the log,
 everything carries me to you,
 as if everything that exists,
 aromas, light, metals,
 were little boats
 that sail
 toward those isles of yours that wait for me.
 Well, now,
 if little by little you stop loving me
 I shall stop loving you little by little.
 If suddenly
 you forget me
 do not look for me,
 for I shall already have forgotten you.
 If you think it long and mad,
 the wind of banners
 that passes through my life,
 and you decide
 to leave me at the shore
 of the heart where I have roots,
 that on that day,
 at that hour,
 I shall lift my arms
 and my roots will set off
 to seek another land.
 if each day,
 each hour,
 you feel that you are destined for me
 with implacable sweetness,
 if each day a flower
 climbs up to your lips to seek me,
 ah my love, ah my own,
 in me all that fire is repeated,
 in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
 my love feeds on your love, beloved,
 and as long as you live it will be in your arms
 without leaving mine.

[Pablo Neruda]

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