(1904 – 1973)
Chilean poet, diplomat, and politician who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. He was perhaps the most important Latin-American poet of the 20th century.
The experimental poet as diplomat.
At age 20, with two books published, Neruda had already become one of the best-known Chilean poets. He abandoned his French studies and began to devote himself entirely to poetry. Yet his poetry was not a steady source of income, so he translated hastily from several languages and published magazine and newspaper articles. Neruda’s future looked uncertain without a steady job, so he managed to get himself appointed honorary consul to Rangoon in Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar). For the next five years he represented his country in Asia.
From Rangoon Neruda moved to Colombo in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He increasingly came to identify with the South Asian masses, who were heirs to ancient cultures but were downtrodden by poverty, colonial rule, and political oppression.
In 1930 Neruda was named consul in Batavia (modern Jakarta), which was then the capital of the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). There he fell in love with a Dutch woman, Maria Antonieta Hagenaar, and married her. In 1932 Neruda returned to Chile, but he still could not earn a living from his poetry. In 1933 he was appointed Chilean consul in Buenos Aires, Arg. There he met the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who at that time was traveling in Argentina, and who was to become a close friend and an enthusiastic defender of Neruda’s poetry.
Marxist commitment and poetry.
In 1934 Neruda took up an appointment as consul in Barcelona, Spain, and soon he was transferred to the consulate in Madrid. His success there was instantaneous after Garcia Lorca introduced him. In the meantime, his marriage was foundering. He and his wife separated in 1936, and Neruda met a young Argentine woman, Delia del Carril, who would be his second wife until their divorce in the early 1950s.
His work was interrupted suddenly by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, however. Neruda traveled in and out of Spain to gather money and mobilize support for the Republicans. He wrote Espana en el corazon (1937; Spain in My Heart) to express his feelings of solidarity with them.
In 1937 Neruda returned to Chile and entered his country’s political life. In 1939 he was appointed special consul in Paris, where he supervised the migration to Chile of many defeated Spanish Republicans who had escaped to France. In 1940 he took up a post as Chile’s consul general in Mexico. He also began work on a long poem, Canto general (1950; “General Song”), resonant with historic and epic overtones, that would become one of his key works. In the meantime, Neruda suffered a stunning reversal in his native country. He had returned to Chile in 1943, was elected a senator in 1945, and also joined the Communist Party. He campaigned for the leftist candidate Gabriel Gonzalez Videla in the elections of 1946, only to see President Videla turn to the right two years later. Feeling betrayed, Neruda published an open letter critical of Videla; as a consequence, he was expelled from the Senate and had to go into hiding to avoid arrest. In February 1948 he left Chile, crossing the Andes Mountains on horseback by night with the manuscript of Canto general in his saddlebag.
In exile Neruda visited the Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary, and Mexico. In Mexico he again met Matilde Urrutia, a Chilean woman whom he had first encountered in 1946. Their marriage would last until the end of his life, and she would inspire some of the most passionate love poems written in Spanish in the 20th century.
In 1952 the political situation in Chile once again became favourable, and Neruda was able to return home. By now his works had been translated into many languages. Rich and famous, he built a house on Isla Negra, facing the Pacific Ocean, and also maintained houses in Santiago and Valparaiso. While traveling in Europe, Cuba, and China, Neruda embarked upon a period of incessant writing and feverish creation. 20 books of his appeared between 1958 and his death in 1973, and 8 more were published posthumously. In 1969 Neruda campaigned for the leftist candidate Salvador Allende, who appointed him ambassador to France after being elected president of Chile. While already ill with cancer in France, Neruda in 1971 learned that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. After traveling to Stockholm to receive his prize, he returned to Chile bedridden and terminally ill and survived by only a few days his friend Allende, who died in a right-wing military coup.