Pablo Neruda

(1904—1973) Chilean poet and diplomat

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Chilean poet and diplomat. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.

Neruda adopted the pseudonym in 1920 in honour of the Czech poet Jan Neruda and changed his name by deed poll in 1946. The son of a train-driver, he moved with his father to Temuco in southern Chile after the death of his mother. Here he was educated and met the poet Gabriela Mistral, then a teacher. He went to Santiago in 1920 or 1921 as a student and published three books of poems (1921, 1923, and 1924), which earned him a reputation throughout Latin America. From 1927 to 1943 Neruda lived abroad, for six years serving as the Chilean consul in Rangoon and Java and from 1934 living in Spain, where he founded the poetry magazine Caballo verde para la poesía in Madrid in 1935. It printed works by García Lorca, Guillén, and other major writers until it ceased publication at the start of the civil war. As editor, Neruda attacked the idea of ‘pure’ detached poetry and argued instead for an ‘impure’ poetry committed to the realities of life, a principle adopted in his own work, Residencia en la tierra, 1925–31 (expanded in 1935; translated as Residence on Earth and Other Poems, 1946). In 1939 he fled to Paris, where he was involved in war refugee work; he later joined the Communist Party.

After his return to Chile he was elected senator (1945) and published the collection Tercera residencia, 1935–1945 (1947), notably plain and straightforward in style, and began publishing a major work of epic length, the Canto general (completed 1950). Originally conceived as an epic on Chile, this poem was expanded in many parts to cover all the Americas, their natural history, ancient civilizations (as in Alturas de Macchu Picchu; translated as The Heights of Macchu Picchu, 1966), modern wars of liberation, etc. Forced to leave Chile in 1948, Neruda travelled to eastern Europe, the Soviet Union (where he was awarded the World Peace Prize, 1950), and China. He returned to Chile in 1952. Odas elementales (1954; translated as The Elemental Odes, 1961) and Tercer libro de las odas (1959) were followed by an edition of his complete poems, Obras completas (1957; revised 1968), though he produced several further volumes afterwards. He was presidential candidate in 1970 but withdrew in favour of Allende, the same year he was appointed ambassador to France. From 1961 Neruda lived, when possible, at his house on Isla Negra, which he bequeathed to the copper workers of Chile. A verse autobiography, Memorial de Isla Negra (1964), was supplemented by one in prose, Confieso que he vivido (1974).

Subjects: Literature — Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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