Romantics 102: Pablo Neruda

Incase you skipped last class, Romantics 101 is music-centric.

While I always hear people posit French or Spanish as the most romantic language, I don’t think I ever fully grasped what people saw in Spanish until I encountered Neruda’s poetry. Neruda is extremely well known in the Spanish-speaking world, but I had never heard of him before coming to Colombia. (I am no poetry buff though, so maybe you have…) In class one day we were discussing romantic poets from our assorted countries and all I could think of at the time was Shakespearian sonnets, which never really struck a chord and are also not from the U.S. (Then again I doubt any romantic poetry could have struck a chord with my high-school self.)

To this end, I figured you should be introduced to him as well. Pablo Neruda (a pen name) was born in Chile in 1904. He started writing as a teenager and had varied styles “including surrealist poems, historical epics, overtly political manifestos, a prose autobiography, and erotically-charged love poems.” (Wikipedia) He also held several diplomatic positions around the world and later was a senator for the Chilean Communist Party, and because of this was temporarily exiled to Argentina when communism became illegal in Chile. But let’s focus on those poems.

Most of his poems are a bit long to post, so I will give you snippets and link to them (with both English and Spanish).

Si tu me olvidas/quiero que sepas/una cosa. –Si Tu Me Olvidas

Junto al mar en otoño,
tu risa debe alzar
su cascada de espuma,
y en primavera, amor,
quiero tu risa como
la flor que yo esperaba,
la flor azul, la rosa
de mi patria sonora.      –Tu Risa

Quiero hacer contigo/lo que la primavera hace con los cerezos. –Poema 14  (Who would not fall for that line?)

Oh pequeño
emperador sin orbe,
conquistador sin patria,
mínimo tigre de salón…  –Oda al Gato/Ode to the Cat (not a love poem, but one of my favorites)

So, that should certainly get you started. Writing this has forced me to some reflection, and I think part of why there is more emotion and romance in these poems, for me as a foreigner anyway (and likely others), is because “Since all language is coded with forms of modesty and social conditioning that basically all native speakers are brought up to accept, there is a certain freedom that comes with speaking [a foreign language].”* In essence, I would never say this stuff in English. Of course I think there is more to it than that and I could probably write pages on it, but right now that would only detract from his legacy, as Gabriel García Márquez once described him, as “the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language.”**

*from Lea Jacobson’s Bar Flower, worth checking out.

**emphasis mine.


About syd

I like beats & beets
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2 Responses to Romantics 102: Pablo Neruda

  1. audrey says:

    Ironically, I think that one of Neruda’s most famous poems ’round these parts is a sonnet (“Sonnet 17”). But I think he’s actually fairly well known here considering American knowledge of foreign writers.

  2. Sean says:

    This one’s another gem…

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