When the poet Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was Chilean ambassador to France, he received, on October 21, 1971, an unexpected phone call from Sweden. From the other end of the line they informed him that the Swedish Academy had awarded him the Nobel Prize for Literature. A month and a half later, on December 10, he received that award at the Stockholm Concert Hall. A year later, in December 1972, our country received him and offered him a great tribute at the National Stadium.
Swedish academics, in their advertisement, called him “the poet of violated humanity”, where “he himself had been persecuted time and again and that in his work was the community of the oppressed in all its parts.” Likewise, they valued “a poetry that, with the effect of a natural force, revives the destiny and dreams of a continent.”
When the news broke in Chile, there were celebrations and tributes. President Salvador Allende, by radio station stated: “This award that incorporates a man of ours into immortality is the victory of Chile and its people and, furthermore, of Latin America.”
There was also criticism from opponents of the Popular Unity government. They were irritated by the awarding of that award to “a communist”, part of a government that was trying to lead a process of profound social change.
“I come from an obscure province, from a country separated from all others by its sharp geography. (…) I always had confidence in man. I never lost hope. That is why, perhaps, I have come this far with my poetry and also with my flag. (…) Only with ardent patience will we conquer the splendid city that will give light, justice and dignity to all men. Thus poetry will not have sung in vain. “
With these words, Pablo Neruda ended the speech at the reception of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Chile, in 1971, was going through a process that, precisely, sought to build “the splendid city that will give light, justice and dignity to all men.”
Various diplomatic obligations, trips, meetings and illnesses prevented him from traveling to Chile to receive the tribute he deserved. However, the recognitions were immediate. There were academic meetings, publications, seminars and conferences devoted to the work of the newly elected Nobel Prize winner.
Some young people from those years also joined those celebrations, by the way with less resources and dissemination. We were students of Professor Hernán Loyola, a great connoisseur and scholar of the poet’s work, at the Faculty of Philosophy and Education of the University of Chile. Our “great contribution” to those festivities was the construction of a… simple bulletin board!
In current times we would have created a website, a Facebook profile or Instagram for Pablo Neruda. In those years, there was no internet, no computers available to everyone, except printers, no digital cameras, and no smart phones. Everything was done “by hand”. Our means of communication was that bulletin board, where we posted texts, press clippings, illustrations and photographs. This modest medium, exhibited in one of the patios of the former Pedagogical Institute, was our tribute to that historical moment in Chile.
One year after receiving the award, the people of Chile were able to greet the second Chilean Nobel. It was in a ceremony at the National Stadium, on December 5, 1972.
On the occasion Pablo Neruda said: “Here it is supposed that you are receiving me or welcoming me or welcoming me. Well, thank you very much, many times thank you very much. But what happens is that it seems to me that I never left here, that I was never outside, that nothing has ever happened to me anywhere, but here, on this earth. My joys and my pains come from here or here they stayed. (…) In two words, here they have me back without ever having left Chile “
With these words, at the beginning of his speech, Pablo Neruda thanked the tribute. That act was led by General Carlos Prats, in his capacity as Vice President of the Republic. President Salvador Allende was on an international tour.
Despite the present shadows in the biography of the poet, his work continues to be read, admired and studied. Chileans, even the simplest, know at least some verse of Twenty love poems and a desperate song and they feel that this author belongs to them and makes them proud.
You may be interested in reading: Emotional book launch in municipal theater: «Anthology of love & other poems» by Helga K. Pataki.
Chronicle in the first person: «This is how I lived Pablo Neruda’s Nobel»
50 years have passed since that phone call made from Sweden and the ceremony in which he received the Nobel Prize; from the act at the National Stadium, one less. With pride, I can say “I lived those moments.” I experienced the atmosphere of joy that went through all of Chile and I was with the thousands of men, women and children at the National Stadium. There I felt part of those whom the poet greeted for the last time:
“Salud, Chileans and Chileans, colleagues, friends and friends, thank you for the friendship, for the affection, for the recognition that other new poets will also receive from you over time.”
That act was Pablo Neruda’s last public appearance. He died on September 23, 1973, in the first days of the civic-military dictatorship, just over nine months after that tribute. The words with which he ended his speech were, perhaps, his farewell.
“Because life, the struggle, the poetry, will continue to live when I am just a small memory on the bright road to Chile. Thank you because you are the people, the best on earth, the salt of the world. Health.”
You may be interested in seeing: Video of Pablo Neruda in reception at the National Stadium
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50 years after Pablo Neruda’s Nobel Prize. Chronicle in the first person: “Poetry will not have sung in vain” »La Voz de Maipú