Neruda: 50 years of the Nobel Prize

By: José Luis Díaz-Granados

On October 21, 1971, exactly 50 years ago, the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The spokesman for the Swedish Academy announced at noon that the award had been granted “for being the author of a poetry that, with the action of an elemental force, gives life to the destiny and dreams of a continent.”

Since 1945, when Gabriela Mistral, also from Chile, won the Nobel (being, not only the first Latin American woman, but the first writer from this continent to receive such a precious honor), her spontaneous initial statement was the following:

“This award was deserved by Pablo Neruda, because he is the greatest poet of my country.” At the time, the author of the Twenty Love Poems was barely 40 years old.

Neruda was a candidate for the Nobel Prize for many years. He was from his youthful years a poet overflowing with magical verbalities and resounding sound spells. Not surprisingly, the most important English-speaking literary critic, Harold Bloom, had stated: “No poet in the Western Hemisphere of our century admits of comparison with him.”

Just as he had friends who admired and adored him such as Pablo Picasso, Rafael Alberti, García Lorca, Miguel Hernández, Paul Eluard, Elsa Triolet, Louis Aragón, Yannis Ritsos, Mikis Theodorakis, Ilya Eremburg, Jorge Zalamea and Gabriel García Márquez, Neruda had enemies madmen like Juan Ramón Jiménez, Vicente Huidobro, Octavio Paz, Juan Larrea (whom he called “Juan Tarrea” in one of his famous Odes), Pablo de Rokha and Laureano Gómez. The latter wrote raucous diatribes when the Chilean made his first visit to Colombia in 1943, invited by President Alfonso López Pumarejo.

In the 1950s and 1960s the award for Neruda was taken for granted. But there was a tremendous stumbling block in that time of the “Cold War”: his political affiliation. Since 1936 he had aligned himself with the forces that supported the Republic in Spain, together with the socialists and communists, and had fought fiercely with all his verbal grandeur against the reactionary forces of fascism, especially after the Francoists assassinated Federico García Lorca, the greatest poet in Spain in his time, a crime that Neruda never forgave.

In 1939 he took advantage of his position as consul for the Spanish refugees that the president of Chile, Pedro Aguirre Cerda, had granted him, to embark on the ship “Winnipeg” more than two thousand Spaniards with their families and young children, who saved their lives when they arrived in the southern nation.

In those years, Neruda deployed a permanent political propaganda, in prose and verse, against the fascism reigning in Europe and in favor of the brave soldiers of the Red Army of the USSR, who in the battle of Stalingrad had inflicted the first great defeat on Hitler’s stunned armies. Their songs to this heroic city are engraved in the memory of several generations throughout the world. In 1942, while being consul general in Mexico, Neruda was the victim of an attack by Nazi sympathizers who fractured his skull in a park in Cuernavaca.

When he returned to Chile, he joined the Communist Party of his country on July 8, 1945, together with the eminent scientist Alejandro Lipschutz, the director of the Santiago Symphony Orchestra, Armando Carvajal, the singer Blanca Hauser, the poet Juvencio Valle, the poet. Olga Acevedo, the writer Nicomedes Guzmán, the theater director Pedro de la Barra and the teacher María Marchant, in an act of broad popular participation held at the Caupolicán Theater in Santiago.

The public and underhanded enemies of the great poet did not repair the lowest actions, as well as exotic expenses to avoid being rewarded, as was the case of a certain Ricardo Paseyro, from Montevideo (son-in-law of the also Uruguayan Jules Supervielle, a poet who worked for the French Police), who wrote poems and articles against Neruda full of hatred and desperate McCarthyism, who paid for a trip to Stockholm out of his own pocket, in order to convince Swedish academics that the author of the General Canto, he did not deserve the Nobel, because he was only “a plagiarist poet.” “An impostor” and “an agent of Stalin who had participated in the assassination of Leon Trotsky.”

Years later, in his Memorial on Isla Negra, Neruda referred to the fetid episode:

And in that trance the old critic / implanted the guillotine against me, / but it was not enough nor was it little / and as if I were a republic / of a sudden insurgent outburst, / they played the bugle against my chest / and tiny worms came / to the urinal in which he struggled / on his own pee Pipipaseyro …

Fortunately, Pablo Neruda was a fish from the deep, a strange cetacean, a monster of 20th century poetry, as defined by the colossal Cádiz poet Rafael Alberti. Neruda arrived at the house of poetry, threw down the door and twisted the neck of the swan of the reigning, artificial and harassing formalism, since in full adolescence he emerged with a unique book, Crepusculario (1923), which was followed by the very famous Twenty love poems and a desperate song (1924), surprising the senses of the readers with unusual rhythms, unexpected meters and surprising ghosts in his fresh diction.

In his almost 70 years of residence on earth, Neruda wrote 45 original books, from whose contents countless bibliographic sections have emerged, from which hundreds of notebooks, plaquettes and flyers have been detached both in the Spanish language and in the rest languages ​​of the planet.

The simple people of Our America have repeated verses from his Twenty Love Poems for several generations, as they have also done with the Rimas de Bécquer or the Gypsy Ballads by García Lorca. The most demanding readers and critics are surprised at each new reading with the prodigious verbal hallucination of Residence on Earth, as occurs with the immersion in Eliot’s Wasteland or Saint-John Perse’s Anabasis.

And everyone loves, recites and sings the stanzas of autumnal love from The Captain’s Verses and the One Hundred Sonnets of Love, the joy of living in the elemental Odes, Estravagario and La barcarola, as we also love and sing the most beautiful poems of Pavese, Kavafis, Pessoa, Eluard, Aragon, Machado, Benedetti or Luis García Montero.

In times of war, and also in those of peace, combatant hearts tremble with the poetry of “armed love” from Tercera residence, Canto general, Canción de gesta (the first poetic book written in the world in homage to the Cuban Revolution ) or the incitement to nixonicide and praise of the Chilean revolution. It should not be forgotten that when the heroic guerrilla Ernesto Che Guevara fell in combat in the mountains of Bolivia, he devotedly kept a copy of the General Canto in his backpack.

Perhaps no poet in any time, language or geography has received an apotheosis of fervor similar to the sentimental, literary and political adhesions that Neruda received in his precious and controversial existence, who will surely be giving us a mischievous wink from transparency where he jumped like a swimmer out of the sky on September 23, 1973.

The resonance of this universal tribute for the 50 years of his Nobel Prize in Literature will reach him there, to “the other shore of the sea that has no other shore …”.

We wish to say thanks to the writer of this post for this outstanding content

Neruda: 50 years of the Nobel Prize

Hank Gilbert