Pablo Neruda: the hidden story behind winning the Nobel – La Tercera

ANDhe telegram from the Chilean Embassy in Sweden arrived urgently in Santiago. It was October 20, 1971 and despite how short the wording of his message usually is, he brought one of those news that are to be framed. “Confidential information held by the Embassy indicates that the Nobel Prize would be awarded tomorrow by Neruda. I beg US. maximum reservation view information is not confirmed ”.

The document, extracted from the Historical Archive of the Ministry of RR.EE. of Chile and that appears in the book Pablo Neruda – Salvador Allende, a friendship, a story (RIL Editores, 2014) by researcher Abraham Quezada (one of the main scholars of the work of the vate), exposes not only a crucial news, Rather, it shows that from the machinery of foreign relations itself they were quite on horseback with the efforts so that Pablo Neruda was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the highest award in world literature.

The road for that was long.

If you search the online archives of the Nobel Prize site, which releases the information on who was nominated 50 years after each edition (although it is only updated until 1966), It is observed that the first time that Pablo Neruda was formally nominated as a candidate for the award It was in 1956, when his application was raised by the professor of Literature at the University of Aix-en-Provence, André Joucla-Ruau.

Until that decade, Neruda had already published the books that gave him a name: Twenty love poems and a desperate song (1924), Residence on earth (1935) and the monumental General sing (1950). From there, an intense production begins that reaches other relevant titles, such as The captain’s verses (1952), The grapes and the wind (1954), and Elemental Odes (1954).

That torrent of publications, which he maintained until his death, was no accident. It was part of a strategy the poet was deploying to get the attention of the Swedish Academy. “It is the time of talent management, it begins to manage the poetic SME that it is, ”says Abraham Quezada to Culto. “His strategy was to publish anything, he was a machine, and he worried that they would have editions in several countries. It took the style of dissemination that Mistral did, who also cared about appearing in the press, with columns, with opinion, with interviews, ”adds the researcher.

Quezada adds that this dissemination strategy was complemented with tours of the globe. “His visits to the countries were not anonymous, if he arrived in a country he would meet with the President of the Republic, no less. From 1950 onwards, they were high-level public relations, because it was what he was looking for ”.

Why was she chasing him so hard? “He was aware of his poetic talent without being conceited,” says Quezada. For him, in Latin America there was only one poet whom he considered a true pair: the Peruvian César Vallejo ”.

Another important step that brought Neruda closer to the award was his political militancy. It is known that until his death he was part of the ranks of the Communist Party, for which he was even a senator, between 1945 and 1948, when he was outraged and had to go into exile. “One thing that allowed him to win the Nobel is because he was part of a network of left-wing intellectuals and politicians. Its communist militancy was key, because it was a party of planetary implantation, at least the Chilean CP is internationalist. Without that network it is not understood ”, explains Abraham Quezada.

Besides, Neruda had learned to be tactful. In 1966, from Cuba a letter was made public against the poet accusing him of “lack of political commitment”, which was circulated in the main intellectual circles. It was quite an operation “they even sent her to the Swedish Academy,” says Quezada.

The poet reacted on the matter, but privately. In a letter to his Venezuelan friend Miguel Otero Silva, in October 1966, he said: “Have you seen the villainy, the perversity, the betrayal and the error of the Guillenes of Cuba?” But his anger stayed there, on paper. “He could have made a bigger scandal, but he could not risk his arrival at the Nobel, because he was going to appear as a disruptive type, who generates conflict, which was not consistent with what he thought,” adds Quezada.

Pablo Neruda

While Neruda published books as if his life were going to go away, he visited countries, did public relations and appeared in the press, underground an enemy came up against him. None other than the Central American Intelligence Agency itself, the CIA.

In his book The CIA and the cultural cold war, British historian Frances Stonor Saunders gives an account of the steps taken by the organization to prevent the Swedish Academy from awarding the Parral native. If there was a year that this escalated, it was in 1963, because the information reached John Hunt, in charge of the CIA office in Paris: Neruda was a strong candidate for the 1964 Nobel Prize.

Given that, he decided to act and prepare a report to be sent to the Swedish Academy and influence the always hermetic deliberations of the award. The document, Stonor Sanders notes, “focused on the question of Neruda’s political commitment and stated that it was ‘impossible to dissociate the artist Neruda from the political propagandist Neruda.’ He launched the accusation that Neruda, a member of the Central Committee of the Chilean Communist Party, used his poetry as “an instrument of a political commitment that was total and totalitarian”; it was the art of a man who was a ‘militant and disciplined’ Stalinist ”.

By 1964, the cold war was at its highest point of tension. The Berlin Wall had been built for 3 years; Only 2 years had passed since the so-called Missile Crisis, which was about to cause an armed confrontation between the US and the USSR; the war in Vietnam was already unleashed and the Soviets had put the first human being in space in 1961: Yuri Gagarin.

In the meantime, Neruda’s candidacy for that year was raised -according to the Nobel’s online archive- by Ragnar Josephson and Bengt Holmqvist, Swedish scholar and editor, respectively. In fact, the first had also put the author of Twilight as a candidate the previous year. If the total list is reviewed, there were formidable rivals: Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, Rómulo Gallegos or Robert Lowell.

Neruda had published his New love song to Stalingrad in 1943. For Abraham Quezada, it was already at that time that the CIA began to pay attention to him. “The monitoring of Neruda began when he was in Mexico, as consul general. They were attentive to what he was doing, he said, and where he was traveling, everything from singing to Stalingrad. “

Plus, the CIA tripped him up a notch. “It was difficult for him to be given visas to enter the United States or England, he finally entered through special permits, why? Because he was a communist big shot, ”argues Quezada.

Finally, the 1964 Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to the French intellectual Jean paul sartre, who, surprisingly, rejected it. In a public letter to the newspaper Le Monde, where he explained his decision, the philosopher mentioned something key: “I know that the Nobel Prize in itself is not a literary prize from the Western Bloc, but it is what it is made of, and events can also occur. that are outside the grounds of the members of the Swedish academy. This is the reason why, in the present situation, the Nobel Prize is objectively held as a distinction reserved for writers from the West or rebels from the East. It has not been awarded, for example, to Neruda, who is one of the greatest Latin American poets ”.

Despite the bad drink of 1964, Neruda continued his efforts. By then, he had already sought the most committed official support from the respective governments of the time. “Pedro Aguirre Cerda helped Gabriela Mistral win the Nobel, placing her in good destinations, promoting her books, Neruda knew that experience,” says Quezada. In any case, the researcher points out in this regard that the strategy from the State to help the parralino was rather diffuse. “At times the publication of Neruda’s books in English was promoted or sent on commission,” he says.

Anyway, mention what did happen. “There were steps taken by deputy Baltasar Castro, from the Agrarian Labor Party, the party of Carlos Ibáñez del Campo. He made several negotiations with the government of Jorge Alessandri to promote the figure and image of Neruda ”.

It also points out the help that Gabriel Valdés provided in 1966, as part of the government of Eduardo Frei Montalva, in an exhibition that was held in Stockholm itself, to which Neruda was invited.

But far the most relevant movements were made by Salvador Allende as soon as he assumed as President. They were not many but they were important. The first, he sent Neruda as ambassador to France. “It is no small thing to be in France to be present in the cultural debate and to be known in Western Europe – Quezada points out – also because Miguel Ángel Asturias won the Nobel in 1967 as Guatemalan ambassador to France.”

Allende’s second key decision was to appoint a friend of Neruda’s as ambassador to Sweden. “It was Luis Enrique Délano, Poli Délano’s father, it was no coincidence. Allende did not send an enemy of Neruda to Stockholm ”, explains Quezada.

Délano’s efforts, added to the deployment that the author of Bizarre was doing during his life, finally they prospered, and on October 21, 1971 the Academy announced that Pablo Neruda, then 67 years old, was the new Nobel Prize in Literature “for a poetry that with the action of an elemental force gives life to the destiny and the dreams of a continent ”.

The popular morning Clarín (“Firm with the people”) in its October 23, 1971 edition noted: “The entire country was moved. The broken pampinos, the peasants who give birth to the land, the shepherds of the Magellan pampas, the fishermen braving the ocean, the muleteers, the miners, the construction workers, the women at home stopping the pot, the intellectuals, the employees, all of us, from captain to page, we feel more important, more Chilean ”.

The ceremony took place on December 10 and the award was presented to him by King Gustavo Adolfo VI. In his acceptance speech, dressed in an impeccable tailcoat, Neruda reviewed his life, emphasizing when he had to start the persecution of González Videla’s government up in the Cordillera. In addition, he reviewed his late enemy Vicente Huidobro: “The poet is not a ‘little god’. No, it is not a ‘little god’. It is not marked by a cabalistic destiny superior to that of those who exercise other duties and trades. I often said that the best poet is the man who gives us our daily bread: the closest baker, who does not believe himself to be a god ”.

Likewise, he cited the Frenchman Arthur Rimbaud, one of his influences, and paraphrased one of his phrases: “Only with ardent patience will we conquer the splendid city that will give light, justice, dignity to all men.”

And boy did Neruda have ardent patience.

We wish to thank the writer of this article for this outstanding material

Pablo Neruda: the hidden story behind winning the Nobel – La Tercera

Hank Gilbert