Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was born Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto in Parral, Chile. His father was a railway employee and his mother, who died shortly after his birth, a teacher. He spent his childhood and youth in the logging town of Temuco, where he also got to know Gabriela Mistral, head of the girls' secondary school, who took a liking to him. At the early age of 13 he began to contribute some articles to the daily La Mañana, among them, Entusiasmo y Perseverancia - his first publication - and his first poem. In 1920, he started contributing to the literary journal Selva Austral using the pen name of Pablo Neruda, which he adopted in memory of the Czechoslovak poet Jan Neruda. Some of the poems Neruda wrote at that time are to be found in his first published book, Crepusculario (1923). The following year saw the publication of Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair), one of his best-known and most translated works. Alongside his literary activities, Neruda studied French and pedagogy at the University of Chile in Santiago.
Between 1927 and 1935, the government put him in charge of a number of honorary consulships, which took him to Burma, Ceylon, Java, Singapore, Buenos Aires, Barcelona and Madrid. His poetic production during that difficult period included, among other works, the collection of esoteric surrealistic poems, Residencia en la tierra (1933), which marked his literary breakthrough. But his outspoken condemnation of Chile’s exploitation by American corporations led to charges of treason. He fled the country and had to live in exile for some years.
The Spanish Civil War and the murder of García Lorca, whom Neruda knew, affected him strongly and made him join the Republican movement, first in Spain, and later in France, where he started working on his collection of poems España en el Corazón (1937). The same year he returned to Chile, to which he had been recalled, and his poetry during the following period was characterised by an orientation towards political and social matters. España en el Corazón had a great impact, being printed in the middle of the front during the Civil War.
In 1939, Neruda was appointed consul for the Spanish emigration, based in Paris, and, shortly afterwards, Consul General in Mexico, where he rewrote his Canto General de Chile, transforming it into an epic poem about the whole South American continent, its nature, its people and its historical destiny. This work, entitled Canto General, was published in Mexico 1950, and also underground in Chile. It consists of approximately 250 poems brought together into 15 literary cycles and constitutes the central part of Neruda's production. Shortly after its publication, Canto General was translated into some ten languages. Nearly all these poems were written in difficult circumstances when Neruda was living abroad.
In 1943, Neruda returned to Chile, and in 1945 he was elected senator of the Republic, also joining the Communist Party of Chile. Due to his protests against President González Videla's repressive policy against striking miners in 1947, he had to live underground in his own country for two years until he managed to leave in 1949. After living in different European countries he returned home in 1952. Much of what he published during that period bears the stamp of his political activities; one example is Las Uvas y el Viento (1954), a diary of his exile. In Odas elementales (1954-59) his message is expanded into a more extensive description of the world, with the objects of the hymns - things, events and relations - presented in alphabetic form.
Neruda's Obras Completas, constantly republished, comprised 459 pages in 1951; in 1962 the number of pages was 1925, and in 1968 it amounted to 3237, in two volumes. His works of the last few years include Cien sonetos de amor (1959), which includes poems dedicated to his wife Matilde Urrutia; Memorial de Isla Negra (1964), Arte de pajáros (1966), La Barcarola (1967), the play Fulgor y muerte de Joaquín Murieta (1967), Las manos del día (1968), Fin del mundo (1969), Las piedras del cielo (1970), and La espada encendida (1970).
Pablo Neruda won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971. This biographical note is condensed from one in Nobel Lectures, Literature 1968-1980, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Sture Allén (World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1993).
Neruda was close to President Salvador Allende, but hospitalised with cancer at the time of the coup d'état led by Augusto Pinochet. Twelve days after going into hospital, Neruda died of heart failure. Already a legend in life, Neruda's death reverberated around the world. Pinochet had denied permission to transform Neruda's funeral into a public event. However, thousands of grieving Chileans disobeyed the curfew and crowded the streets. Neruda's funeral became the first public protest against the Chilean military dictatorship.
Books by Pablo Neruda