Poet Pablo Neruda commemorated

June 2004 -

The one-hundredth birthday of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda will be commemorated this year. Dutch poet Jan Baeke views the strength of Neruda's poetry.

12 July 2004 marks the date that the famous Chilean poet and Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda was born as Ricardo Neftali Reyes y Basoalto one hundred years ago in the village of Parral in central Chili. He derived his professional name from the Czech poet Jan Neruda, the nineteenth-century chronicler of life in Prague.

Neruda became famous not only for his poetry, but also for his political engagement. As early as the 1930s he openly opposed the dictatorship in his country, and in 1969 he was even presidential candidate for the communist party in Chili. He also served as Chilean consul in France.

Neruda believed he had been called, to be a spokesperson for what needed to be said. And that was nothing less than the abundance and wealth of nature and of life, in which man is both a detracting factor and a representative of the hope for a better world. Neruda's famous epic poem Canto General expresses this particularly well. The work is not only a personal history of Chili, but also a plea for social justice, a requiem for his friends and ancestors, and a complaint against the United States.

In both Latin America and the Western world, however, he was above all the beloved poet of immediately appealing and empathetic poetry. Neruda the man and his work both inspired not only other poets, but also musicians. Mikis Theodorakis and Peter Schat, for example, both wrote compositions inspired by the Canto General. The short novel Burning patience by the Chilean author Antonio Skármeta, about a simple postman who asks Neruda to give him the words to win his beloved’s heart, enjoyed international success in the film version Il Postino.

Pablo Neruda died in 1973, just one year after receiving the Nobel Prize.