Pablo Neruda (1904-73) was the greatest Latin American poet of the 20th century. A prolific, inspirational poet, he wrote many different kinds of poems covering a wide range of themes, notably love, death, grief and despair. His poetry celebrates the dramatic Chilean landscape and rages against the exploitation of his people, for whom he became a national hero. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971 for 'a poetry that with the action of an elemental force brings alive a continent's destiny and dreams'. Bloodaxe Books has published two books of his poetry, The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems, and Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda Poems. The American poet and translator Forrest Gander's translation of the latter is shortlisted for the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize 2018.
Neruda 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. In 1920, he started publishing his poems under the pen name of Pablo Neruda, adopted in memory of the Czechoslovak poet Jan Neruda. His most celebrated collection, Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair), appeared in 1924. 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, 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. The same year he returned to Chile, and his poetry during the following period was characterised by an orientation towards political and social matters. In 1939, he was appointed consul for the Spanish emigration, based in Paris, and, shortly afterwards, Consul General in Mexico. He returned to Chile in 1943, and in 1945 was elected as a senator, 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 various European countries he returned home in 1952. Much of what he published during that period bears the stamp of his political activities..
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