Pablo Neruda

Chilean Nobel Prize of Literature Winner

Born in the small town of Parral a few hours South of Santiago, Neruda grew up in Temuco in the lake district of Chile. He was born Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, the son of a local railway man. He published his first works with his own money, selling his furniture. All of his works were published under the pseudonym of Pablo Neruda as he feared the ridicule of his working class peers; he later legally changed his name once he gained international fame. Crepusculario (A version of the work twilight invented by Neruda) was a success from the beginning. He quickly wrote Veinte Poemas de Amor y una Canción Desperada (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair) at the age of 20. Neruda's poetry was an incredibly erotic view of woman as represented by nature. He combined two themes, expressing his love of feminine beauty in the romantic sense with that of his love of Southern Chile and nature. The sensuality of his poetry was considered radical for the time.

Despite his early success, Neruda still needed a steady income to live off, thus he started his career as a public servant as a consul in Rangoon. Perhaps it is his time spent in foreign lands such as Jakarta and Singapore that created such a strong love of the country in the poet. Even as he lived outside of Chile for a large part of his adult life he continued to write about his native land both in his romantic and political poetry.

During the Spanish Civil War Neruda was the consul for emigration and decided himself to finding safe passage for Spanish refugees to Chile. Neruda has been friends with many of the poets of the 1927 Generation in Spain and suffered the personal loss of several friends who were murdered under Franco's regime, including Garcia Lorca, one of Spain's most famous poets.

Neruda, who never forgot his humble upbringing in a working class family, became very involved in politics and returned to Chile to become a member of the Communist party and was elected senator for the Antofagasta and Tarapacá regions.

The poet led a rather flamboyant private life that was considered public knowledge. Even in his solitary periods as a consul he had many wild love affairs that he recalls in his autobiography, Memoirs. The most famous is Josie Bliss who is notorious for showing up on his doorstep (after he secretly left her to go to Ceylon) with a bag of rice and a collection of records. She appears to haunt him in some of his later poetry. Neruda married three times, first to a Dutch woman who he met in Rangoon. Together they had a daughter who died when she was only 8 years old. Neruda hardly ever mentions either of them in any of his writings. Afterwards he married Delia del Carril, an Argentinean painter who was 10 years his senior. The marriage lasted 18 years and though he left her for Matilda Urrutia (a much younger woman) he remained faithful to his memory of her, praising their relationship. When he wrote Los versos de Capitan (The Captain's Verses: Love Poems), a passionate series of love poems for Matilde he published it anonymously so as not to injure his previous wife.

Much of his poetry began to reflect his political involvement later in life. He worked equally hard on the two, considering both to have their own rewards and their own purposes for the people. As president of the socialist Unidad Popular political party he campaigned vigorously for his close friend Salvador Allende. Allende won the presidency and immediately began radical reforms in the country including land redistribution and taking over private companies, namely the copper mines in the North. A year after the election, Neruda won the Noble Prize for Literature. He was the Second Chilean to win it for Literature; he first of course was his former teacher, Gabriela Mistral. He won the award while serving as Chile's ambassador to France.

Celebration of his success was short lived however, as Neruda was suffering from cancer and was bed ridden most of the time. He only lived two weeks after the military takeover of the government by General Augusto Pinochet. The shock of losing so much, including his dear friend Allende was overwhelming and he passed away in Santiago on September 23rd 1973. His house was vandalized by the government and they did everything possible to suppress his popularity among the people. His wife Matilde, however worked hard to ensure that the Neruda foundation was established and that all of his homes would be restored and open to the public as Neruda had wished. Having no living heirs, he gave all his possessions to Chile.

Today his works can be found in almost every Chilean household, just as they were during his lifetime. Most Chileans, regardless of their politics, are incredibly proud of their patriot and his literary works. Most of his works have been translated rather accurately into English, although no translation can truly captivate his ability to create vivid and sensual images while maintaining his control of language. His three homes are now major tourist sites for Chileans and foreigners alike. We highly recommend all three locations during your travels here. The houses are a beautiful representation of his personality and are filled with his beautiful collection of shells, glasses, books and many other objects that he collected during his lifetime.

Isla Negra: In the summer it is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 8pm. The rest of the year it is open Tuesday to Friday from 10am to 2pm and 3pm to 6pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 8pm. Closed on Public Holidays. Reservations are imperative, especially in the summer months. Telephone: (35) 461284.

La Sebastiana: Ricardo Ferrari 692 Valparaiso. It is open from 10:30am to 6pm, with an hour lunch break at 2:30pm. Open until 7pm during the summer. Closed on public holidays.

La Chascona: Márquez de la Plata 0192 Bellavista Santiago. It is open 10am to 6pm Tuesday to Sunday, except on Public Holidays.


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Last Updated: 14 March 2014
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Recommended Books
by Pablo Neruda:

The Essential Neruda
Selected Poems

Selected by a team of poets and prominent Neruda scholars in both Chile and the U.S., this is a definitive selection that draws from the entire breadth and width of Neruda's various styles and themes

Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair
The Nobel Prize-winning poet's most popular work. When it appeared in 1924, this work launched into the international spotlight a young and unknown poet whose writings would ignite a generation

The Captain's Verses
In 1952, while in exile on the island of Capri, Neruda wrote these poems to his lover Matilde Urrutia before they were married