Lit eZine Vol 2 | p-17 | A WRITER’S LIFE | Pablo Neruda



When we talk about love, love poetry by Pablo Neruda can never be far from one’s mind. His life was quite eventful, and the controversies continued long after he died.

Born Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto, (12 July 1904 – 23 September 1973), Neruda was a Chilean poet-diplomat and politician who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971. He was a known poet by the age of 13 and has written surrealist poems, historical epics, overtly political manifestos, a prose autobiography, and passionate love poems.

Neruda occupied many diplomatic positions in various countries and was also a Senator for the Chilean Communist Party. When President Gabriel González Videla outlawed communism in Chile in 1948, a warrant was issued for Neruda’s arrest. Friends hid him for months in the basement of a house in the port city of Valparaíso. In 1949 he escaped to Argentina and did not return to Chile for more than three years.

He was hospitalized for cancer in September 1973 but returned home after a few days as he suspected a doctor was injecting him with something to murder him on Pinochet’s orders. Neruda died in his house on 23 September 1973, just hours after leaving the hospital. He was reported to have died of heart failure.

Neruda’s driver, Manuel Araya, stated that doctors had administered poison to Neruda. In June 2013, a Chilean judge ordered an investigation into the matter. Test results of the seven-month investigation did not reveal any chemical substances that could be linked to Neruda’s death”.

Scientific tests conducted in May 2015 found that Neruda was infected with the Staphylococcus aureus bacterium, which can result in death if modified. In 2015, the Chilean government issued a statement that “it was clearly possible and highly likely” that Neruda was killed as a result of “the intervention of third parties”.

A team of 16 international experts from the University of Murcia announced on 20 October 2017 that “from analysis of the data we cannot accept that the poet had been in an imminent situation of death at the moment of entering the hospital” and that death from prostate cancer was not likely at the moment when he died.

In November 2018, the Cultural Committee of Chile’s lower house voted to rename Santiago’s main airport after Neruda. The decision sparked protests from feminist groups, who highlighted a passage in Neruda’s memoirs describing a sexual assault of a young housemaid in 1929 while stationed in Ceylon.

In 1976, a sub-group of butterflies of the South American genus Heliconius was named after him. A crater on Mercury is also named Neruda, in his honour.

In his speech after receiving the Nobel Prize, he recounts his escape from Chile and talks about the creation of his poetry. You can read a translation of the speech here.

Neruda’s poetry has been translated into many languages, including English. Don’t forget to buy his books or read his beautiful poetry online when you get a chance.

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