Monday, October 12, 2015

Pablo Neruda

Recently I participated in a brief discussion concerning the poetic status of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, winner of a Nobel Prize in literature and acclaimed by at least one critic as the "greatest poet of the 20th century."
While I am not an expert on poetry, inclined as I am to the belief that we live in a post-poetic age, I am fluent in Spanish. So I went back to my copy of Neruda's magnum opus, the Canto General, a kind of segmental epic on the Americas in 15,000 lines. The loose-ranging prosody derives from Walt Whitman, a choice that seems perfectly valid. Not so much the story line.
The narrative starts with an idealized portrait of Amerindian cultures before the arrival of the conquistadores, who spoiled everything in Neruda's view. Right at the start, then, we have a conflict between indigenismo, the idealization of the original inhabitants of our continents, and hispanidad, the cherishing of the Spanish heritage and language.
Later, the poem declines into what can only be termed a series of rants against gringos and their corrupt allies in Latin America. All this is colored by Neruda's lifelong Stalinism. Yet for many admirers this far-left commitment is almost a plus, showing a "progressive" tendency.
I have never understood why fascism should be condemned - as it certainly should be - while Marxist totalitarianism is let off the hook. Yet this dichotomy is common in some bien-pensant circles.


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