'I confess I have lived'
Pablo Neruda's biography is a testament of someone who loved life, lived it and through this love he learned to understand that silence of people is like a river which takes the poet downstreams.
As a Communist he was chased and had to go underground. For two years he had to flee and hide whereever he could. This is when he got to know people who sheltered him and he learned to trust them. There was no betrayal involved. Also contradictions were handled without any condemnation. For instance, he stayed once with a family consisting of the parents and one daughter. They hid him up in the attic. The daughter had a boyfriend who could not be trusted hence he was never told who was up there. Equally the parents did not object to the relationship their daughter had with that boy. One thing is safeguarding Pablo Neruda, another getting on with life. It made things possible.
He reaccounts one autumn he rode to a harvest up on a plateau. On the way there he made a stop over at villa in midst of the forest. It was run by three sisters, all from France. He was amazed what food he was served. It was the best he could ever had imagined. The next day before leaving he had to sign a book in which was written in clear letters the entire menu he had the evening before. Asking why this, he got the answer that the next time he shall come for a visit, they will avoid to repeat themselves in what they will serve him the next time.
He rode on and arrived at the harvest field. All day it meant hard word. Neruda must have been eighteen at that time. In the evening there were three hay stacks: one for married couples, one for single women and the third one for single men. He was very tired and settled into the hay stack. As he was about to close his eyes, he sensed something creeping up towards him. His first thought it might be a snake. Then that something crept closer. He started to touch hair and realized it was a woman. In a sly way Neruda added only the remark try to make love in a haystack to a woman and not wake up all the others. Just before he was about to fall asleep out of happy exhaustion, he thought what will happen when next morning they shall be discovered together? When he woke up, his hand went immediately to the side where she was but to his surprise she was gone and only a warm groove where her body had rested could be felt. All day he searched in the faces of the women working in the fields who could have she been? Just when he was about to give up, there opened the door of the only shack nearby and out stepped this beautiful woman. He was not sure but it seemed as if she had a sly smile on her face.
Pablo Neruda was ambassador for Chile and a close friend of Allende. When Pinochet made that putsch in September 1973 and not only his friend but the dream of a just society was killed, Neruda wrestled with his heart. It was at that time he received the Nobel prize. His acceptance speech was remarkable. Soon thereafter this great poet died.
I heard Pablo Neruda read his and Ritsos' poem at the Round House in Camden Town, London in 1969. Ritsos could not come. There ruled a military dictatorship in Greece, something to befall Chile under even more horrific terms than what was the case in Greece and that was already bad enough. Ritsos had been in and out of jail. His poems about bars, windows and stones attest to those prison times. Neruda called him 'brother' and in his absence he read his poems to pay tribute to what poetry can give, namely love.
There are the love poems by Neruda which almost everyone had at home. At one or another time they became as important as R.D. Laing's 'knots'. The special part of these love poems is that Neruda published them under a pseudonym in Naples, Italy as he did not wish to offend and to hurt his second wife. Like Picasso he needed to move on and found a woman of his life and to whom he devoted those poems.
One poem written by Pablo Neruda captures the rhythm of a harbor's bell which rings due to the different kinds of waves, some long, some short, some more intense, some reclining, at irregular intervals. I do not know how he did it but reading those lines in the rhythm of that bell lets you sense the movement in the waves.
As for the men fighting the polyphon that is also a lesson well learned about how easy the world can forget. These men were at sea when their fishing boat was attacked by this sea monster. Its huge tenacles gripped the entire boat and threatened to toss it over the next wave. One of the man was swept into the sea never to be seen again. They finally managed to get away after hours of a desparate fight with knifes and axes. Once back in the harbor the news spread fast and sure enough the newspapers brought the story of these heroic men on the first page. They felt to be atop of the world. The next day, after having been out to sea for their fishing route, they returned to the harbor, docked the boat and ran as fast as they could to the newspaper kiosk. They wanted to see if the newspapers would continue upholding their story but to their surprise and dismay nothing could be found on the front pages and even nothing more even on the last pages. They realized that they live in a world which easily forgets and moves from one day of news on to the next. These men, says Neruda in his poem, grew afraid of the world. They started to drink a lot. When sitting at the bar and looking out at the tracks leading into the harbor, they just thought why has everything become so wobbily, why do not run these tracks a straight line? It was as if they had grown afraid to admit to themselves that they had grown afraid of a world which can so easily forget.
World Poetry Movement is asking that organizations join in organizing the world tribute to poet Pablo Neruda, one of the greatest bards of the twentieth century. This tribute will take place Oct. 30th 2012 and will consist of poetry readings, lectures, film, screenings, talks and other activities around the poetry of this top figure of the poetry world.