Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (b. 1904–d. 1973) is one of Latin America’s most influential literary voices and a major force in world poetry. His bestselling books have been translated into multiple languages, at times more than once, and are read publicly during marches, rallies, and other historical moments worldwide. He was born Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto, in Parral, southern Chile. A tense relationship with his father, who didn’t want him to take up poetry, persuaded him to adopt the pseudonym Pablo Neruda. He took the last name from Czech writer Jan Neruda. He started writing at an early age and before he reached twenty published the ever-popular Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, a collection of romantic verses about unnamed lovers in which nature plays a protagonist role. He then switched to a style interested in history that is present in Residence on Earth and especially in his masterpiece Canto General, in which he retells the story of Chile, and of Latin America as a whole, through verse. Neruda was an itinerant traveler and bon vivant. He lived in Argentina, Mexico, Paris, Italy, and other countries. He was an exemplar of the poet-diplomat tradition so common in 20th-century Latin America, holding diplomatic posts around the world beginning with his appointment as honorary consul to Burma at the age of twenty-three. Along with other prominent writers like George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway, and Arthur Koestler, he was in Madrid during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1938). Neruda was dismissed from his consul position in Madrid due to his vociferous support for the Spanish loyalists. The horrors of the front and his subsequent dismissal led Neruda to explicitly embrace and espouse communist beliefs, which he retained for the remainder of his life. His poetry in the post-Spanish war period took on a more decisively political bent. Neruda was active in Chilean politics for much of his career: in 1945, he was elected to a Senate seat under the banner of the Chilean Communist Party. The poet was forced into hiding within Chile, and later exile abroad, in 1948 due to a crackdown on leftist organizing. He was close to the government of the USSR and Fidel Castro in Cuba, which earned Neruda both praise and scorn, and created an ideological shift with other intellectuals. Upon returning to Chile in 1952 in the wake of a favorable political turn, Neruda began to write Odas Elementales. In his later years, Neruda retained close ties with the government of his close friend, Socialist president Salvador Allende. Love and politics, not necessarily in that order, were Neruda’s central passions. One of his early books, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, is among the most widely read poetry collections around the globe. It is a succinct, intimate exploration of young romantic love. Known as a womanizer, he had three wives: Maryka Antonieta Hagenaar Vogelzang from Indonesia and Holland (1930–1942), Delia del Carril from Argentina (1943–1966), and Matilde Urrutia from Chile (1966–1973). Additionally, Neruda had innumerable love affairs with other women, many of which are catalogued in a multitude of correspondence and poetry. Women in general play a protagonist role in his work, though some recent appraisals of Neruda’s relationships with women call attention to alleged misogyny in his life and work. Some of Neruda’s other major works are Canto General, which retells the history of Latin America and forking historical paths into the future in poetic terms; The Captain’s Verses, another exploration of romantic love but now from an older lover’s perspective; One Hundred Love Sonnets; and the 225 odes he wrote to all sorts of “things” that surrounded his life, from shoe laces to a movie theater, autumn, French fries, and the dictionary. Twenty-first-century intellectual debates have centered on allegations of rape grounded in a passage in his memoir where he abuses a Tamil woman “of the pariah caste” while he was consul of Chile in Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka) between 1929 and 1930. Neruda writes: “It was the coming together of a man and a statue. She kept her eyes wide open all the while, completely unresponsive. She was right to despise me.” More broadly, feminist scholars accuse him of misogyny, as in the famous line from Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair: “I like it when you’re quiet because it’s as if you’re absent.” Neruda’s output was both assiduous and voluminous: by 1968, Neruda’s Obras Completas numbered some 3,237 pages. Neruda won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971. He died in Santiago, Chile’s capital, in 1973, a few weeks after General Augusto Pinochet’s coup d’état against the legitimately elected Socialist president Salvador Allende. Despite the refusal of Pinochet’s military junta to hold a public state funeral, in an act of subversion thousands of grieving authors, intellectuals, and leftist militants gathered to both mourn his passing and protest the brutality of Pinochet’s regime. In his native country, Neruda remains a formidable national symbol—both as ur-Chilean and leftist icon. His life has been adapted to theater, film, radio, TV, music, and opera. It has also generated substantial critical analysis. This bibliography focuses on biographies, his poetry books in the original Spanish as well as in English translations, memoirs and reminiscences by others, Neruda’s assiduous correspondence, novels and films based on his life and oeuvre, and major scholarly disquisitions on his work. The outpour on Neruda’s work is infinite. Two other bibliographies have been useful and are important in expanding on various aspects of his oeuvre: Horacio Jorge Becco’s Pablo Neruda: Bibliografía (Buenos Aires: Casa Pardo, 1975) and Hensley Charles Woodbridge’s Pablo Neruda: An Annotated Bibliography of Biographical and Critical Studies (New York: Garland, 1988).
Neruda is among the most fertile biographical subjects in Latin America. This section features the most significant biographies of his life. Aguirre 1967 is an early biography published a few years before Neruda’s death, while Amorós 2015 is a depiction of Neruda in the context of Hispanic literature. Eisner 2019 makes some controversial arguments. Feinstein 2004 is an accomplished work in the best British tradition of the genre. Edwards 2004 is a biography of Neruda by a friend. Loyola 2006 is by Neruda’s most sustained and accomplished scholar, if not the most readable biography. Rodríguez Monegal 1988 indulges in psychoanalytic ruminations. Szmulewicz 1988 emphasizes Neruda’s emotional dimension but ends up delivering a sentimental portrait. Teitelboim 1991 is a biographical exploration from the perspective of a friend of Neruda and fellow Communist sympathizer.
Aguirre, Margarita. Genio y figura de Pablo Neruda. Buenos Aires: Editorial Universitaria, 1964.
One of Neruda’s early biographers, Chilean novelist and critic Margarita Aguirre (b. 1925–d. 2003) met him in Buenos Aires in 1933, where her father was Chile’s deputy council. She was the author of Cuaderno de una muchacha muda (1951) and El huésped (1958) and also edited Neruda’s correspondence with Héctor Eandi.
Aguirre, Margarita. Las vidas de Pablo Neruda. Santiago: Zig-Zag, 1967.
Margarita Aguirre divides Neruda’s bifurcating life into episodes defined by his geographical location and his ideological affinities.
Amorós, Mario. Pablo Neruda: El príncipe de los poetas. Barcelona: Ediciones B, 2015.
A hagiographic look at the poet from the perspective of Spanish and Latin American literature.
Edwards, Jorge. Adiós, poeta . . . Barcelona: Tusquets, 2004.
A biography of Neruda by a Chilean friend, journalist and novelist Jorge Edwards, who had a sustained correspondence with him.
Eisner, Mark. Neruda: The Biography of a Poet. New York: Ecco, 2019.
An exploration of Neruda’s life at the crossroads of poetry and politics. Mark Eisner is an American translator.
Feinstein, Adam. Pablo Neruda: A Passion for Life. New York: Bloomsbury, 2004.
Among the most authoritative biographies of Neruda, it is written in the British biographical tradition of exploring a writer’s life through the interconnectedness of his deeds and his ideas.
Loyola, Hernán. Pablo Neruda: La biografía Literaria. Santiago: Editorial Planeta Chilena, 2006.
Loyola, emeritus professor of Spanish and Latin American literature at the University of Sássari, is arguably the most assiduous of Neruda scholars. His books include critical editions of Residencia en la tierra and anthologies in Spanish of Neruda’s most representative poems. Loyola’s limitation is that he frequently overwhelms his work with a punctiliousness that becomes distracting to readers. This biography suffers from such abundance. It follows Neruda’s career by overwhelming the narrative with ancillary information.
Rodríguez Monegal, Emir. Neruda: El viajero inmóvil. Barcelona: Editorial Laia, 1988.
A Uruguayan essayist, literary critic, and professor at Yale University, Emir Rodríguez Monegal published incisive biographies of Jorge Luis Borges and Pablo Neruda. This one has a strong psychoanalytic bent.
Sarmiento, Álvaro. Neruda: Entierro y testamento. Las Palmas, Canary Islands: Inventarios Provisionales, 1974.
A biographical investigation of Neruda’s death and afterlife, published a year after his passing.
Szmulewicz, Efraín. Pablo Neruda: Biografía emotiva. Santiago: Ediciones Rumbos, 1988.
A biography emphasizing Neruda’s emotional life, his love affairs, and the way he poured passion into politics.
Teitelboim, Volodia. Neruda: An Intimate Biography. Translated by Beverly J. DeLong-Tonelli. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991.
Volodia Teitelboim Volosky (b. 1916–d. 2008) was a Chilean communist lawyer and politician born to Jewish immigrants from Belarus who befriended Neruda. This is a subjective biographical exploration that abounds in personal anecdotes. Teitelboim also wrote biographies of Jorge Luis Borges, Vicente Huidobro, and Gabriela Mistral, as well as a series of memoirs that include A Boy of the Twentieth Century (1997), The Great War of Chile and Another that Never Existed (2000), and Radio Nights (2001).
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