Contemporary Spanish American poetry may be summed up in the phenomenal career of the Chilean, Pablo Neruda (1904-). His first important book, Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada (1924), showed an evolution from his earlier modernistic phase. In “Poema XX” the uses paradox and metaphor with utmost subtlety to portray an ambivalent feeling for an absent woman once loved and possessed.

In Resiencia en la tierra (1925-1935) the anguish of existence is described in a profusion of images representing reality as disintegration. Numerous metaphors and series of similies without any explicit reference to what is being compared form the substance of these poems.

In his Canto general (1950) the history of America from pre-Columbian times to the twentieth century is treated in poems that indicate a strong Marxist commitment. Indigenous achievements are praised in “Alturas de Macchu Picchu”, one of the outstanding poems of the book, as well as in poems to Cuauhtcmoc, the Aztec hero, to Caupolican, the Araucanian leader, and to Tupac Amaru, leader of the Peruvian rebellion of 1781. And imperialism is attacked time and again. Expression is direct, less metaphorical, more oratorical, than in his earlier work. The poems are dedicated to the people. So too are his Odas elementales (1954, 1956, 1957) which are poems of wondrous simplicity concerning the simple things of the earth. For example, his description of the sea in his “Oda al mar” (Ode to the Sea) begins:

Aquí en la isla

el mar

y cuanto mar

se sale de sí mismo

a cada rato,

dice que si, que no,

dice que si, en azul,

en espuma, en galope,

dice que no, que no.

(Here on the island

the sea

and how much sea

is coming out of itself

each time,

it says yes, then no,

it says yes, in blue,

in foam, in haste,

it says no, then no.)


He goes on to ask the sea to share its bounty with man, to contribute willingly the food needed by man. But if it refuses, man, after righting his political and social situation, will command the sea:

Todo lo arreglaremos

poco a poco:

te obligaremos, mar,

te obligaremos, tierra,

a hacer milagros,

porque en nosotros mismos,

en la lucha,

esta el pez, esta cl pan,

esta cl milagro.

(We will settle everything

little by little:

we will compel you, sea,

we will compel you, land,

to work miracles,

because in ourselves,

in struggle

is the fish, the bread,

the miracle.)


Neruda continues to write prolifically in this vein. His Cancion de gesta in praise of the Cuban revolution appeared in 196o. Of all twentieth-century poets his work is probably the most widely read. Until 1962 there were one hundred and seventy-seven authorized editions of his works and many unauthorized ones published in Spanish. Portions of his work had been translated into twenty-three languages.