Romance and revolution: the poetry of Pablo Neruda - Ilan Stavans
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Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) is arguably Latin America’s most famous poet. He lived during a period of intense political turmoil, with dictators taking over control of governments from Argentina to Brazil and Chile. He believed poetry was the best, most hopeful weapon in the struggle against tyranny. He witnessed the Spanish Civil War and wrote eloquently about it, as in his poem “I Explain a Few Things.” His poetry is universal, such as all his odes, is universal in that it speaks to his immediate reality while also transcending it. Among the most vivid examples is his “Ode to the Watermelon,” in which he invites us to see a fruit like the watermelon anew. His love for Spanish allowed him to turn the language into a simple, direct tool of expression that could reach audiences of all kinds. He also wrote about its beauty and complexity, as in his “Ode to the Dictionary.” Neruda traveled across the world denouncing corruption and celebrating human empathy. But he also made tacit mistakes, such as championing Cuba and the Soviet Union in spite of their record against individual freedom. His influence on contemporary life is infinite, his work having been turned into films, operas, theater, music, dance, and much more.
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