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A Spanish Revolutionist, A World Ambassador: Neruda

There had been verses of a poem written with its first letters covered under the clouds that get on top of each other with jealousy of cold whitecap waves of Andes Mountains in the 20th century. Chile: a place where icecap waters mix with the river to unify under verdant flora; a place where Elqui valley’s muscatel grapes' aromas float around the colorful streets; a home for the world’s one of the most important poets, Pablo Neruda. He became an aromatic poet who was a revolutionist, a political leader, and even at a time, he became the voice of people who could not make their voice heard. He was a poet in exile. He was born in 1904, in the south of Chile with the name of Ricardo Eliezer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto. In 1917, he published his first writing in a newspaper called La Mañana within the name of Neftali Reyes as his signature. A year later, he published his first poem in Santiago de Chile where his poem took part in a magazine called Corre Veula.

He entered a competition for two times where he used his pen name "Pablo Neruda" and won the competition in first place. After this competition, he went to Santiago to have an education in the French language and literature. During his education, he started to learn the Spanish language. He was not aware yet that he was building a bridge to a country that would always be a part of his heart. In 1924, he published his first book under the name of "Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair.". In his poems, he ignited the terms of love and attraction. He also used expressive words in his verses to touch his readers' heart most profoundly.

"Your wide eyes are the only light I know

from extinguished constellations;

your skin throbs like the streak

of a meteor through the rain."

(XVI. 100 Love Sonnets)

He used simple language in his verses while he preferred to use everyday life elements in his writings. He used language in plain words, but he would refer to simple objects of life with deep meaning: "Beyond your eyes, farther on, the evenings were blazing." (Neruda, Line 28) – "Shining like a lighthouse of that trance hour." (Neruda, Line 51) He led the magazine of Caballo de Bastos at Santiago for a while, but the job he loved most as a writer had to end there as the money income was not enough for his needs. As a result, he started to work on diplomatic missions at the consulate to have a better financial stability in 1927. After many countries he had worked at the consulate, he was missioned to work at Madrid in 1936. By his assignation, he took the first steps to his life in Spain but not after a long time, on July 17, the Spanish Civil War outbroke while he was there. Spanish General Francisco Franco staged a coup with his military power, but his attempt was not fully successful as many people from different cities rioted against the coup attempt and many protests defending the Republican government started. No matter how the army declared its loyalty to their general, the government stayed loyal to their people. In this way, Spain was divided into two as Military and Politic. Republicans opened a popular front against the fascist and aggressive methods of Franco.

General Francisco Franco's troops in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, late 1930s.

Many imperialist countries across the world supported Franco’s administration globally. While the popular front’s only support was from their people; Franco had money and gun support from many countries. Neruda’s faith was in the Republican government but the parties who had to come up with an electoral alliance failed to rule the country. The day when the Spanish Civil War started, Pablo and his friend had made plans to go to a show. Later he wrote, "But Federico didn’t come. At that time of the hour, the journey to death was already started. We had never been able to see each other again. The Spanish Civil War that changed my poetry begins with the death of a poet." (Neruda, 1967, p. 115).

The Spanish streets which carried the smell of history and art were about to be dipped into blood and fire which were going to occupy a bitter pain of cruelty of street stages for three years. The brutal General ordered all Republicans to be razed off the Spanish history. He gathered all Republicans at an arena of Badajoz and slaughtered all of them while he chose elite people to watch it. With steely shirts and bloody boots of Franco’s units slaughtering from elder to child and woman to man, there was a factor that Franco did not consider: Spanish people’s belief in themselves. Spanish people saved the Republic. Spanish people showed that they had something more powerful than overwhelming military vehicles of colonist countries: People. After seeing the victory of the people, external powers started to interfere. Democratic countries (United States, United Kingdom, France) called out the "non-interference in the internal affairs" policy and left Republicans unarmed with no international support while Nazi Germany and Italian fascists were feeling no trouble to show off their external interference against Republican people's front. The "non-interference in the internal affairs" policy blocked the French government from selling weapons to Republican forces while Italy and Germany delivered planes, armory, mercenaries and guns under the new policy as a blanket to their actions.

Some of the 10,000 recalled Legionnaires who had fought with Spanish insurgents are seen on the Luigi Razza dock at Naples, Italy, as they await the arrival of King Victor Emmanuel, who came to greet them in person -Spanish Civil War Italian Troops, Naples, Italy.

In the lead of Nazi Germany; Italy and Portugal did not recognize the policy that had been declared. Franco’s secretary of foreign affairs stated, "American petroleum, American credits, If American public opinion wouldn’t be in this status, we wouldn’t be able to win this war." (Sandoval, 1969, p. 53). Without the support of logistic tracks and weapons, they confessed that they would not have been able to suppress the riots if these trucks had never existed. “Germany 1200, Italy 1800, the United States 12800 quantity of trucks have been delivered to us” (Sandoval, 1969, p. 55). When the truth about the failure of the fascist leader Franco was exposed during the Civil War, Germany and Italy launched an attack on the Republican navy station between Morocco and Spain by planes and submarines and broke the Republican strength. With this attack, Franco’s units that gathered around Morocco, Moroccan mercenary, and Italian troopers entered the Spanish territory. The number of Italian troopers that had participated in the Spanish Civil War reached 150,000. The fleet of the Italian air force with approximately 1000 bomber planes, launched from Italy to bomb Spanish people and dropped 11,585 tons of bombs. One day, Pablo Neruda’s house, the House of the Flowers, was bombed by "Yunkers"* and it was ruined.

(*) The Junkers Ju 88 is a Nazi Germany World War II Luftwaffe twin-engined multirole combat aircraft which has been used heavily during bombing missions.

Representation of Pablo Neruda's House of the Flowers

The House of the Flowers, which appeared in Neruda’s lines of poetry, became ruined with the fascist army which destroyed the joy of living, hope, longing, liberty, and little kids… He mentioned this by writing, "World changed and so do my poems too" - "A blood dripped on these lines and they shall live evermore." (Neruda, Las furias y las penas, Line 1) In Neruda’s lines, fascism is an enemy of the grapes growing in Spain, of wheat, mine, and first and foremost it is an enemy of the House of the Flowers. The war affected Neruda deeply. He believed that generals who were fogeyish – squadristic murderers, were not worthy of a new style of poetry. Therefore, he delineated generals with outmoded techniques of poetry that represent the old. Neruda depicted boring and rough images of war with non-literary style.

"Damned, damned, so damned they are so with their axes, snakes

They have come forth to your arena on earth, so damned they are

Waited they have till today, to open the door of the residence

To Moroccan, bandits:

What have you pulled off? bring the lamb,

See sopping wet soil, see darken, little bones

Consumed by the fires, the clothes of

Murdered Spain" (Residence On Earth – 3.Residence 166)

Italy supplied ten thousands of ammunition, artillery, and many thousands of more vehicle supply chains to Franco. They sunk the humanitarian aid ships and the cargo ships that were carrying food to the Republicans. They did not sink the survival needs of people, but they cut down the Republic on monetary within blockade (Broué., Témine,1976, pp. 260-261). The number of soldiers who interfered by the German, Italian, Portuguese and Arab had reached over 300,000. Neruda saw poetic writing as something more than art and saw the influence of it on Spanish people. He felt it a moral duty for him to write political poems to educate the people of Spain. Neruda took the social injustice and labefaction of the community as a mission for himself to display. When Neruda had a scent for the losing of battle on the Republican side, he defined the situation with the words "There is no bread nor light left at the city." (Neruda, Residence On Earth, Line 51) to depict that the city’s laborers were deprived of the richness that they had created for Spain. The city that the poet loved was now left without any bread or light. "Dreams of grenades, scares the bullocks. Joy’s place left with silence, Swallow birds place left with burned down houses anymore." (Neruda, Residence On Earth, Line 59) he portrayed. Neruda took everything that happened to Spain as if it was personal and he counted himself as a diplomat of people but not of his official diplomatic duty. He started to behave as if he was a volunteer of the popular front. Neruda, as a poet of the world, took what was going on in Spain and how bloody acts were displayed by General Franco, as a mission for himself and started to write on them for people all around the world. He did join the anti-fascist campaigns and joined the events to find support for the popular front of Republican Spain. From that moment, Neruda changed his House of the Flowers, as Wounded Spain. He used more sharp language in his poems, his ideas became more radical, and at the finest hour, Pablo Neruda became a communist. His poems changed into moments of bitter sharpness; children who were executed in the streets and the bombings he had witnessed became part of his new style of poems.

Farewell ceremony for the International Brigades.

This witnessing changed Neruda and his diplomatic station at Madrid, officially called off by the Chilean government. This witnessing made his defense of social realism even stronger. "To defend the Spanish republic, actions that I have taken depicted as a reason to put an end on my diplomatic mission of Chilian government" wrote Neruda (Neruda, 1967, p. 119). Neruda used a language that is similar to chanting, a tribute to a nation, a lament, as if it was a holy song so that even people who did not know how to write could be able to memorize the lines and they would be able to memorize it as if it was a prayer. During the days of the Civil War, the moment his new writing was published, it passed from one to another, to all soldiers of resistance with the name of "España en el Corazón." After witnessing the uncountable amount of cruelty and injustice, Pablo Neruda left the world of "I " in his writings and gave up on the first-person narrative. He became a poet who dedicated himself to the matters of the community and of the people. He gathered with other Republican poets such as Rafael Alberti and Miguel Hernández, and they decided to form a magazine. Neruda’s last poem in his book España en el Corazón and a long poem he wrote in the last parts of the book, in an additional section, entitled "Oda solar al ejército del pueblo" made people feel the warmth of his feelings in their hearts. They felt his presence with the resilience of the people of Spain. His dedication to forming Spanish people’s struggle and their hopes in his poems can be seen in "Madrid" and "Canto a las Madres de Los Milicianos Muertos" poems. The latter was a folk song that he dedicated to the mothers of militias that had been killed. He had also taken many more of his cause at his poems during his writings. Neruda, after the Chilean government's decision to end his official mission in Spain, had been called out to Paris. In there, he fought with republicans against fascists. With his comrades he assembled a "Writers Meeting Against Fascism" conference for representatives who came all around the world. He saved 2000 Spanish fugitives from fascists being killed and helped them escape to Chile. The Spanish Civil War which outbroke within the leadership of Hitler, Mussolini, and Salazar and their support of General Francisco Franco, started on July 17, 1936, and ended on April 1, 1939. Franco managed to overrun the Republican popular front which was supported by the Soviet Union and volunteer soldiers who participated in brigades around the world. Within the leadership of fascist Franco, 1 million people had been slaughtered. Neruda lost his hopes after the end of the war. Many things happened from 1934 to 1939. Neruda’s poems changed in line with the world. From then, blood should be dropped on his poems and his poems were going to have a scent of blood in lines.

Pablo Neruda back in Chile.

After the war, he gathered all his writings together in his book Residence On Earth. The first and second residences were experimental and supernatural. In these two residences, epic landscapes, supernatural themes, and feelings of longing were all around the lines. At his third residence, the Spanish Civil War shined on his lines. In his poem entitled "I'm Explaining a Few Things," he included disturbing details of the Spanish Civil War. Neruda kept his belief in his ideals even in the last days of his life. He had to live in exile and never had a chance to return to his home due to his political views. He was allowed to come back to his homeland after a long time, only in 1952. When he was 66 years old in 1970, he was nominated for Chile's presidency. However, at a later time of the election, he chose to stay as an advisor near his friend’s presidency campaign. A few years later, a military coup had succeeded and they overthrew the government. Pablo Neruda was fighting with severe cancer and his pain was immense but the fascist coup general forbade nurses from giving him medicine to ease his pain. He could not stand his pains anymore, after four days of the coup and closed his eyes to our world while having opened so many's eyes to Spanish people’s life: the Chilean beauty of landscapes, and many more ideas he had spread. He took his part in being immortal in the field of literature.


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Mar 05, 2022

Another very well-researched and informative article from you! It was great to read about Pablo Neruda in detail.


Janis Rojas
Janis Rojas
Mar 03, 2022

As a Chilean myself, I am glad to see Pablo Neruda in an article!

I like that you wrote being very informative and respectful. Neruda was great because he stepped out of poetry to be active on the social/political land, always seeking the right and better things for the people (as poet, as Senator, as a sort of influencer-as we would call it nowadays).

I would only change the "Spanish" word from the title, as it reads more as a demonym than his mother tongue, and we tend to be slightly protective of our Nobel Prize winners Neruda & Mistral 😁

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Doğukan Ejder

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