Literature

The Death of a Poet: Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda’s remains are due to be exhumed on Monday after new allegations concerning the cause of his death have emerged. Believed to have died of prostrate cancer in 1973, it is now suspected that the Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet may have been poisoned by Gen Augusto Pinochet’s military regime.

Neruda’s then personal assistant, Manuel Araya, claims that Neruda had planned to leave Chile to organise opposition to the Gen Augusto Pinochet’s government. Amongst a suspicious lack of medical records and a history of political murder in Chile, forensics plan to test Neruda’s bones for evidence of cancer as well as traces of poison.

It may be several months before any conclusions are reached.

As a poem about the very poetry that made him famous, I thought “Poetry” would be a fitting tribute to Neruda’s literary career:

“Poetry” by Pablo Neruda

And it was at that age … Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
deciphering
that fire,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
nonsense,
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
unfastened
and open,
planets,
palpitating plantations,
shadow perforated,
riddled
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
void,
likeness, image of
mystery,
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.

For more details on Neruda’s death, see the BBC website.

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