Neruda, Pablo

Sonnet XVII (100 Love Sonnets, 1960)

I don’t love you as if you were the salt-rose, topaz
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as certain dark things are loved,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom and carries
hidden within itself the light of those flowers,
and thanks to your love, darkly in my body
lives the dense fragrance that rises from the earth.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you simply, without problems or pride:
I love you in this way because I don’t know any other way of loving

but this, in which there is no I or you,
so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.


Photo of Neruda

Image by Cantus / CC Licensed

Pablo Neruda was born Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto in Parral, Chile on July 12, 1904. His mother died just weeks later, and his father discouraged his affinity for poetry, which he had displayed since the age of ten. His family’s disapproval drove the young Basoalto to write under the pseudonym of Pablo Neruda, which he officially adopted in 1946. Neruda was married three times– Chile did not officially recognize his second marriage. Although his published poetry was widely respected by the time he reached age twenty, Neruda found it necessary to follow his budding political career to Asia in order to make a living. In Europe in the 1930s he became involved in Communism, which would influence his later political actions as well as much of his poetry. In 1946 he successfully campaigned in Chile for the regime of Gabriel Gonzalez Videla, but he soon publicly expressed displeasure with Videla’s presidency and was forced to flee his homeland for several years. Neruda was very active in the Communist party and briefly ran for president against Allende. His poetry was also deeply inflected with his political perspective. Neruda was able to return to Chile in 1952, finally both wealthy and widely respected. In 1971 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He died of cancer at age 69 on September 23, 1973. By that time he was recognized as a national hero and the greatest Latin American poet of the twentieth century.

Literary Influences

As a boy Neruda attended Temuco Boys’ School; the principal of the Girls’ School was Gabriela Mistral.  Mistral was a well-respected poet, and later became a Nobel Laureate herself, and she encouraged a young Neruda to pursue his fascination with poetry. In 1933, Neruda met Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Garcia Lorca not only befriended Neruda and introduced him to influential Communists, he also publicly supported Neruda’s poetry. Neruda was interested in both national and international aspects of literature.  He translated foreign works by many older authors including William Blake and William Shakespeare, but he also closely read Spanish language poets like Garcia Lorca, Jorge Luis Borges, and Miguel de Cervantes. Throughout his career, though, Neruda credited Walt Whitman with his deepest inspiration; he once declared that “I, a poet who writes in Spanish, learned more from Walt Whitman than from Cervantes.” A carpenter once helped hang a picture of Walt Whitman in Neruda’s home; when he asked if this was a picture of the poet’s grandfather, Neruda replied that it was indeed (Nolan 4).


During his lifetime, Neruda seemed to experience the spectrum of emotional highs and lows very vividly, and his poetry clearly reflected this experience. In times of inspiration he was capable of unparalleled romanticism. His passionate love affairs often provided him with a living muse; his third wife brought him such inspiration from their marriage until his death. Despite his illness, Neruda was extremely happy during his final years in Chile, and his love for his country served as an equally powerful contributor to his poetry.  Neruda’s capacity for joy and reverence toward life is especially evident in works such as Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1924) and 100 Love Sonnets (1960).

Even in times of great happiness, however, Neruda tended to slip dark imagery into his poetry. Indeed, read in a different light, even his love poems can be seen as a subtle but powerful cry against life’s tragedies. Neruda’s periods of happiness were interspersed with times of extreme depression, which often resurfaced during his travels in Europe and Asia. Neruda was often forced by politics or financial troubles to abandon his friends, his country, and even his wives; in such times the passion he had reserved for these loves often turned inward and resulted in a gnawing loneliness. The dark undertones in Neruda’s daily life also surfaced in his work. Just as he often published collections of love poems in times of joy, he sometimes composed “material” poems to exercise his affinity for the macabre. Residence on Earth (1935) is one example of a collection detailing the sinister energy Neruda was able to derive from everyday objects.

The ups and downs in Neruda’s personal life led him to seek out and attempt to describe the essence of life.  It was in this quest for understanding and oneness that he most closely resembled, and sometimes mimicked, Whitman. Like much of Whitman’s own work, many of Neruda’s poems, such as those found in his General Study (1950), were an attempt to discover and explain truths across separate themes. Such works tended to combine nature with nation, with history, and with freedom. Paradoxically, Neruda was also able to capture the intrinsic value inherent in plants, animals, and simple objects without unduly coloring the odes with emotion. His Elementary Odes (1954) also followed Whitman’s lead, and were heralded for their insightful brand of simplicity. Neruda’s greatest literary success was his ability to approach the grandiose and the minute, the tragic and the joyous,with equal patience and reverence.

List of Works

  • Neruda, Pablo. Antologia Esencial (Ed. Hernan Loyola; 1971)
  • —. Antologia General (1970)
  • —. Antologia Poetica (Ed. Pablo Luis Avila; 1962)
  • —. Arte de Pajaros (1966)
  • —. Aun (1959)
  • —. Bestiario (1958)
  • —. Cancion de Gesta (1960)
  • —. Canto General (1950)
  • —. Cantos Ceremoniales (1961)
  • —. Cien Sonetos de Amor (1960)
  • —. Crepusculario (1923)
  • —. Dulce Patria (1951)
  • —. Extravagario (1958)
  • —. Fin de Mundo (1969)
  • —. Geografia Infructuosa (1972)
  • —. Hondero Entusiasta (1932)
  • —. Incitacion al Nixoncidio y Alabanza de la Revolucion Chilena
  • —. La Barcarola (1967)
  • —. La Espada Encendida (1970)
  • —. La Rosa Separada (1972)
  • —. Las Manos del Dia (1968)
  • —. Las Piedras de Chile (1961)
  • —. Las Uvas y el Viento (1954)
  • —. Los Versos del Capitan (1954)
  • —. Memorial de Isla Negra (1964)
  • —. Navegaciones y Regresos (1959)
  • —. Nuevas Odas Elementales (1956)
  • —. Obra Poetica de Pablo Neruda (1948)
  • —. Obras Completas (1962)
  • —. Obras Completas (1968)
  • —. Odas Elementales (1954)
  • —. Plenos Poderes (1962)
  • —. Poesia Politica (1953)
  • —. Poesias (1965)
  • —. Residencia en la Tierra (1935)
  • —. Tentativa del Hombre Infinitivo (1926)
  • —. Todo el Amor (1953)
  • —. Viente Poemas de Amor y Una Cancion Desesperada (1924)


  • Neruda, Pablo. Antologia Poetica (1981)
  • —. Elegia (1974)
  • —. El Mar y las Campanas (1973)
  • —. Jardin del Invierno (1973)
  • —. Libro de las Preguntas (1974)
  • —. Pablo Neruda (Ed. Carlos Rafael Duverran; 1977)
  • —. 2000 (1974)

Works Cited

  • Nolan, James. Poet-Chief: The Native American Poetics of Walt Whitman and Pablo Neruda. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1994.

Selected Bibliography

  • Agosin, Marjorie. Pablo Neruda. Translated by Lorraine Ross. Boston: Twayne, 1986.
  • Nolan, James. Poet-Chief: The Native American Poetics of Walt Whitman and Pablo Neruda. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1994.
  • Perriam, Christopher. The Late Poetry of Pablo Neruda. Oxford: Dolphin Book Co., 1989.
  • Poirot, Luis. Pablo Neruda: Absence and Presence. Translated by Alastair Reed. New York: Norton, 1990.
  • Santi, Enrico Mario. Pablo Neruda, the Poetics of Prophecy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 1982.
  • Teitelboim, Volodia. Neruda: An Intimate Biography. Translated by Beverly J. DeLong-Tonelli. Austin, TX: University of Texas, 1992.
  • Woodbridge, Hensley C. and David S. Zubatsky. Pablo Neruda: An Annotated Bibliography of Biographical and Critical Studies. New York: Garland, 1988.

Related Links

Further information on Chile

Introduction to Marxism

Il Postino site

Nobel Prize

The Poetry Foundation

Author: Jesse Zitrin, Spring 1999

Last edited: June 2012

Magical Realism

Magical Realism

A literary mode rather than a distinguishable genre, magical realism is characterized by two conflicting perspectives, one based on a so-called rational view of reality and the other on the acceptance of the supernatural as prosaic reality. Magical realism differs from pure fantasy primarily because it is set in a normal, modern world with authentic descriptions of humans and society. It aims to seize the paradox of the union of opposites; for instance, it challenges binary oppositions like life and death and the pre-colonial past versus the post-industrial present. According to Angel Flores, magical realism involves the fusion of the real and the fantastic, or as he claims, “an amalgamation of realism and fantasy.” The presence of the supernatural in magical realism is often connected to the primeval or magical “native” mentality, which exists in opposition to European rationality. According to Ray Verzasconi, as well as other critics, magical realism is “an expression of the New World reality which at once combines the rational elements of the European super-civilization, and the irrational elements of a primitive America.”  Gonzalez Echchevarria believes that magical realism offers a world view that is not based on natural or physical laws nor objective reality. However, the fictional world is not separated from reality either.


The term “magical realism” was first introduced by Franz Roh, a German art critic, who considered magical realism an art category. To him, it was a way of representing and responding to reality and pictorially depicting the enigmas of reality. In Latin America in the 1940s, magical realism was a way to express the realistic American mentality and create an autonomous style of literature. Yet, magical realism is not confined to Latin American literature alone, for many Latin American writers have influenced writers around the world, such as Indian writer Salman Rushdie and Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri.

Characteristics of Magical Realism

The Famished Road book cover

Ben Okri, The Famished Road, 1991

Hybridity: Magical realists incorporate many techniques that have been linked to post-colonialism, with hybridity being a primary feature.  Specifically, magical realism is illustrated in the inharmonious arenas of such opposites as urban and rural and Western and indigenous. The plots of magical realist works involve issues of borders, mixing, and change.  Authors establish these plots to reveal a crucial purpose of magical realism:  a more deep and true reality than conventional realist techniques would illustrate.

Irony Regarding Author’s Perspective: The writer must have ironic distance from the magical world view for the realism not to be compromised. Simultaneously, the writer must strongly respect the magic, or else the magic dissolves into simple folk belief or complete fantasy, split from the real instead of synchronized with it. The term “magic” relates to the fact that the point of view that the text depicts explicitly is not adopted according to the implied world view of the author. As Echevarria notes, the act of distancing oneself from the beliefs held by a certain social group makes it impossible to be thought of as a representative of that society.

Authorial Reticence: Authorial reticence refers to the lack of clear opinions about the accuracy of events and the credibility of the world views expressed by the characters in the text. This technique promotes acceptance in magical realism. In magical realism, the simple act of explaining the supernatural would eradicate its position of equality regarding a person’s conventional view of reality. Because it would then be less valid, the supernatural world would be discarded as false testimony.

The Supernatural and Natural: In magical realism, the supernatural is not displayed as questionable.  While the reader realizes that the rational and irrational are opposite and conflicting polarities, they are not disconcerted because the supernatural is integrated within the norms of perception of the narrator and characters in the fictional world.


The idea of terror overwhelms the possibility of rejuvenation in magical realism. Several prominent authoritarian figures, such as soldiers, police, and sadists all have the power to torture and kill. Time is another conspicuous theme, which is frequently displayed as cyclical instead of linear. What happens once is destined to happen again. Characters rarely, if ever, realize the promise of a better life. As a result, irony and paradox stay rooted in recurring social and political aspirations. Another particularly complex theme in magical realism is the carnivalesque. The carnivalesque is carnival’s reflection in literature. The concept of carnival celebrates the body, the senses, and the relations between humans. “Carnival” refers to cultural manifestations that take place in different related forms in North and South America, Europe, and the Caribbean, often including particular language and dress, as well as the presence of a madman, fool, or clown. In addition, people organize and participate in dance, music, or theater. Latin American magical realists, for instance, explore the bright life-affirming side of the carnivalesque. The reality of revolution, and continual political upheaval in certain parts of the world, also relates to magical realism. Specifically, South America is characterized by the endless struggle fora political ideal.

Magical Realist Authors

Isabel Allende
Kwame Anthony Appiah
Allejo Carpentier
Syl Cheney-Coker
Kojo Laing
Mario Vargas Llosa
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Toni Morrison
Ben Okri
Salman Rushdie 

Examples of Magical Realism in the works of Marquez and Okri

One Hundred Years of Solitude book cover

Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1967

In One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), Marquez incorporates many supernatural motifs like levitation and flying carpets. Marquez also creates, in the tradition of the grotesque carnival and supernatural realism, the character of Melquiades, who is an overweight gypsy with supernatural powers.  His novel contains powerful images of paradoxical bodily disgust and celebration, ambivalent celebration and laughter, and the reconstruction of human shapes, all of which exemplify characteristics of magical realism. In this novel and others, Marquez utilizes ironic distance.  Okri’s The Famished Road (1991) also incorporates several characteristics of magical realism. Specifically, examples of hybridity occur often. For instance, after the character Azaro wrongly believes a figure by the river to be the ferryman of the dead, he learns that she is in fact a hybrid woman, young in body but “with an old woman’s face.” The illustration is also a hybrid of ancient ritual and custom.  Also, The Famished Road depicts the theme of political struggle and political corruption. The character Madame Koto is implied in the corruption of modern Nigerian politics. She encapsulates the new power herself, rather than its transgression, foreshadowing the country’s civil war to come. Okri uses ironic distance in this novel as well.

Works Cited

  • Chanady, Amaryll Beatrice. Magical Realism and the Fantastic. New York:  Garland Publishing, Inc, 1985.
  • Cooper, Brenda. Magical Realism in West African Literature. London:  Routledge Publishing, 1998.
  • Danow, David K. The Spirit of Carnival: Magical Realism and the Grotesque.  Kentucky:  The University Press of Kentucky,1995.

Author: Lindsay Moore, Fall 1998
Last edited: July 2012