|WELCOMING SPEECH HONORING PABLO NERUDA|
traducción de Marlene Gottlieb
are two ways to refute Neruda:
Ladies and gentlemen: I am not an improvised Nerudian. The Neruda theme has attracted me vigorously for as long as I can remember. Not one day goes by without my thinking of him at least once. I read him attentively, I follow with increasing amazement his yearly displacement along the Zodiac, I analyze him and compare him with himself. I try to learn whatever I can. I have dedicated some quatrains to him in dramatic moments of his life, a life which he has completely consecrated to the cause of humanity. I have shared Neruda's life for years, as a neighbor, as a disciple, as a sporadic visitor. Furthermore, we have exchanged practical and symbolic objects: a Whitman for a López Velarde; a ceramic of Quinchamalí for an Araucanian poncho; a pocket watch for a houseleek garden, butterflies, etc. All this gives me the right, I think, to consider myself an experienced Nerudian.
However, I react like a novice, forgive my sincerity, I am like a student who has just been granted an interview with the president of the university and in his youthful nervousness forgets his lines. I stammer and lose my voice. My mind goes completely blank.
To begin with, I am going to read a poem I dedicated to Neruda in 1952, when he returned from exile. It's not a good poem, but it gives an idea of the devotion and affection that the author has for the hero of his poem.
SALUTATION TO NERUDA
just want to salute the noble
The versifier has several advantages over the prose writer: one is the ease with which he can get out of a difficult situation by reading a poem, as I just have. The public is always more willing to favor a sonnet than a chapter of a novel, for reasons of brevity, I suppose; a sonnet rarely goes beyond 14 lines, and above all, it seems to me, because prose is meant to be read only with the eyes, not with the mouth.
As we can see, prose is a visual art; poetry, on the other hand, is a narcotic of the ear.
Unfortunately, I cannot make use of a simple poetic device on an occasion like this when, it would seem, it is necessary to think with one's head and not with one's heart, as the poet usually does.
To tell the truth, the academic speech is a literary genre that is very much in contradiction with the ungovernable and fragmented temperament of the antipoet. Antipoetry is an all-out battle with the elements; the antipoet gives himself the right to say all, without being concerned about the practical consequences that his theoretical formulations may bring him. Result: the antipoet is declared a persona non grata.
While talking about one thing the antipoet may very well come out with something else, and the world is not going to fall apart because of that. And if it does, so much the better; that is precisely the intention of the antipoet, to jolt the moth-eaten foundations of worn-out ossified institutions.
And now, a parenthesis:
Perhaps the difference between the poet-soldier and the antipoet lies, after all, in the method of combat; the antipoet fights with a flick of his fingers; the poet-soldier, on the other hand, doesn't move one single step without his portable machinegun.
For personal reasons, the antipoet is a sniper. He fights for the same cause but with a totally different technique. He doesn't disclaim the poet-soldier, he works with him from a distance, although his method may seem ambiguous.
End of parenthesis.
To me, the supreme artistic genre is pantomime.
I accept, however, with genuine satisfaction -considering the poet I'm dealing with- the responsibility of talking seriously, as seriousness is understood these days, although to me seriousness is exactly the opposite and I run the risk of talking out of character: my fundamental postulate proclaims that true seriousness is comical:
seriousness of the wrinkled brow
seriousness of a tuxedo
There is something sentimental involved here too. It's been such a long, long time since I last talked with my friend Pablo, with my older brother, with my teacher -I haven't seen any trace of Pablo Neruda since 1962- that it would be absurd to pass up such a splendid opportunity.
Even Carlos Nascimento complains about how difficult it is to get a meeting with our guest of honor these days. He has disappeared from circulation. The scarce news we get of him reaches us refracted and diffused through intermediary prisms.
I'll begin by trying to establish the importance for me of this act, presided over by our esteemed dean, writer and philosopher, Eugenio González, former Senator and former Secretary of Education.
I don't know if I am going to be overly pretentious, but I can't help relate this act of acceptance of our foremost poet to the anti-act of injustice of which Senator Pablo Neruda was the innocent victim in 1949, during the well-known administration of [Gabriel] González Videla.(3) I still cannot understand how a group of individuals can have the right to take away powers conferred by the people through a democratic election.
A paradox of democracy, you may say, to console me, paradoxes of democracy I tell myself as well clenching my fists and my teeth in anger.
The facts are these: the doors of the Senate were closed to Neruda. But tonight, I, in the name of all my colleagues, am honored to open the doors of the Faculty of Philosophy and Education of the University of Chile, wide open for him. While a temporary power has deprived him of his medal of representative of the people, a medal which Neruda won in a fair fight, Andrés Bello is calling him from the eternity of his marble pillar and he proclaims him his favorite son.
It is in the center of gravity between these two forces of attraction and repulsion that I place the importance of the ceremony that is taking place in this room. History can err in a specific circumstance, says the voice of experience in an old cliché, but in the long run it winds up correcting its mistakes.
Neruda's work from Crepusculario (Twilight Songs) (1923) to Cantos Ceremoniales (Ceremonial Songs) (1961) is a process of constant expansion and development; it begins with a nostalgic, intimate and personal poem in the manner of the Chilean poetry written in the first quarter of this century; it goes on to the convulsive paroxysm of the Hondero Entusiasta (The Enthusiastic Slinger) only to become a mournful cry of incalculable metaphysical proportions in the Residencia en la Tierra (Residence on Earth). This poetry, both for its overwhelming quantity as well as for its insuperable quality can, without any fear of exaggeration, be termed titanic.
Neruda has diverted the course of half a century of Hispanic poetry -Chelsea (1961) points out -and he must be ultimately judged by his Canto General which, for the American magazine, represents the culmination of his work.
"Nobody in the history of Hispanic poetry", says Fernando Alegría in his Whitman in Spanish America, "has ever attempted a poetic work as profound and ambitious as the Canto General." And with so much success, we should add: Canto General and Martin Fierro (4), each in its own genre, are undoubtedly the very best works of Hispanic American poetry, which is quite an achievement in a literature which boasts such works as those of Rubén Dario, Gabriela Mistral, Vicente Huidobro, Nicolás Guillén, and César Vallejo.
And here, another parenthesis:
To some "demanding readers" the Canto General is an uneven effort. The Andes are also an uneven work of art, "demanding readers."
End of parenthesis.
Sooner or later we all have to be measured with this everexpanding yardstick named Neruda. Let's try to visualize him.
From the point of view of a man's ages, which in this case coincide with the stages of his work (emotional age = chronological age,) a fact which in and of itself is the best guarantee of natural development, I distinguish three fundamental phases in the evolution of Neruda's poetic thought: the adolescent poetry from Crepusculario to Hondero Entusiasta, the youthful poetry of Residencia en la Tierra, and the mature poetry that culminates in the Canto General and definitely consolidates the poet in the earthy paradise of the Odas Elementales (Elementary Odes).
In general terms we could say that the process of development of our poet consists of:
I. A fall from the leaning tower of consciousness to the abyss of the chaotic and nebulous subconscious.
II. A somewhat extended stay in that asphyxiating atmosphere.
III. A triumphant return to reality after a bloody fight.
The first phase is that of pain: "Ah! my suffering, friends, is no longer human" (El Hondero Entusiasta).
The second phase corresponds to a self-centered absorption produced by repeated and unintelligible anguish: "The heart crossing a dark, dark, dark tunnel" (from "Sólo la muerte" "Only Death", Residencia en la Tierra).
And the third is the phase of recovery through the Marxist method: "You made me see the clarity of the world and the possibility of joy" (from "A mi partido" "To my Party", Canto General).
In other words, the individual comes in conflict with his environment, escapes from it as an emergency measure and finally reconciles himself with life through a process of the rationalization of the problems.
Despite all appearances, ladies and gentlemen, the report we are presenting is not a psychoanalytic study, for the possible psychological problems implied here are valid only in so far as they symbolize a disorder in society. We are not formulating a theory of neurosis. We are studying the drama of an intelligent and sensitive man who is struggling to find his place in the world. He is not sick, society is.
Our criticism of psychoanalysis can be summed up in the following aphorism: the fact that somebody recovers from a burn does not mean that he is vaccinated against future burns.
Now that the apparent ambiguity of our analysis has been clarified we ought to state that Neruda's evolution is also susceptible to the following equivalent formulation:
Canto I of El Hondero Entusiasta is a typical example of the period of chaotic desperation, where the lullabies are mixed with curses, the cries for help with the cries of protest, and the outcries of pain with moans and sexual spasms. It opens with a full orchestra, and pierces one to the marrow very much in the manner of the first eight notes of the Fifth Symphony.
THE ENTHUSIASTIC SLINGER
swerve my arms turn like two mad windmill blades
distance, toward where there is nothing now but the night
I want to go further than the footprint:
painful thirst that brings the water near,
those walls, those boundaries, far away,
the slinger crumble the forehead of the shadow.
my extinct voice. Behold my fallen soul.
am the most sorrowful and weak. I desire.
The second period of Neruda's Odyssey, which we have called the nocturnal period, has inspired several studies, among which the foremost is the Poesía y estilo de Pablo Neruda (Poetry and Style of Pablo Neruda). "There is no one poet," says its author Amado Alonso, "Futurist, Dadaist or Surrealist, who represents our times with as much dignity and complete understanding as Neruda. In no poet do the cracks and chinks in the wall of formality, the break with tradition, the fragmentary concern for poetry, the images like superimposed and truncated flashes of lightening, the shattering vision of the world, and the omnipresence of the metaphysical anguish reveal such an intimate coherence and profound identity as in Neruda."
"In contemporary English poetry," adds Jorge Elliott in his Antología crítica de la poesía chilena (Critical Anthology of Chilean Poetry), "only Hart Crane and Dylan Thomas have succeeded in expressing themselves in a poetic diction of a similar nature, and it is worth remembering that the English poet George Sutherland Frazer called Neruda 'the supreme master' in the use of the poetic language, which according to him, is characterized by a denotative imprecision which functions like music if we do not forget that it is not the sound of the words that justify the comparison, but rather the way in which the contents are associated."
"The result" -continues Elliott, emphasizing the authenticity of Neruda's message- "is something as impressive as the narration of a radio announcer who unexpectedly witnesses a plane accident, a terrible fire, or better yet, who dives down to the depths of the ocean and through a microphone inserted in his diving suit describes in amazement the obscure and terrifying universe."
The information we receive from the bard is first-hand information, statements of an eyewitness.
so happens that I am tired of being a man.
smell of barber shops makes me cry out loud.
so happens that I am tired of my feet and my nails
it would be delicious
do not want to go on being a root in the dark,
don't want so many misfortunes.
why Monday burns like oil
it shoves me along to certain corners, to certain damp houses,
walk along with calm, with eyes, with shoes,
In order to properly illustrate the period of the poetry of integration, we would need quite a bit of time. Let us remember that this poetry constitutes three fourths of the poet's complete work. It won't be possible right now because we only have a few minutes: everybody is anxious to hear the words of the real academic member who has become part of our house. The welcoming speeches cannot last forever. We want to enjoy our guest, hear the metal of his voice, warmly shake his hand.
We will only point out two instances of this period of maturity, the richest of all of them, in which the spirit of the poet is projected in all directions with a limitless generosity, like a wheat field in the hills of Pillanlelbún, or like a vineyard on the outskirts of Chillán: the moment of the fight against the dragon and the moment of the final victory.
In "The Invisible Man" the essence of the Nerudian conflict, which is none other than the principal conflict of modern man, is concentrated in a single image, the transference from the I to the We. And in the "Ode to Conger Eel Broth" which, in all reality can be placed among the post-revolutionary poetry, the poet has resolved all his problems, and with a smile on his face, he sits down at the table to enjoy the terrestrial maritime banquet.
THE INVISIBLE MAN
ODE TO CONGER EEL BROTH
To sum up this superficial analysis, it could be said that the successful mission that Neruda has carried on in the course of 40 years of spiritual investigation has consisted of the suppression of the false personal problems that artificially darken one's view of the world, and the setting forth of the real problems followed by their corresponding solution. From all this a lesson emerges: that individual fulfillment is the natural result of man's rightful integration into the social struggle. Outside of it, outside of the social struggle, everything is pain, everything is darkness; every road leads to madness.
Contemporary man can perfectly well drug himself with whiskey, with religion, with "pure art", with sex, with words, with gold, with blood, with any of the poisoned fruits of the bourgeois culture, but he cannot feel at ease, cannot breathe deeply, cannot flourish in all the splendor of his body unless he fulfills his obligations as a contemporary man.
the assessment of insurance by cards,
perhaps the future. The research on fatigue
beautiful roar of the chorus under the dome;
The significance and influence of Neruda is not at all limited to the level of poetic imagery. As Garcïa Lorca said, his poetry is closer to blood than to ink and is an important component of the revolutionary thought of the 20th century.
That is why we cannot speak of Neruda in the abstract, because he is not a drawing-room poet, nor is he a Buddha engrossed in the contemplation of his own navel. He is, fundamentally, a social poet, a Spanish-speaking Mayakovsky, a human being who has escaped all danger. The burning arrows he shoots into space no longer come back like the double-edged stones of El Hondero Entusiasta; rather they pierce deep into mind and heart of the reader, no matter how thick the layer of lead which covers them might be.
1. Copihue: National flower of Chile; it grows in the south of the country and it has the shape of a bell. volver
2. Reference to the well known poem "A una nariz" ("To a Nose") from Sonetos burlescos of the Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo y Villegas (1580-1645) . volver
3. Gabriel González Videla, Chilean President during 1946-1952, after being supported by Neruda, became one of his detractors. volver
6. This is the original poem written by Wystan Hugh Auden. Parra used the Spanish translation of Jorge Elliott in his speech. volver