Kenan Malik in Padaemonium:
It was forty ago today that Chile’s General Augusto Pinochet overthrew Salvador Allende, in a CIA-supported coup, replacing his democratically elected government with a bloody dictatorship. Twelve days after the coup, the poet Pablo Neruda died in mysterious circumstances, many believe murdered by the Pinochet regime. (Earlier this year a Chilean court ordered Neruda’s body to be exumed for forensic tests and a warrant was issued for the arrest of the man supposedly involved in poisoning the poet).
Gabriel García Márquez once called Neruda ‘the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language’, though as New York Times Book Review critic Selden Rodman observed after the poet’s death ‘No writer of world renown is perhaps so little known to North Americans’, or indeed to the wider Anglophone world. Born in 1904 as Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, Neruda chose his pen name after the Czech poet Jan Neruda. He first came to attention with his 1924 collection Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (‘Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair’), a cycle of sensuous and erotically charged love poems, but one also shot through with an almost unbearable sense of alienation, despair and chaos. The Spanish poet Federico García Lorca said of Neruda that he was ‘a poet closer to death than to philosophy, closer to pain than to insight, closer to blood than to ink. A poet filled with mysterious voices that fortunately he himself does not know how to decipher.’