• Elina Arbo


Pablo Neruda was a Chilean poet and politician. Born with a knack for everything literary, he began writing poems at the age of thirteen. The Selected Poems of Pablo Neruda shows him at his best. The book is published in both English and Spanish, allowing readers to see Neruda’s original work written in Spanish side-by-side with the English translation. His writing served as my introduction to twentieth-century surrealist poetry: a literary movement that utilizes intense imagery to contrast the conscious and subconscious. Neruda has given me the vocabulary to express my own literary interests despite lacking the lexicon.

The Selected Poems of Pablo Neruda exemplifies his unique flair as a writer. There is plenty of diversity in Neruda’s word choice, so when repetition or motifs appear they are purposeful. Angelic imagery associated with wings and flying appear throughout the book. There is an allure to his writing and also an absurdity. He draws from objects and amplifies their qualities in intense, strange build-ups. For instance, at one point he discusses celery and its angelic green tones, describing the vegetable in a peculiar and intriguing way. The ordinary becomes the extraordinary in his eyes. Neruda’s view of life is not romanticized, it is hyper-real.

Outside of his writing, Neruda is also known for his politics. He served as a senator for the Chilean Communist Party and became a leading figure for his political advocacy. It is not uncommon to identify similar political frameworks embedded in his poetry. “All I ask is a little vacation from things: from boulders and woolens, from gardens, institutional projects, merchandise, eyeglasses, elevators— I’d rather not look at them”. He calls out various corporations and brands as obstacles to resistance. He is not afraid to spell out the harms of Coca-Cola or Banana Republic on Chilean freedom. A large takeaway from his work is that the tangible world is often an outlet for exploitation. Perhaps this may explain why Neruda dances between the abstract and concrete worlds.

Neruda’s words are enchanting. They hold you in a trance as you flip through each page and glaze by each word. While reading the book, I took a few pauses to recite some of his stanzas out loud. There is an eerie charm to his writing that I can’t explain. His lines are simply mesmerizing: “I live in the fullness of matter; my color is general; mute as a matriarch, my forbearance is fixed”. Meditating upon Neruda, I gained an inexplicable understanding of how I envision the world around me. It’s difficult to tell if Neruda saturates the world or if Neruda views the world as saturated. Either way, the reading experience is intense and like no other.

Neruda is a testament to the genre of poetry as a whole. With his surrealist approach and literary techniques, Neruda shows us that poetry doesn’t have to mimic the cohesiveness and structure of life that we have invented at all. Cubism is not just observed in visual art but is found in words, in poetry. Disjointed terms and images may seem arbitrary but they are experienced and imagined. The vivid moods and colors Neruda paints is a large extension of our own experiences and confusion that we may often find ourselves in.

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