As South America’s spindliest country, Chile is side-saddled between a gloriously blue Pacific Ocean, and the neighboring Latino countries of Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. However, aside from being the thinnest and longest country near the end of the world, Chile is not especially evocative for an international audience. Perhaps being renowned for fantastic wine, a temperate climate, fruit and vegetable exports and the military dictatorship of Pinochet, the distant country is mysterious and unfamiliar. However, the popular saying ‘Chile, land of poets’ alludes to it’s literary might, and offers a reason to pay a little more attention to South America’s most developed resident.
Among Chileans, the poet, diplomat and activist Pablo Neruda remains one of the country’s most respected and revered figures, having won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. The Swedish Academy referred to him as “the poet of a violated humanity”, producing work which was “the community of the oppressed in all its parts.” His active participation in social change is an attitude which remains applicable and inspirational to Chileans today, as countrymen persist in calling for reforms.
As a young poet, and in spite of international recognition, Neruda led a life of poverty and bohemian revelry in Santiago. In 1927 financial desperation prompted him to start a consular job which initiated a long diplomatic career and globe spanning travels from Burma to Barcelona. The eclectic mix of styles in which he wrote, including erotic love poems, political manifestos and historical epics, reflect his adventures and escapades abroad, as well as his deep love for his homeland, in spite of being exiled twice during his career.
Neruda’s three residences in Chile offer an insight into the poet’s boundless imagination and child-like fascination of the world. ‘La Chascona’ in Santiago was affectionately named after his wife’s curly mass of hair, whilst his Isla Negra house on the central Chilean coastline affords spectacular sea views and an expansive seashell collection, a testament to Neruda’s passion for the ocean. He wrote his poetry in green ink, as a personal sentiment of desire and hope, and expression of his love for the environment.
His wacky houses may be more than seven thousand miles away, yet in remembrance of his great life’s work, why not delve into Neruda’s linguistic repertoire for some creative inspiration, worldly wisdom or escapism this Easter holiday? You won’t be disappointed.