Main Themes In Neruda's Poetry
Throughout his poetic career, Pablo Neruda’s use of natural places was an important element of his poetry. Neruda is also known for his poems having such depictive imagery. By combining these two main elements, Neruda’s poems are an effective tool at conveying messages to people from an aristocratic background to a more common background. In order to see these two main elements more clearly, the reader must first look into the themes Pablo Neruda has in his poems. Themes such as love, politics, surrealism, and death is what most of Neruda’s poems consist of. Although Neruda is not known for the themes in his poems, it is essential to understand what themes Neruda used, since a poet’s success is reliant to how well he or she is able to address the themes in his or hers poems. Once Neruda’s themes are examined, Neruda’s use of imagery and use of nature will be discussed.
To start, Pablo Neruda was born on July 12, 1904 in Parral (Britannica), Chile. Neruda grew up with his dad most of his life since his mother passed away months after he was born. After overcoming this misfortune, Neruda and his Father moved to Temuco, Chile where his father remarried (Britannica). When he got older, Neruda changed his name from Neftali Ricardo Reyes to what he is now known for Pablo Neruda. Why the names change? Well, Neruda started writing poetry at the age of ten, but his father disliked his passion for poetry and tried to discourage him from writing poetry. Therefore, by changing his name, Neruda felt there is no need to hide from being a poet anymore (Britannica).
Before diving into Neruda’s imagery and use of nature, it is imperative to examine the themes of his poems. While Neruda’s poems are known for his imagery and use of nature, these aspects only work in relation to how he presents his poems’ themes. A poem with vivid imagery but no message, communicates little to its intended audience. As Neruda’s life was changing, his poems changed along with him. Many of his poems reflect that change by his poems consisting of themes such as love, politics, surrealism, and death. Neruda’s love poetry is arguably his most common theme used in his poems. His first poetry book Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, highlights the use of love as a theme more in-depth than any of his other poem books combined. Appearing first in 1924, this book was a success de scandal when it first appeared. Many considered this book a bold departure from the traditional Hispanic lyricism found in many Hispanic poets’ works. An example of this dramatic shift and Neruda’s use of love is found in his poem Body of a Woman, found in his first poetry book. This poem achieves a balance between subjectivity and sensuality, and uses these two ideas to convey the message that the woman means more than what people see of her. This poem also helps one understand the theme of love by depicting to reader that even though the woman in this poem is unreachable, the speaker of the poem will continue to wait for her. Another poem that shows Neruda’s love theme is in his poem Don’t Go Far, Not Even for A day. In this poem, Neruda uses time as a way to guilt the main audience (a lover) by showing that as time passes, the woman is gone, and the speaker keeps waiting patiently. Neruda also emphasizes the speaker’s love towards this woman by ending with two rhetorical questions “Will you come back? Will you leave me here, dying?” (Neruda line 14). These two rhetorical questions symbolize the need the speaker has towards the woman, and if the woman did not return, the speaker would rather let time take him away. Neruda’s poems Body of a woman and Don’t Go Far Off, Not Even for a Day, highlights how Neruda is able to incorporate love as a theme in so many ways.
Neruda is known for another theme and that is politics. While many poets like to explicitly shame on a political leader or a political party in specific, Neruda takes a slightly different approach with his poems. One of his poems that accurately depict Neruda’s use of politics as a theme is his poem I’m Explaining a Few Things. This poem historically gives one an insight of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, and the nationalist side of this war. Instead of Neruda shaming on a specific leader or party, he is able to show the audience the nationalist side by explaining the speaker’s experience in Madrid. Neruda using his experience in Madrid in the poem then sees him seen by many as credible writer in the Spanish-American war. Neruda’s use of anecdotes is what promoted his view on politics to many people.
In addition to his themes such as love and politics, Neruda is also known for his poems that deal with death. While many poets discuss memento mori as something that is bound to occur, Neruda illustrates to the audience that memento mori is an experience that happens to all of us. Neruda’s poem A Dog Has Died shows the mourning of his dog’s death. Neruda briefly explains his dog has died and has recently buried him. However, as the poem begins to unfold, it starts to unveil to the audience that someday he too will join his dog. Instead of Neruda simply mourning his dog’s death, he repeatedly tells the audience that he is not exempt from this experience. Neruda then provocatively exclaims to his audience when he mentions “So now he’s gone and I buried him, and that’s all there is to it”, which shows that death is an intangible thing that has no solution. This poem is an anecdotal experience of death, which contradicts what many poets had done before Neruda.
The last theme needing to examine is surrealism (a 20th century movement that released creativity in irrational ways), and with this theme, Neruda utilizes in many ways. One of his poems that reflect upon surrealism is his poem Los Enigmas. In the poem, Los Enigmas, Neruda’s audience is scientists and philosophers who try to unfold the meaning of the world. Largely, the poem speaks about “enigmas” which means, “jeweled boxes”, but Neruda also speaks of his own “enigma”, which symbolizes how Neruda is able to interconnect with many people, although he is not able to interpret what and who they are. This poem also presents surrealism as a theme that implies creativity in radical and spontaneous forms. With this poem, Neruda utilizes his poetic talent and converts it into a representation of this theme.
While the theme a poem presents carries significant importance, Neruda’s other techniques (imagery and use of nature) should not be dismissed since these two techniques elevated Neruda’s popularity into the literature world. To start, as mentioned in the paragraphs above, Neruda poems consist of vivid images that are very descriptive. However, the imagery each poem contains is what makes these vivid images feel so real. For instance, in A dog has died, Neruda uses imagery to describe his dog’s qualities. This is seen when Neruda states in his poem “’he never rubbed up against my knee'(Neruda line 24), which implies how his dog differs from other dogs who are sex crazed. Another poem, Los Enigmas, also shows Neruda’s use of imagery. In this poem, Neruda utilizes imagery to portray certain jewels he has found. Neruda does this by mentioning the infinite jewels he has found (Ex. “…jewel boxes is endless as the sand”).
Neruda’s last technique known for is nature. When mentioning nature, it means that Neruda does not simply mention nature, but instead takes common things in life and constructs them into metaphors. While many of his poems contain this element, there are certain of his poems that take this to another level. His poem Walking Around, displays a fictional communist world in which Neruda lives in, and displays this by using metaphors throughout his poem. The first line, “It so happens I am sick of being a man” (Neruda line 1), helps gives a glimpse at Neruda’s use of metaphors as a way to describe emotions. The first line of this poem gives the audience immediate sense to what the speaker feels without even having to read the rest of the poem.
To conclude, Pablo Neruda is considered an important asset to both Hispanic and world literature. His poems inspired other poets to use similar ideas Neruda used in his poems. Neruda has shown that even though he is writing about a certain theme, such as love or politics, he is able to describe these themes in so many different ways. Neruda proves that one can discuss the same topic continuously but without sounding repetitive. Even though Neruda is known for his unique imagery and nature, the themes many of his poems presented got him there in the first place. Many will argue that Neruda is not known for love, politics, surrealism, and death, but for one, those themes gave his imagery a voice and his use of nature a purpose. To summarize, Neruda’s themes are the foundation to his poems, and other techniques, notably use of nature and imagery, and without them, his poems would not be widely known by other poets alike.