Pablo Neruda hired a carpentar to put up a life size painting of Walt Whitman on the terrace of "La Sebastiana," his home in Valpraiso, Chile. When the carpenter asked him if the man in the painting was his grandfather, Neruda replied, "Yes." Or so the story goes.
Most people, myself included, are first introduced to Neruda by way of his love poems--Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair and One Hundred Love Sonnets are known the world over and have made the Chilean the most translated poet in the world. The Nobel laureate's oeuvre, however, is much more varied and rich. Like Whitman, whom he credited as his earliest poetic inspiration, Neruda's works speak of politics and nature, country and the quotidian celebration of man, the beauty of the ordinary and the nobility in the base. In a manifesto called "Towards an Impure Poetry," Neruda states:
‘It is useful at certain hours of the day and night, to look closely at the world of objects at rest: wheels that have crossed long, dusty spaces with their huge vegetal and mineral burdens, bags of coal from the coal bins, barrels, baskets, handles, and hafts in a carpenter’s tool chest. From them flow the contacts of man with the earth, like an object lesson for all troubled lyricists. The used surfaces of things, the wear that hands have given to things, the air, tragic at times, pathetic at others, of such things — all lend a curious attractiveness to reality that we should not underestimate.’
These words could have just as easily been Whitman's.
Both men are tied by a common philosophy, a shared love for the people and a desire to map these nations of people with words.
For some reason, I just can't get enough of either Leaves of Grass or FSG's The Poetry of Pablo Neruda tonight. They seem to be haunting me.