working notes by 7T34xCyj


									13 English 2010, Study Guide
Respond critically to written text(s) studied (90721)

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) Chile

Why study Neruda?
     He is a dominant 20th century voice whose poems are
      deeply personal and highlight the universal nature of
      human emotion and experience
     Celebrates the lives of everyday people and as such may be seen as being a
      ‘people’s poet’
     Prolific writer who captures the essence of human experiences such as love and
      loss but also the experiences of the oppressed, neglected and vulnerable.
     Writes in an accessible style (but remember we are reading translations)
     Provides an interesting point of comparison with NZ writers and other
      international voices.

Neruda’s view of poetry: By the end of the unit you should be able to
expand on the significance of these quotes to Neruda and its importance
in his poetry.
     "I grew up in this town, my poetry was born between the hill and the river, it took
      its voice from the rain, and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests."

     “Poetry is an act of peace”

      “I have always wanted the hands of people to be seen in poetry”... “I have
      always preferred poetry where the fingerprints show. A poetry of loam
      (earth/dirt), where water can sing. A poetry of bread, where everyone may eat”

     In his manifesto on poetry written in 1935, “Towards an Impure Poetry” Neruda
      writes: “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.”

     “Poetry is song and fertility. It emerged from its secret womb and flows,
      fertilizing and singing. It kindles with its swelling waters, it milling flour, tanning
      hides, cutting wood, giving light to cities. It is useful, and awakens to find
      banners along its banks: festivals are celebrated beside the singing water”


Pablo Neruda was born Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto in Parral, Chile on July 12, 1904.
His mother Rosa died just weeks later (possibly of tuberculosis), and his father, a railway
worker discouraged his love and talent for poetry, which he had displayed since the age
of ten. His family’s disapproval drove the young Basoalto to write under the pseudonym
of Pablo Neruda, which he officially adopted in 1946. Naruda, after Czech author Jan
Neruda. Or Wilhelmina Norman-Neruda, musician in Sherlock Holmes story ‘A Study in
Scarlet’. While his choice of ‘Pablo” is unclear, the fact that ‘Paul’ translates from the
Hebrew as ‘he who sees beautiful things’. Neruda was married three times, although
Chile did not officially recognise his second marriage. Although his published poetry was
widely respected by the time he reached age twenty, Neruda found it necessary to
follow his budding political career to Asia in order to make a living. In Europe in the
1930’s he became involved in Communism, which would influence his later political
actions as well as much of his poetry. In 1946 he successfully campaigned in Chile for
the regime of Gabriel Gonzalez Videla, but he soon publicly expressed displeasure with
Videla’s presidency and was forced to flee his homeland for several years. Neruda was
able to return to Chile in 1952, finally both wealthy and widely respected. In 1971 he
was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He died of cancer at age 69 on September
23, 1973. By that time he was recognized as a national hero and the greatest Latin
American poet of the twentieth century.

Neruda is well known for his love poetry, yet a lesser known fact is that Neruda, as a
young boy, was so painfully shy that he feigned indifference to girls. Fearing that he
might somehow embarrass himself, Neruda lived his early years as what he called a kind
of “deaf-mute.” In his Memoirs, Neruda elaborates saying that

…instead of going after girls, since I knew I would stutter or turn red in front of them, I
preferred to pass them up and go on my way, showing a total lack of interest I was very
far from feeling. They were all a deep mystery to me. I would have liked to burn at the
stake in that secret fire, to drown in the depth of that inscrutable well, but I lacked
the courage to throw myself into the fire or the water. And since I could find no one to
give me a push, I walked along the fascinating edge, without even a side glance, much
less a smile.

A Guide for Analysing Poems

David Coogan
Assistant Professor of English
Lewis Department of Humanities, Armour College
Illinois Institute of Technology

Poems can sometimes mystify us. Other times they can affect us so strongly, we hardly
know where to begin talking about what we felt, heard, or understood from the poem.
To get started, we usually ask ourselves “what did it mean?” but that question doesn’t
always help. It’s too general. It may help to break down the intent behind the question
and ask ourselves “what has been said” and “how was it said” and “why was it said in
this particular way?” Here’s how.

1. Experience before you analyse. If you have seen the film about Neruda ‘Il Postino’, do
like the postman Mario did: simply explain how the poem makes you feel. Write it down.
Then return to the text and identify the passages that made you feel this way.

2. Make a chronology of what happened in the poem so you can say it back to yourself.
Why is it important that the lines appear in this order and not in some other order? If
you rearrange the lines or take away certain words or sections, what happens to the
meaning of the poem? Can you divide the poem into sections or movements?

3. What is the author’s attitude toward his subject? Does he or she offer any moral
lessons, warnings, jokes, statements of truth, complaints, or provocations? If so, what
do they imply?

4. Describe the voice you hear in the poem. Is it angry, sad, impatient, jealous, wise,
suspicious, or something else? Question the poet’s choice of words—the diction and the
vocabulary—and his line breaks. If you change the vocabulary or the break the lines
another way, can you change the voice or the intent of the poem?

5. Listen to the sounds of the language. Think about assonance, alliteration, rhyme,
repetition. What do you hear? Do these sounds emphasise the author’s intent? If so, how
do they guide your experience of the theme?

6. Explore the logic of the metaphors and imagery. Why this particular comparison?
What connotations does this image have? Are the images mostly literal or are they
figurative? Are their places in the poem where this changes?

7. Finally, return to your original question—what does the poem mean? Although
individual poems will have individual meanings, they will also share something in
common with the author’s other work. In what ways is this poem like the author’s other
poems you read? To answer this question is to define the author’s poetics, where
“poetics” = what was said (content) + how it was said (form).

* You may like to prepare a BLISSTTAR summary as you work through a poem initially.

"Tonight I Can Write" from Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1923-1924)
In the book of poetry 20 Love Poems and a Song of Despair an adolescent speaks to a
woman of sensual and erotic love with a clarity and simplicity of expression not seen
before in Latin American poetry. Naruda’s simplicity, sparse imagery, and above all,
unabashed expression of amorous sentiments were innovations. As the critic Hernan
Loyola suggests, these poems relate a nebulous story of love, from the first infatuation
to the explosion of passion and finally, in the “desperate song”, the parting of the
lovers. The book itself is brief since brevity is a requisite for maintaining tension.

Dialogue does not exist, for this is a collection of monologues where desperation,
alienation, and the obsessive need to obliterate loneliness constantly seep through.
Solipsism is avoided by images that refer to a shared past. The poetic language is
enhanced by long rhythmic lines and by a tone of melancholic sobriety, especially at the


"Tonight I Can Write" was published in 1924 in a collection of poems by Pablo Neruda
titled Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada. The collection was translated
into English in 1969 by W. S. Merwin as Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair.
Although some reviewers were shocked by the explicit sexuality in the poems, the
collection became a best seller and was translated into several languages. The poems
chart a love story from the initial infatuation to the release of passion, and finally to a
separation. "Tonight I Can Write," the penultimate poem in the poetic sequence,
expresses the pain the speaker feels after losing his lover. The bittersweet sentiment
recalls their passionate relationship and his recognition that "love is so short, forgetting
is so long."


Lines 1-4:The theme of distance is introduced in the opening line. When the speaker
informs the reader, "Tonight I can write the saddest lines," he suggests that he could not
previously. We later learn that his overwhelming sorrow over a lost lover has prevented
him from writing about their relationship and its demise. The speaker's constant
juxtaposition of past and present illustrate his inability to come to terms with his
present isolated state. Neruda's language here, as in the rest of the poem, is simple and
to the point, suggesting the sincerity of the speaker's emotions. The sense of distance is
again addressed in the second and third lines as he notes the stars shivering "in the
distance." These lines also contain images of nature, which will become a central link to
his memories and to his present state of mind. The speaker contemplates the natural
world, focusing on those aspects of it that remind him of his lost love and the cosmic
nature of their relationship. He begins writing at night, a time when darkness will match
his mood. The night sky filled with stars offers him no comfort since they "are blue and
shiver." Their distance from him reinforces the fact that he is alone. However, he can
appreciate the night wind that "sings" as his verses will, describing the woman he loved.

Lines 5-10:Neruda repeats the first line in the fifth and follows it with a declaration of
the speaker's love for an unnamed woman. The staggered repetitions Neruda employs
throughout the poem provide thematic unity. The speaker introduces the first detail of
their relationship and points to a possible reason for its demise when he admits
"sometimes she loved me too." He then reminisces about being with her in "nights like

this one." The juxtaposition of nights from the past with this night reveals the change
that has taken place, reinforcing his sense of aloneness. In this section, Neruda links the
speaker's lover with nature, a technique he will use throughout the poem to describe the
sensual nature of their relationship. In the eighth line, the speaker remembers kissing
his love "again and again under the endless sky"--a sky as endless as, he had hoped, their
relationship would be. An ironic reversal of line six occurs in line nine when the speaker
states, "She loved me, sometimes I loved her too." The speaker may be offering a cynical
statement of the fickle nature of love at this point. However, the eloquent, bittersweet
lines that follow suggest that in this line he is trying to distance himself from the
memory of his love for her and so ease his suffering. Immediately, in the next line he
contradicts himself when he admits, "How could one not have loved her great still eyes."
The poem's contradictions create a tension that reflects the speaker's desperate
attempts to forget the past.

Lines 11-14:In line eleven Neruda again repeats his opening line, which becomes a
plaintive refrain. The repetition of that line shows how the speaker is struggling to
maintain distance, to convince himself that enough time has passed for him to have the
strength to think about his lost love. But these lines are "the saddest." He cannot yet
escape the pain of remembering. It becomes almost unbearable "to think that I do not
have her. To feel that I have lost her." His loneliness is reinforced by "the immense
night, still more immense without her." Yet the poetry that he creates helps replenish
his soul, "like dew to the pasture."

Lines 15-18: In line fifteen the speaker refuses to analyse their relationship. What is
important to him is that "the night is starry and she is not with me" as she used to be on
similar starry nights. "This is all" that is now central to him. When the speaker hears
someone singing in the distance and repeats "in the distance," he reinforces the fact that
he is alone. No one is singing to him. As a result, he admits "my soul is not satisfied."

Lines 19-26:In these lines the speaker expresses his longing to reunite with his love. His
sight and his heart try to find her, but he notes, "she is not with me." He again
remembers that this night is so similar to the ones they shared together. Yet he
understands that they "are no longer the same." He declares that he no longer loves her,
"that's certain," in an effort to relieve his pain, and admits he loved her greatly in the
past. Again linking their relationship to nature, he explains that he had "tried to find the
wind to touch her hearing" but failed. Now he must face the fact that "she will be
another's." He remembers her "bright" body that he knows will be touched by another
and her "infinite eyes" that will look upon a new lover.

Lines 27-32: The speaker reiterates, "I no longer love her, that's certain," but
immediately contradicts himself, uncovering his efforts at self deception when he
admits, "but maybe I love her." With a world-weary tone of resignation, he concludes,
"love is so short, forgetting is so long." His poem has become a painful exercise in
forgetting. In line twenty-nine he explains that because this night is so similar to the
nights in his memory when he held her in his arms, he cannot forget. Thus he repeats,
"my soul is not satisfied." In the final two lines, however, the speaker is determined to
erase the memory of her and so ease his pain, insisting that his verses (this poem) will
be "the last verses that I write for her."

Critical Essay on "Tonight I Can Write" Neruda

Pablo Neruda's "Puedo Escribir Los Versos" ("Tonight I Can Write") has long stood the
test of time as arguably the best poem in Veinte Poemas de Amor y una Cancion
Desesperada (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair) (1924), which has been
called "one of the finest books of verse in the Spanish language."

As the culmination of a score of poems that alternate between unbridled joy and
overpowering sadness, "Tonight I Can Write" (known hereafter in this essay as "Poem
XX," per Neruda's numerical sequencing) struggles to express the inexpressible, to
articulate, in the most sincere and direct way possible, Neruda's lyrical cry of the heart
over the fact that he and his lover are no longer together. Deeply personal yet piercingly
universal, "Poem XX" derives much of its power from the naked, unadorned simplicity of
expression that propels the poem forward. The poem is less ornate in imagery than
those preceding it in the Twenty Love Poems sequence, almost as if Neruda understood
implicitly that the denser, more heavily metaphorical and descriptive language of the
preceding poems would no longer suffice in verbalizing the raw, intense emotional state
he found himself in at the time of the composition of "Poem XX." In essence, "Poem XX"
cuts to the core of the matter in a way no other poem in Twenty Love Poems does.

Operating in a "less is more" vein, "Poem XX" actually derives more emotional power
from its earthy directness and sparseness of descriptive adjectives than a more
elaborate verbal treatment would have. As noted by Manuel Duran and Margery Safir in
Earth Tones, their probing exploration of Neruda and his poetry, "[v]ery few words in
Twenty Poems would not be found on a list of the two thousand most frequently used
words in the Spanish language," and this observation is particularly true of "Poem XX,"
with its emphasis on such simple yet highly connotative nouns as "night," "wind," "soul,"
and "love." Neruda, in this poem, seems to be striving for an absolute purity of
expression in which words fall "to the soul like dew to the pasture," to quote one of the
poem's more powerful figures of speech. In a desire to approximate the crystalline purity
of dewdrops on grass, Neruda keeps the nouns short, sweet, and largely free of
adjectives and other modifiers. "The adjective is the enemy of the noun," wrote
Voltaire, and though Neruda may not have been aware of this quote at the time,
subconsciously he seems to have composed "Poem XX" with the goal of paring down the
language to the bare essentials. Indeed, such a raw, naked cry of sadness and loss, the
kind that informs "Poem XX," can only achieve its full effect with rigorous attention
toward eliminating any surface pyrotechnics that may please the reader's eye but
interfere with the poem's passionate outcry.

Be that as it may, Neruda does not suppress his powerful imagination entirely in "Poem
XX," although it is relatively subdued here when compared to the other poems in the
collection. Vivid imagery and scintillate figures of speech are still on display in "Poem
XX," albeit in a less densely packed arrangement. Aside from the aforementioned
brilliant simile in line 14, there are a number of striking metaphors throughout the
poem, all of which synthesise Neruda's heightened emotional state with the natural
world. Almost immediately, in lines 2-3, the reader encounters a wonderfully ambiguous
and resonant image: "`The night is shattered / and the blue stars shiver in the
distance.'" The first half of the image, "The night is shattered," suggests a dual intent on
Neruda's part. On the one hand, this image could mean that Neruda himself "is
shattered" because the awful realization that he and his lover have parted ways
permanently has pierced him like a dart. On the other hand, the image could imply that
the dark cloud, so to speak, that had hung over him like a black hole ever since the
parting of ways has finally dissipated, and now he can see clearly enough to articulate
the full depth of his anguish. It could mean, in fact, that he has reached a state of such
intense clarity that he can actually see "blue stars shiver in the distance." Along with its
striking beauty, this second half of the image communicates the deep chill he feels now
in relation to the loss of his lover. That the stars are "blue" is significant, for the color
blue connotes not only sadness but extreme coldness, such as when lips turn blue in the
winter wind. And as if these distant, blue stars aren't cold enough already, they're
shivering. This verb not only adds to the sense of biting coldness but also personifies
that deep chill in such a way that the reader can feel it and identify with it. Neruda
here is inferring that his sadness is so immense that it is causing distant stars to freeze.
One could say that he is grossly overstating the intensity of his emotional state, but try
telling that to someone who has lost a lover.

This powerful image is immediately followed by another key figure of speech: "The night
wind revolves in the sky and sings." Often in poetry, mention of the night wind signifies a
dark, turbulent time in the speaker's soul, and sure enough, that the night wind is in
motion in "Poem XX" connotes a certain turbulence. However, this night wind is not
howling but singing, which definitely undercuts the usual associations that the night
wind delivers in poetry. Here, perhaps, Neruda is implying that since the night has been
"shattered" the speaker (as represented by the night wind) can finally give lyrical voice
to the tempestuous state of his soul, can sing that soul into rejuvenation. This
interpretation is bolstered by the placement of the next line ("Tonight I can write the
saddest lines"), which repeats the poem's opening statement and reinforces the idea that
the poet is finally able to begin the process of healing his anguish. Like the night wind,
the speaker has in a sense been going around in circles and getting nowhere, but now he
is ready to sing of the loss of his lover in an attempt (perhaps a doomed one) to exorcise
her memory so he can move on with his life. This notion is further reinforced later in the
poem, when the speaker says in line 24: "My voice tried to find the wind to touch her
hearing." In other words, although he has finally broken through his pain enough to
articulate that pain, the one whom he really wants to hear his lament, his lost lover, no
longer wants to listen.

Yet another vivid image, line 21's "The same night whitening the same trees," is the most
perplexing of all in "Poem XX." On the surface, this line strikes one as utterly irrational;
after all, how can night, with its deep blackness, whiten anything? The only time when
night can whiten trees is during an overnight snowfall, and while this suggestion seems
in keeping with the earlier image of blue stars shivering in the distance, it doesn't really
fit into the context of the poem, given that a night when one can see blue stars in the
sky couldn't be the same night when snowfall is obscuring the stars from one's vision.
The image is a tough one to crack, and after much pondering, some still find it
somewhat impenetrable. The only explanation that makes even the slightest sense
readers might is that the speaker can see so clearly now--after a time of great darkness,
presumably--that pitch-black trees look as bright to him as do "the blue stars shiver[ing]
in the distance." In other words, with absolute clarity, he can now see his way through
the dark woods that had surrounded him in the wake of the rift between the loved one
and himself. Yet even this explanation of the image seems inadequate, and chances are
that Neruda himself had no rational understanding of its implications. Sometimes an
image just feels right, and ultimately a poet must trust this intuitive feeling.
Fortunately for us, Neruda learned to trust his intuitive side at a very young age (he
would have been no older than twenty when he wrote "Poem XX"), and this was an early
indication of his budding genius.

The poem's figures of speech (what few there are) resonate deeply in the reader's
psyche, but ultimately what impresses one about the poem is the undaunted honesty
and lyrical intensity of Neruda's voice as he struggles for closure in a situation where
closure is difficult, if not impossible. Neruda's stirring combination of colloquial
simplicity and use of repetition in key lines such as "Tonight I can write the saddest
lines," "The night is shattered," and "I no longer love her, that's certain" helps create an
impassioned sincerity and haunting mood not easily forgotten by the reader. While it is
true, as noted by René de Costa in The Poetry of Pablo Neruda, that ""Poem XX" closes a
series of unsuccessful attempts to communicate with the loved one," we, as readers,
should be thankful that Neruda at least made the attempt. For although he may not
have succeeded in reaching the ears of his former lover, he has very much succeeded in
reaching ours. Given the lyrical honesty of Neruda's poetic voice, how could we not

Source Citation: Saunders, Cliff. "Critical Essay on 'Tonight I Can Write'." Poetry for
Students. Ed. Elizabeth Thomason. Vol. 11. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. Literature

20 Love Poems and a Song of Despair ~ even more notes.

By Neruda’s own description, this is “a painful book of pastoral poems filled with [his]
most tormented adolescent passions, mingled with the devastating nature of the
southern part of [his] country.” Neruda elaborated in his Memoirs, saying that the
collection captured his love affair with the city of Santiago, the “student-crowded
streets,” the University of Chile and the “honeysuckle fragrance of requited love.”

Indeed, because of the amorous and erotic nature of the poems, Neruda was often asked
what woman inspired his Twenty Love Poems. In his Memoirs he acknowledged that this
is a difficult question to answer, then gave the following explanation:

The two women who weave in and out of these melancholy and passionate poems
correspond, let’s say, to Marisol and Marisombra: Sea and Sun, Sea and Shadow. Marisol
is love in the enchanted countryside, with stars in bold relief at night, and dark eyes like
the wet sky of Temuco. She appears with all her joyfulness and her lively beauty on
almost every page, surrounded by the waters of the port and by a half-moon over the
mountains. Marisombra is the student in the city. Gray beret, very gentle eyes, the ever-
present honeysuckle fragrance of my foot-loose and fancy-free school days, the physical
peace of the passionate meetings in the city’s hideaways.

Despite this explanation, many of Neruda’s readers are not satisfied. There is ongoing
voyeuristic speculation about the specific identity of the women who might be the
subject of these poems. Exposing the actual women, however, is not necessary to
understand the universal sense of passion and loss which permeates the verse.

“Tonight I Can Write” is the twentieth love poem in Twenty Love Poems and a Song of
Despair. The preceding poems are often lavish and sensual often comparing the female
body to a lush landscape and the vastness of the natural world. “Tonight I Can Write,”
however, marks what has often been described as a “shipwreck” in the couple’s
relationship. The entire poem is a deeply felt elegy for lost love. The first line of the
poem begins by repeating the title and adding the characterization “the saddest lines.”
This suggests a meditative creative place in which the poet can channel his painful
resignation into verse. The next three-line stanza sets forth examples of such lines:
“‘The night is shattered / and the blue stars shiver in the distance.’ / The night wind
revolves in the sky and sings.” The romance is destroyed utterly and the speaker seems
to be both isolated from and taunted by the natural world.

The remainder of the poem consists of fourteen two-line stanzas. In these lines, readers
learn that their love was both requited and unrequited: “I loved her, and she sometimes
loved me too” and “She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.” Despite this
ambivalence, the affair was passionate. He says “I kissed her again and again under the
endless sky.” He feels the immensity of loss, and admitting his “love could not keep
her.” Unable to accept the loss, he says, “My sight searches for her as though to go to
her. / My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.” He is trying to come to terms
with the end of their relationship. Attempting to convince himself that he is over his
lover, he twice repeats the line “I no longer love her, that’s certain.” Each time,
however, his assertion is undercut by his acknowledgment of the extent of his romantic
entanglement. He first says “but how I loved her,” then later backpedals pondering “but
maybe I love her.”

The speaker is tormented by the thought of his lover in the arms of another. The
difficult process of moving on is underscored: “Love is so short, forgetting so long.” This
is a long, lonely night which reminds him of other nights when he held her in his arms,
one in which his “soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.”

In the final stanza, Neruda enjambs the two lines: “Though this be the last pain that she
makes me suffer / and these the last verses that I write for her.” The result is to
connect unequivocally the pain the speaker feels with the creative impetus for the
poem, suggesting that the production of the poem will somehow eradicate the pain. Yet,
readers who have experienced the pain of lost love know better; there is a lingering
sense of torment in these last lines.

Moreover, because “Tonight I Can Write” is followed by “The Song of Despair,” there is a
clear indication that the pain continues. Here the speaker is left with the surging
memory of his lover in a deep lament expressed in terms of coastal, sea imagery. Great
anguish is expressed for the woman he has lost. He implores “Oh flesh, my own flesh,
woman whom I have loved and lost, / I summon you in the moist hour, I raise my song to
you.” He continues, “Deserted like the wharves at dawn. / Only the tremulous shadow
twists in my hands.” In the somewhat ambiguous concluding line, “It is the hour of
departure. Oh abandoned one!” the poet seems to simultaneously grieve for himself and
the woman. Their once passionate relationship is over.

Throughout his career, Neruda sought to write poetry which would be accessible. He
believed that “A poet can write for a university or a labor union, for skilled workers and
professionals.” As he also stressed in his Memoirs, he saw poetry as a “deep inner calling
in man Today’s social poet is still a member of the earliest order of priests. In the old
days he made his pact with the darkness, and now he must interpret the light.” Neruda
does, indeed, shed light on the darkest moments of the soul.

Source: Marisa Anne Pagnattaro, in an essay for Poetry for Students, Gale Group, 2001.

      Marisol represents the provinces, nature and sunlight and is Teresa Vasquez (sister of his friend
       Ruben, 1920) (XV)
      Marisombra, the woman in the grey beret is Albertina Azocar
      And probable that poem II (which you don’t have) was written for a third woman, Laura Arrue.

Questions for “Tonight I can write the saddest lines”

   1. Why does Neruda say that “tonight” he “can” write the saddest lines? What might
      be happening tonight that makes these lines possible? Why couldn’t he write
      these lines yesterday or last week or earlier? And could this poem be written
      during the day?
   2. In your opinion, which lines of this poem are really the saddest? Explain your
   3. lines 5-10: Identify an apparent contradiction in this section. What does this
      suggest about the speaker’s experience of love?
   4. lines 11-14: List a number of adjectives that best describe your understanding of
      the tone of the poem? How does the speaker feel and how do you feel as you
      experience his voice?
   5. Lines 15-18 Suggest a possible meaning for the ‘whitening of the trees’
      (remember it is night)
   6. lines 19-26 Nature plays an important role in the poem. How is nature used in this
   7. In what state do we leave the speaker?
   8. complete

         Technique:                  Example:                           Effect:
1. imagery
2. simple diction
3. Highly connotative nouns Night, wind, soul, love
4 Limited use of adjectives
6.juxtaposition of past &

‘Walking around’ from Residence on Earth (1925 – 1945)

   1.   Describe the speaker’s attitude in the first stanza.
   2.   Explain the effect that repetition plays in the opening three stanzas.
   3.   Explain the attraction of the violent imagery for the speaker in paragraph 4.
   4.   Roots are images often associated with growth and fertility, how does Neruda use
        the image?
   5.   What do you make of Neruda’s descriptions in the stanza beginning ‘There are
        birds the color of sulphur…
   6.   Account for the speaker’s ability to simultaneously hold the conflicting emotions
        of calm, fury and forgetfulness.
   7.   How would you describe the mood of this poem? Provide a number of adjectives
        which best describe this mood.
   8.   Can you offer any suggestions regarding the cause of the mood you identified in
        Q7? In other words: why does the speaker feel this way.
   9.    Is this a situation you can relate to? How might poetry be an effective way of
        exploring these emotions?

   ‘I explain a few things’ from Residence on Earth (III) (1938-1949)
The Spanish period marks the formation of Neruda’s political and social conscience. In the midst
of the bloody civil strife that was the Spanish Civil War Neruda found it inappropriate to focus on
the beauty of nature and maintain his preoccupation with personal existence and metaphysical
questions, instead his poetry becomes preoccupied with humanity’s suffering and reflects the
social realism around him. Or to put it another way, his poetry shifts from the tormented state
of one man, to a poetry that reflected the suffering of many. The poem we are reading here
tells the personal story of the poet on Arguelles Street and becomes a collective experience as
his burnt house becomes a symbol of a divided Spain.

For Neruda the Nationalists are not what their name implies; their concept of the nation involves
its destruction. Since they began the civil war against the wishes of the populace; their
nationalism is a contradiction of terms. Neruda identifies Spain as Republican. Greg Dawes Pablo
Neruda’s Poetry and Politics

      The poem starts with a number of indirect questions. These queries establish a direct
       communication with the reader not present in his earlier poetry...

      Muse here is clearly Spain

      In an intimate tone he speaks to his friends: to Frerico Garcia Lorca, already murdered
       and buried in an unmarked grave, and to the already exiled Rafael Alberti. Neruda
       remembers the past beauty of Alberti’s house and contrasts it to the abandoned house of
       the present. This memory is necessary to re-create a Spain that no longer exists, a Spain
       full of prosperity and happiness in contrast to the decaying Spain surrounded by the
       horrors of war.

      I explain a few things presents the image of a Spain full of laughter, flowers, and
       children. Gradually though, the images of light and abundance begin to fade and are
       replaced with the image of war. The poetic shift begins with the verse...Fire as a symbol
       of violence and destruction will dominate the rest of the poem.

      Spain has been murdered by bandits and Moors, the only people who would fight on the
       side of the fascists, and condemns those responsible for the war. Spain is poor because of
       the rich, and the wealth has been accumulated in the hands of the corrupt monarchy, the
       church and the generals.

      Neruda vehemently denounces the actions and sees in the burning of the city a symbol of
       hope for the Republicans and of defeat for the Fascists. He accuses the generals and
       warns them of the fate that awaits them.

   Questions: Develop these in full paragraph responses

   1. Comment on the relationship between poet and reader that appears in the first stanza?
      What techniques does Neruda use to develop this relationship?
   2. Describe the mood of stanzas 2 and 3. How does Neruda create this feeling?
   3. Describe the use of imagery of stanzas 4 and 5? How is this different from the earlier
   4. Comment on the tone of the final 3 stanzas. How does Neruda feel at the end and what
      is your attitude to the events of the poem?
   5. 5. write 3000 words about how much you love poetry and how all of your other subjects
      fail to inspire in you hope like the writings of neruda

Other poems: From Residence III
Spain Poor through the Fault of the Rich
Madrid (1936) p. 105
General Franco in Hell
Song for the Mothers of Slain Militiamen or Song to the Mothers of dead

Week focus: Canto General
V. United Fruit Company
XI. in the flowers of Punitaqui Neruda describes the economic and social problems of the miners
and their strikes against subhuman working conditions. Brother Pablo


United Fruit Co.


Jehovah: The name of God or God translated from Hebrew

Anaconda: (Anaconda Copper Mining Company) US owners of copper mine in Chile in the
1920s, was the largest in the world

Banana Republics: Emotive term to describe (Latin American) countries that are
politically unstable, reliant on limited crops for national economics such as bananas and
invariably exploited by land owners and investors.

Trujillo Rafael Ruled Dominican Republic 1930s-1961

Tacho – Paraguay?

Carias – Dictator of Honduras

Martínez Dictator of El Salvador

Ubico - President of Guatemala during the 1930s and 40s.


In the Odes poetry becomes a chronicle for and celebration of everyday living. His poetry while
still concerned with social activism is more centred on the beauty that is found in the lives of
what we normally call ordinary people living ordinary lives.

To match this change, his poetry becomes an instrument of pleasure and is accessible to all.
There is in the odes a desire to reach plain people through the marvel of daily objects such as oil
butter, salt, wine, and bicycles. The conflict between artistic poetry and popular poetry arrives
at a resolution offering both aesthetic and spontaneous enjoyment.

Ode to the onion becomes an object of light whose physical armature is compared to that of a
flower... then he precedes to describe the birth of the onion from the most essential roots in the
earth...the overlooked onion transcends its own dimensions and becomes almost sublime, not
only because it is intrinsically beautiful, but also because it is the essential food of the poor.

Neruda’s technique consists of announcing the object through a series of ennobling
characteristics – the transparency of its skins and the gentle curve of its form – and then adding
to these virtues the sustaining nutritive power of the object in the practical realm.

   -   Written in blank verse, conversational language.
   -   Notes from Marjorie Agosin (1986) Pablo Neruda Twayne Publishers.


His work is at once a chronicle of tumultuous times and the intimate diary of a nomad.
Ilan Stavans (2003)....It was in the mundane that he found his subject matter, and he
wanted to keep his poetry at that level. His strategy is easily summarized in three
words: simplicity, honesty and conviction.

Neruda, the Voice of the people: Poetry for Social Justice
Pablo Neruda is often described as a poet of the people. And it’s easy to
see why. Neruda’s work as a statesman in the communist party of Chile,
during the middle part of the 20th century, made him a political
representative of the people. And this political work (especially
campaigning) put him in contact with all kinds of hard working men and
women. It also challenged him to link his art with the reality of these
peoples’ lives. According to Neruda’s memoir, this political-poetic
awakening came about when the young, country boy from the southern
part of Chile (Temuco) went north, to the city of Santiago, to become a
student and a writer.

“We students supported the rights of the people and were beaten up by
the police in the streets of Santiago. Thousands of jobless nitrate and copper workers flocked to the
capital. The demonstrations and the subsequent repression left a tragic stain on the life of the
country. From that time on, with interruptions now and then, politics became part of my poetry and
my life. In my poems I could not shut the door to the street, just as I could not shut the door to love,
life, joy, or sadness in my young poet’s heart.” (Memoirs, 53).

The door remained open his entire life. When he went to Spain to fulfil his duties as the Chilean
consulate, he met the Spanish poet, Garica Lorca. Their literary exchange and camaraderie was
solidified when both became involved in the Spanish civil war, fighting alongside other Spanish
loyalists against the Fascists. Then, one night, Lorca was assassinated. Neruda returned to Chile,

At this point in his political career, he had not yet joined the communist party. So, “because I had
taken part in the defence of the Spanish Republic,” he explains, “the Chilean government decided to
remove me from my post” (126).The punishment only strengthened his resolve. What his government
could not remove was the conviction that “Poetry is an act of peace. Peace goes into the making of a
poet as flour goes into the making of bread” (137). Lorca had been assassinated because he was
fighting for peace. Neruda made it his ambition to use the art of poetry to bring about peace and
love. “I believe I was born not to pass judgment but to love” (Memoirs, 46). Or again: “I go on
believing in the possibility of love. I am convinced that there will be mutual understanding among
human beings, achieved in spite of all the suffering, the blood, the broken glass” (Memoirs, 274).

The essential message of love is not limited to sex. For while Neruda certainly values the erotic
qualities of love and celebrates them, he also relies upon the Christ-like love of forgiveness, mercy,
humility, and strength. He felt people would respond to a poetry as simple as love, as pure as human
desire. And he was right. “I have gone through a difficult apprenticeship and a long search,” he
explains in his Memoirs, “and also through the labyrinths of the written word, to become the poet of
my people. That is my reward, not the books and the poems that have been translated, or the books
written to explicate or to dissect my words. My rewards is the momentous occasion when, from the
depths of the Lota coal mine, a man came up out of the tunnel into the full sunlight on the firey
nitrate field, as if rising out of hell, his face disfigured by his terrible work, his eyes inflamed by the
dust, and stretching his rough hand out to me, a hand whose calluses and lines trace the map of the
pampas, he said to me, his eyes shining: ‘I have known you for a long time, my brother.’ That is the
laurel crown for my poetry, that opening in the bleak pampa from which a worker emerges who has
been told often by the wind and the night and the stars of Chile: ‘You’re not alone; there’s a poet
whose thoughts are with you in your suffering.’” (171)

And again: “Poetry . . . has to walk in the darkness and encounter the heart of man, the eyes of
woman, the strangers in the streets, those who at twilight or in the middle of the starry night feel
the need for at least one line of poetry . . . This visit to the unexpected is worth all the distance
covered, everything read, everything learned . . . We have to disappear into the midst of those we
don’t know, so they will suddenly pick up something of ours from the street, from the sand, from the
leaves that have fallen a thousand years in the same forest . . . and will take up gently the object we
made . . . Only then will we truly be poets . . . In that object we will live . . .” (260)

David Coogan, English Lewis Department of Humanities, Armour College, Illinois Institute of Technology

Recent NCEA Level 3 Poetry Questions:
Respond critically to written text(s) studied (90721)

“There is pleasure to be found in poetry, pleasure that can be experienced by poet and reader
alike.” To what extent do you agree with this view? Respond to this question with close reference to
at least TWO poems you have studied.

“In poetry, thematic concerns are developed through symbols and imagery” To what extent do you
agree with this view? Respond to this question with close reference to at least TWO poems you have

“Poetry provides readers with glimpses of imagined places and heightened experiences. To what
extent do you agree with this view? Respond to this question with close reference to at least TWO
poems you have studied.


“The power of poetry is the effective communication of commonplace ideas” To what extent do
you agree with this view? Respond to this question with close reference to at least TWO poems you
have studied.

“Poetry requires the reader to understand at least some of the writer’s intentions” To what extent
do you agree with this view? Respond to this question with close reference to at least TWO poems
you have studied.

“The power of poetry lies in its use of language” To what extent do you agree with this view?
Respond to this question with close reference to at least TWO poems you have studied.


The power of poetry lies in its ability to express or evoke emotion. To what extent do you agree with
this view? Your response should include close reference to at least TWO poems you have studied.

An individual poet’s “voice” is distinctive. To what extent do you agree with this view? Your response
should include close reference to at least TWO poems you have studied.

In poetry the fusion of language and theme is very strong. To what extent do you agree with this
view? Your response should include close reference to at least TWO poems you have studied.


To what extent does poetry express simple human emotions in complex ways? Respond to this
question with close reference to at least TWO poems you have studied.

With close reference to at least TWO poems you have studied, discuss the view that the language of
poetry shapes how readers interpret its themes and ideas.

To what extent do you agree that poetry is the perfect medium for the expression of humankind’s
innermost thoughts and feelings? Respond to this question with close reference to at least TWO
poems you have studied.


To what extent do you agree that the stylistic features of poetry shape the reader’s understanding of
its ideas? Discuss your views with reference to at least TWO poems you have studied.

To what extent do you agree that places or settings reinforce ideas in poetry? Discuss your views with
reference to at least TWO poems you have studied.

To what extent do you agree that poetry’s themes are universal regardless of when and / or where it
was written? Discuss your views with reference to at least TWO poems you have studied.


In the poetry you have studied this year, how was your understanding of the texts shaped by methods
used in crafting and shaping them? Refer to AT LEAST TWO poems in your answer. (Note: You could
refer to language, form, techniques, poet’s individual style, etc.)

Discuss whether poetry is better suited to sadness or to joy. Justify your views with close reference
to AT LEAST TWO poems you have studied.

Discuss the ways in which symbols and figurative language (imagery) are used to develop themes in
AT LEAST TWO poems you have studied.

B       BACKGROUND                     writer’s background?
                                       social/historical/cultural/literary traditions?
L       LANGUAGE                       particular connotations? Positive or negative?
                                       Specific word classes? Tense? Colloquial or formal?
                                       monosyllabic or polysyllabic?
I       IMAGERY                        Figurative language: metaphors? similes?
                                       Concrete imagery?
S       SOUND DEVICES                  Rhythm, Rhyme (scheme),
                                       Alliteration, assonance, sibilance, onomatopoeia
                                       Repetition, Meter and changes
S       STRUCTURE                      Form? (sonnet, elegy etc),
                                       Stanza: type/length?
                                       Enjambment?, end-stopped lines?, caesura?
T       THEME & TONE                   Writer’s message/concern/interests?
                                       Serious, sincere, satirical, angry, detached, or
                                        persuasive? Does the tone change?
A       ATTITUDE OF                    Is the writer’s personality or mood obvious?
        WRITER                         How typical is this of your poet’s other work?

R       RESPONSE                How has the poet/poet’s style/concern/interest affected
                                you? Challenged your thoughts? Introduced a new


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