It is hard to discuss literature in Chile without talking about Pablo Neurda. He was a Chilean poet and politician who also acted as a diplomat. He is well loved in Chile to this day. He wrote exquisite poetry that is descriptive, sentimental and often simplistic in its universal themes. What’s that? You would like to study some this year. Don’t worry. We will.
I could say a lot about Neruda (and likely will this year) but what I want to tell you tonight is about what happened to him at the end of his life.
Pablo Neurda had three homes in Chile, and I have visited all three of them over the past few days. One is a beautiful house by the sea called Isla Negra. One is a house called La Sebastiana on a high hill in the city of Valparaiso. The last one is a house called La Chascona right in Santiago, the biggest city in Chile. Neruda designed and built all of his own homes, but they aren’t huge or fancy. They are mostly beautiful because of their location. Isla Negra is a long, narrow house by the sea. Every single room in the house has a stunning view of the wild ocean. The house is even designed to look like a boat. In fact, all of his houses were designed to look like boats. La Sebastiana has sweeping views of the harbor and the other colorful houses that dot the hillside. La Chascona used to have a beautiful view of the mountains that surround the city before the city got too big. Anyway, you get the point – beautiful, inspiring houses.
Pablo Neurda won the Nobel Prize for Literature as well as many other prestigious literary awards. He was a diplomat and a supporter of the communist party in Chile. He became a diplomat in the socialist government of Salvadore Allende and had the tough job of convincing the country of France that Chile was not going to become a communist state like Cuba or the U.S.S.R. It was a hard job, and Neurda never really got the chance to give it a try.
Pablo Neurda died just a few days after Augusto Pinochet and the military dictatorship overthrew Allenede’s government on September 11, 1975. At that time Neruda was at his house on the beach trying to get well. While he was there officers of the new military dictatorship raided his house in Santiago. They damned up the canal system that surrounded his house so that all of the rooms flooded. Many precious objects, including novels and manuscripts, were lost. They also visited his house in Isla Negra, and found him ill in his bed. When the officers entered his bedroom he called out to them: “”Look around—there’s only one thing of danger for you here—poetry.”
So the question is: why? Why did the dictatorship think that Pablo Neruda was dangerous? What were they looking for in his homes? What could have been so very dangerous? How can poetry possibly be dangerous? Please respond to these prompts in the comments as your next assignment.
Isla Negra, Chile
Chatting with Neurda at La Sebastian.