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Pablo Neruda: Selected Poems Characters

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Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda is the poet who wrote all the poems in this collection. His role as the poet makes his voice in these poems mainly omniscient, but he switches into different characters throughout, and also writes objects to life through personification. The poems in this collection are the very life blood of Neruda's time on earth, guiding the reader through the different phases and locations of his life. Neruda was a rare kind of poet in that everything he saw in his life was not only a reason to write poetry, but poetry itself. Even the most mundane things, objects that an average person would disregard such as stones, chairs, and brooms that Neruda considered worthy of a voice, and this belief shone through in his poetry. Neruda was also the voice of the people in his poetry, speaking for not only living cultures, but also for ones long extinct. In his poem Love, America (1400), Neruda lists the Chibcha, Araucanian, and Carib peoples of South America that are cultures that were wiped out long ago. What bothered Neruda the most was that the language of these societies was forgotten and to him that was an unforgivable travesty. Neruda took it upon himself to help educate modern man to these peoples and to give them a voice again. He also contemplated the people of Macchu Picchu and pondered who could have carved the stone statues of Rapa Nui, or Easter Island. His later poetry was heavily steeped in political idealism, and some of his poems were written in a pro-communist tone as the voice of the proletariat. In the second half of his life and career, Neruda decided that he needed to make his poetry more accessible to the common man, and began writing his "odes." He wrote odes to his clothes, a tomato, and a fallen chestnut to name a few. He wanted not only to be the voice of the people but also to be able to speak to the people as well. His poems are some of the best known in Latin America and in many cases, something people commonly commit to memory.

Matilde Urruitaappears in 100 Love Sonnets, Autumn Testament

Matilde Urruita was the third wife of Pablo Neruda, and to whom he was married at the time of his death. She was the inspiration behind his publication 100 Love Sonnets, which was published anonymously in order to spare the feelings of his previous wife from whom he was separating. In his poem Autumn Testament, which reads like Neruda's last will and testament, there is a long section dedicated to her entitled, finally he addresses himself ecstatically to his beloved. Neruda says that his love for her is a "child crying" afraid to leave her arms. The poem is a beautiful statement and remembrance of the passion the two shared, and it also gives us an interesting insight into their relationship. If we read carefully, we notice that he refers to her hands as "celestial," and he speaks of her "deciphering green batons, the spider webs, the insects of my mortal calligraphy," he is referring to the fact that Matilde used to re-copy all of his scribblings for him and arranged his poetry into legible script. Also, Neruda always wrote in green ink, the color of "esperanza," or hope. After Pablo died, Matilde edited his memoir, Confieso que he Vivido or "I confess to have lived" which brought her into conflict with Augusto Pinochet, a Chilean army general who was brought into power as president of Chile right at the time of Neruda's death. Pinochet tried to repress the memory of Neruda from the general consciousness because he was an outspoken Communist. Matilde's own memoir was published in 1986, a year after her death.

Marisolappears in Body of a Woman

Marisol is one of the two female "characters" that weave in and out of Neruda's poetry - particularly the works found in Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. Marisol literally means 'Mary Sun' or 'Mary Sea.' Marisol is who Neruda described as being "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 every page, surrounded by the waters of the port, and by a half moon over the mountains." In other words, when we read a piece of poetry written by Neruda which has a tone of fresh, passionate, starry-eyed love, he is speaking of Marisol. She appears most often in his earliest works. A good example of her is found in Body of a Woman (p.17), where his ecstasy towards her is evident in phrases such as, "Oh the goblets of the breast! Oh the eyes of absence! Oh the roses of the pubis!" Clearly Neruda is in worshipful wonderment over this divine creature over whom he is lavishing such passion.

Marisombraappears in Every Day You Play

Marisombra is 'Mary Shadow.' She is in the image of a student in the city. She wears a gray beret, has very gentle eyes, and has an ever-present honeysuckle fragrance. She represents Neruda's student days and his passionate city life. The tone that Neruda uses is correspondence with this character is slightly darker and slightly less naïve. When he is coloring her into his poems, it indicates that he is slightly older, slightly more aged and hashing through more experienced events of his young life. A good example of this is found in the poem Every Day You Play (pg. 25), where he speaks of a woman who is a "savage, solitary soul," and he says of her, "Now, now too, little one, you bring me honeysuckle, and even your breasts smell of it."

Cesar Vallejoappears in In this Ode to Cesar Vallejo

Cesar Vallejo was a Peruvian poet who lived from 1892-1938, and was considered one of the most innovative poets of the 20th century. Neruda looked up to Vallejo, and even wrote an ode about him, In this Ode to Cesar Vallejo, Neruda describes him as having a stony face, an enormous forehead, and a fragile body. Neruda laments the time running out for Vallejo and likens it to sand falling through an hourglass. In the ode, he talks about Vallejo's time in Spain and Paris, and about his exile first from Peru and then from the earth itself. Neruda admits that he never missed his friend in life but in death, he does.

Joaquinappears in The Absence of Joaquin

Neruda wrote a poem entitled "The Absence of Joaquin," referring to Joaquin Sepulveda, who died in 1929 at the age of 29. He was a friend of Neruda's, and a fellow Chilean poet. In the poem that he wrote for Sepulveda, Neruda is memorializing him so that he can continue to exist. Neruda is pondering the idea of non-existence, and is toying with ideas of defying such status. He is doing his young, dead friend a favor by writing about him; he is immortalizing him. This is partially what Neruda strove to do for himself as well in his writing. He is trying to leave his stamp on the chaos of time and history.

The lovers of Rapa Nuiappears in Rain (Rapa Nui)

One of Neruda's poetic passions was bringing life to people of long dead civilizations. He felt in a way that it was his duty, his poetic obligation, to give a voice to these people who could no longer speak for themselves. During one phase of his life, Neruda became fixated upon Rapa Nui, or Easter Island. He longed to understand why the giant stone faces of Easter Island were erected. He wanted to know the people who did this; but the builders of Rapa Nui, it is well known, left no clues as to who they were. Thus, Neruda had to invent a culture that would satisfy his curiosity. In the poem Rain (Rapa Nui), Neruda invents a princess character, who is hiding from the Queen in order to meet her peasant lover in the rain and make love. Neruda takes on the voice of the lover, and a passionate human encounter is described. Neruda's mission is accomplished in this piece, as we are living, breathing and thriving alongside the lovers in the rain. They take on fully-fleshed out human forms, and an ancient imaginary culture is brought to life.

Lautaroappears in Education of the Chieftain

Lautaro is an Araucanian Chieftain, according to the translator's note that accompanies this poem. Neruda is, as he did for the lover's of Rapa Nui, bringing to life another ancient culture. This time it is a civilization almost as non-existent as the Easter Island builders. The difference is that this culture lived and thrived and was recognized once. It has just been long forgotten. So far long forgotten, in fact, that even the language was lost. There are at least some clues about these people, and that's where Neruda stepped in. He fleshes out this civilization by inventing Lautaro - the Chieftain. He is equivalent to America's Davy Crockett, Paul Bunion or George Washington, who, of course was a real person, but who is very much steeped in lore. Lautaro's story is one of fantasy and super-human feats, accomplished in the hopes of becoming worthy of leading his people. In the end, he is successful.

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