The greatest poet of the twentieth century?

I don’t think it is crazy to pick the late Pablo Neruda, whose one hundredth birthday is today. (Yeats or Wallace Stevens are serious competition, however. Not to mention Rilke, who is probably my first choice…) Read this appreciation. Here are three poems in English, but no most poetry doesn’t translate well. Here is a (much better) concordance of poems in Spanish.

But why did so many artists love Stalin?

Neruda had become an ardent communist. Over the years he wrote a lot of sincerely felt, but otherwise weak, didactic poems denouncing Western imperialism. His strident praise for the Communist Party seems at best naive, and his admiration for Stalin, whom he never disavowed, can be hard to stomach. Such figures as Octavio Paz and Czeslaw Milosz broke with him over communism. In his Memoirs, completed just a few days before his death, he called himself “an anarchoid,” and that seems closer to the truth. “I do whatever I like,” he said.

Nonetheless, Neruda’s social and political commitments were crucial to his life and work. He was elected senator for the Communist Party in Chile in 1945. He campaigned for Gabriel González Videla, who became president the next year — and whose government then outlawed the Communist Party. Neruda denounced him, and in 1948 he was accused of disloyalty and declared a dangerous agitator. After a warrant for his arrest was issued, he went into hiding in Chile, then fled to Argentina and traveled to Italy, France, the Soviet Union and Asia. (His brief stay on the island of Capri during his exile was fictionalized in the touching film “Il Postino.”)

If I could have the answers to five questions in political science/sociology, the appeal of Stalinism to intellectuals would be one of them.

Addendum: Tom Myers notes that it is also the hundredth birthday of Deng Xao-Ping, here is a full list of famous July 12 babies.


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