The poet is a tortured soul I once heard. I believe there may be some truth in that, but I believe that the soul of the poet is sensitive to beauty, justice or lack thereof, and assorted sources of joy as well as pain. For the last few years I have endeavored to read more of the old masters of poetry, to hear how the true and lauded poets have spoken, in order that I might learn to write more fully.
According to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pablo Neruda of Chile is the greatest poet of the twentieth century, in any language. I did not find any of his work in my local Half Price Books store, so I was pretty excited to find a large (almost 1,000 pages) collection of his work when I browsed, somewhat dazed by the enormity of the place, in Powell Book Store in Portland, Oregon last December.
After reading the first hundred pages of his work I felt weighed down by his words and asked a question on Facebook of a lady I think is in the field of education, who ran a work shop I thoroughly enjoyed at the Austin International Poetry Festival this past April. I asked for some insight into this man’s greatness because I came away feeling like I had ploughed through some heavy negativity with an aftertaste of sordid sex, cheap hotels and the stench of stale beer. The lady did not care to even respond to my inquiry, but that did not discourage me from moving on in the big book. The second hundred pages included praise of Spain and accolades to various heroes of wars in which the Conquistadors in their greed for gold, ransacked and murdered the good, kind, and generous inhabitants of the South Americas. Because I have seen some of the PBS specials on this topic, I could follow the thread of the admiration and the anguish of the injustices committed. Perhaps if I had a better knowledge of the history of those events, I might recognize the names. Certainly by this point I could appreciate Neruda’s extensive knowledge on many subjects, allowing him numerous analogies and a rich vocabulary. I will continue to read this extensive book, a little at a time and when I do finally get to the last page, I will begin it again, hoping to get a better understanding of his work.