The poet Pablo Neruda was a favorite poet for many and his works continue to be popular today. Neruda is best known for two things: his original use of imagery and his use of nature in his poems. It is these two qualities, combined with his themes, that make his poems original and significant. By his original use of imagery, his poems are both startling and effective and by his incorporation of nature theme's he offers poems that clearly communicate with all people. These issues will now be investigated in more detail, in an attempt to determine what makes Neruda such a successful and popular poet. This will begin with a consideration of the themes of his work. While it is true that the themes are not what Neruda is recognized for, it is still important to have an understanding of them, since ultimately, his success as a poet is determined by how well he communicates those themes. This will be followed by a look at imagery and then a look at how Neruda uses nature in his poems. This information will then be combined to consider what makes make Neruda such a popular poet. Neruda's popularity will be shown to be due to his focus on writing for the poeple. His goal was to communicate the human experience and his use of imagery and nature are both aspects that helped him achieve this goal.
Before looking at the imagery and the use of nature in Neruda's poetry, it is important to consider the themes of his work. While his imagery and his use of nature were the aspects that made his poems distinctive, they are only effective in relation to how they contribute to the theme. A poem with brilliant imagery but no underlying theme or message, does little to communicate with its audience. Therefore, it is important to briefly introduce the themes of his work, so his use of imagery and nature can be related to it.
Neruda was a prolific writer and his poems span many years of his life. Throughout his changing life, his poems change to reflect new situations his various states of mind. As one article reports, "Neruda's body of poetry is so rich and varied that it defies classification or easy summary" (Duran). Neruda's poetry varies from love poetry, to political poetry, to surrealist poetry, to dark poetry.
Neruda's love poetry was one of his most popular forms including the book Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, his first successful poetry book. Other poems express a darkness and a depression. Again, others have a political motivation and others are more based on humanity as a whole and on recognizing the smaller details of life.
While these topics are wide-ranging, Neruda is well-known for his poems in each of the categories. Also in each of the categories, Neruda uses imagery and nature to good effect.
Use of Imagery
Neruda is perhaps best-known for his original use of imagery. Relating his imagery to his love poems as published in Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, the verse is described as, "Vigorous, poignant, and direct, yet subtle and very original in its imagery and metaphors. The poems express young, passionate, unhappy love perhaps better than any book of poetry in the long Romantic tradition" (Duran). This is a major statement to make considering the popularity of the theme of love in poetry.
Love is a very common theme in poetry, and as such, is one that requires originality for love poems to stand out. It is Neruda's use of imagery that achieves this, the imagery original, strong and effective. Reading these love poems, the reader cannot help but be struck by the poem, and this is one of the major reasons for Neruda's popularity. In short, his poems are not easily forgotten.
A good example of a striking poem is sonnet XVII, published in the book One Hundred Love Sonnets. This poem deal with an unprofessed love, another common theme in poetry. What makes this poem effective is the way Neruda uses unusual dark imagery to express his point. The theme of the poem is unexpressed love, and Neruda begins the poem with imagery consistent with normal love sonnets. The major difference is that Neruda uses this standard imagery as a negative, as shown in the opening line, "I don't love you as if you were the salt-rose, topaz." Neruda then adds his darker imagery saying that rather than love you as most portray romantic love, "I love you as certain dark things are loved." Neruda continues the reference to roses and plants, again turning them into a negative, "I love you as the plant that doesn't bloom." This is effective because Neruda is effectively comparing his dark love with more acceptable romantic love. Romantic love is often related to flowers and roses. Neruda, by keeping this same focus but using negative images associated with flowers and roses, effectively captures the darkness of his love, as well as creating a startling image for the reader.
Sonnet 55, also in One Hundred Love Sonnets, is another example of dark and effective imagery. This poem is also not a typical love sonnet proclaiming love, but instead one that captures the feeling that love will end. Neruda writes, "Thorns, shattered glass, sickness, crying: all day / they attack the honied contentment." Thorns is another reference to roses, the usual symbol of love. By using this image, Neruda shows that love was never perfect, it was always known that it would end. Neruda continues with the lines, "Sorrow rises and falls, comes near with its deep spoons, / and no one can live without this endless motion." Again this is expressing how helpless people are to the realities of love. This is both an effective image and a dark one, the reader imagining the two people sleeping, while they are helpless to the sorrow that is approaching them, "Trouble seeps through, into the sleepers' peace." final example of unusual imagery is in Sonnet 79, also published in One Hundred Love Sonnets. The sonnet includes the lines, "And the two / together in their sleep will defeat the darkness / like a double drum in the forest, pounding / against the thick wall of wet leaves." This is a strong image, the pounding double drum in the forest, representing the heart beats of the two sleepers. The reader imagines these two sleepers in a dark forest, attempting to beat the forest. The 'thick wall of wet leaves' and the 'darkness' both show how difficult and disturbing a task it is. This is an effective metaphor for the psychological battle of the sleepers Neruda is referring to. This is effective in taking an emotional struggle and giving it physical substance so the reader can relate to it.
Neruda is also well-known for taking common objects in life and building metaphors around them. One of the books this is especially seen in is Residence on Earth, the book of poetry that established Neruda as a respected poet and the book that clearly shows his unique style. Neruda describes his approach to writing poetry in "Toward an Impure Poetry," an essay presented in the opening to Five Decades: A Selection. In this essay Neruda says (xxiii):
It is good, at certain hours of the day and night, to look closely at the world of objects at rest... From them flow the contacts of man with the earth, like a text for all troubled lyricists. The used surfaces of things, the wear that the hands give things, the air, tragic at times, pathetic at others, of such things -- all lend a curious attractiveness to the reality of the world that should not be underprized."
This description describes the basis for Neruda's unique use of imagery. He was not focused on creating complex images, but instead on getting down to the basics and presenting the real substance of life in new ways.
One example from Residence on Earth is a poem titled "Ritual of my Legs." Neruda describes his legs as if they are not part of him but some foreign things he cannot control, "
They climb from my knees, compact and cylindrical, / tight with the turbulent stuff of my life: / brutish and lubberly, like the arms of a goddess, / like trees monstrously clad in the guise of the human." This is a disturbing image and effectively conveys how alienated Neruda feels. The entire poem, describing a relationship with his legs, is a metaphor for how he feels about society. Just like his legs, society is a part of him and he cannot escape it, and just like his legs, he feels alien to it. This poem shows Neruda's double use of metaphor. Firstly, the entire poem is a metaphor and secondly, his metaphors within the poem are equally disturbing. The line, "Like trees monstrously clad in the guise of the human," is highly…