Friday, September 3, 2010

245 / Las Tres Casas de Neruda

Speaking of poets, Chile's great poet, Pablo Neruda, traveled the world as a diplomat, was actively involved in the politics of his country, and won the Nobel Prize in 1971. He died in September 1973, just days after the coup that overthrew the democratic government of Salvador Allende, who was his friend.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said that Neruda was the "greatest poet of the 20th century in any language." I think he is probably right, particularly if we count Antonio Machado as a poet of the 19th Century. I am particularly partial to Neruda's Twenty Poems of Love And A Song Of Despair.

Knowing little of Chile, and with several days to explore the country, an obvious idea was to organize the trip by way of a visit to each one of the three houses of Pablo Neruda. And so it came to pass. Neruda had a house in Santiago, one in Valparaiso, and one in Isla Negra. You can see them in the images. In many ways, all of these houses are the same, though in very different locations, with the house at Isla Negra perhaps the summation of Neruda's residential extravagance. The Isla Negra house is right on the coast, with the most fantastic breaking waves and rocks at its foot. Neruda and his last wife, Matilda Urrutia, are buried there, next to the sea.

The poet was a great collector. I have never seen so many ships in a bottle as I saw in Isla Negra, nor as many beautiful and rare sea shells. Neruda also had an exquisite collection of butterflies, hummingbirds, and moths. Neruda loved the sea, and ships, and the houses are filled with art, poetry, and memorabilia which demonstrate this love.

At Isla Negra there are many examples of the prows of wooden sailing ships which Neruda rescued when the ships were broken up, and a trip through this home-museum shows how this poet-captain drew from each object he possessed (and one thinks each person that he met, each moment that he lived) a significance that celebrated and elevated the meaning and majesty of the life we are so privileged to be able to live.

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