SONG OF PROTEST by Pablo Neruda


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Neruda--diplomat, Chilean senator, and candidate for the Chilean presidency in 1970--became famous in the early decades of this century for dark and despairing poems, often with exotic surrealist settings, lamenting the decay of civilization and human love. His sense of alienation, however, was broken at the time of the Spanish Civil War when he turned Communist, spoke for the dispossessed, and saw worldly misery more and more in political terms. Song of Protest, his last installment in this vein, castigates the capitalist exploitation of Latin America, attends ""to the pain/ of those who suffer: they are my pains,"" celebrates ""the blood of dead peasants"" and the revolutionaries in the Sierra Maestra. It is a thoroughly programmatic little volume, moving in its agitprop way, but quite lacking in the subtlety, grace, and mystery that once made Neruda a great poet. Here ""the wicked perpetuate themselves"" through the ""bullets and money in Washington,"" Venezuela's Betancourt learns ""English in order to obey orders,"" and the building of the Panama Canal is viewed as a mortal desecration: ""little sister, they cut/ your figure as if it were cheese/ and then ate and left you/ like a gnawed olive pit."" Neruda's vision of a new day, of ""dignity born out of fighting,"" of a world where ""the cruel and the bad are gone forever"" has the power of all noble aspirations--but surely the historical reasoning behind it is simplistic. So far the communist powers have proven to be as corrupt and hypocritical as their capitalist adversaries.

Pub Date: June 22nd, 1976
Publisher: Morrow