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Pablo Neruda is the quintessential Latin American poet. When he recevied the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, the Swedish Academy described him as "the poet of violated human dignity" who "brings alive a continent's destiny and dreams." Published in 1962, Fully Empowered (Plenos poderes) is late, autumnal work and one of my favorite volumes, because it incorporates Neruda's many modes.
In his early twenties, Neruda became famous with the publication of Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1924). The surrealism of Residence on Earth reflects the poet's alienation in Asia. Canto General is Neruda's attempt to write a poetic history of Latin America that includes those rendered invisible in official histories--miners, peasants, soldiers--and honors the anonymous worker. The Elemental Odes was marked by a simplification of style and celebration of the ordinary. In 1973, he died in a Santiago clinic aggravated by his distress over the military coup that overthrew the government of Salvador Allende, whom Neruda had helped bring to power.
Alastair Reid, arguably Neruda's finest translator, worked on the poems in Fully Empowered. These are the opening lines of "The Poet's Obligation": "To whoever is not listening to the sea / this Friday morning, to whoever is cooped up / in house or office, factory or woman / or street or mine or dry prison cell. . ." The speaker addresses those who suffer confinement or incarceration, and, with elemental power, he becomes the agent of their liberation: "I arrive and open the door of his prison. . . / and the sea beats, dies, and goes on beating." It is, then, the poet's "destiny" to listen to the primal call, so that "wherever they suffer the sentence of the autumn," the speaker can affirm "freedom and the sea" in response to "the shrouded heart."
Reid has said that Neruda's poetry has a vast "range of manners and levels, from the whimsical and self-mocking, through the meditative, the sardonic, and the impassioned, the heights of vatic affirmation." Fully Empowered encompasses with mastery all those various modes.
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