Pablo Neruda (July 12, 1904 – September 23, 1973) is the most widely read of the Spanish American poets. But did you know this Nobel Prize-winning poet worked for the Chilean government for much of his poetry career? Neruda decided to apply for consular jobs after trying his hand at living on writing alone. Between 1927 and 1935, the government put him in charge of a number of honorary consular positions, which took him to Burma, Ceylon, Java, Singapore, Buenos Aires, Barcelona, and Madrid. As World War II threatened in 1939, Neruda was appointed to a special post in Paris for the immigration of Spanish refugees and secured the exodus of about 2,000 people to Chile.
Neruda’s poetic and professional accomplishments seemed to come in pairs. He was elected to the Chilean Senate in March 1945 and received Chile’s National Prize for Literature two months later. The very next year, Neruda served as the National Chief of Propaganda for Gabriel González Videl’s successful presidential campaign and legally changed his name from Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto to his pen name. Neruda’s writing also created the conflict with the president that resulted in his impeachment from the senate and his eventual exile. Out of the political scene in Chile, he enjoyed recognition as a poet throughout the world. However, he continued to participate in the struggles of the Communist Party in Chile. Once the government was overthrown, Salvador Allende–the first democratically elected socialist head of state in Chile–appointed Neruda as Chile’s ambassador to France from 1970-1972, where he helped to renegotiate the billions of Chilean debt owed to European and American banks. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.
It was a treat to discover that Pablo Neruda was a poet with a double life. We all know Neruda from his poetry. Who among us doesn’t have one of his love poems tucked away in the nightstand next to the bed. But throughout his life Pablo Neruda wrote and published his work, which just proves that all of us can find a way to walk down two different paths simultaneously.
For more information about Neruda’s life, please visit Fundación Neruda. To read a few of his poems, visit the Poetry Foundation.
Chair Emeritus is a monthly feature highlighting poets who have lived the double life.