Eric Bockstael An Interview with Pablo Neruda Parts of this interview were first used in a 1-hour radio program

entitled, “Neruda, poète des Amériques,” broad ast b! "adio-#anada in the fall of 1$%1& 'he interview was ondu ted in (ren h, a language Neruda )new well, having studied it first at the *niversit! of +antiago in the earl! 1$,-.s& /t is published here for the first time in its entiret!& Eric Bockstael: Those who have read your poems note immediately the presence of the world of work, and some consider you a political poet. Pablo Neruda: I insist on tellin you that I am not a political poet. I detest that classification which insists on desi natin me as the representative of an ideolo ically committed poetry. !y ambition as a writer, if there is an ambition, is to write about all the thin s that I see, that I touch, that I know, that I love, or that I hate. But in pointin out to me "the world of the workers# you make me, in an unconscious and enerous way, the spokesman for the an$ieties of the masses or of the le ions of or ani%ed workers, and that&s not the case. I am only the echo in a certain part of my poetry of the an$ieties of the contemporary world, of the an$ieties of the 'atin (merican world. But I refuse to be classified as a political poet. Poets who have not, who have never, made contact with the feelin s of their people, or who have continued to be indifferent, or who have promoted or preached a poetry far removed from a certain pressin reality, can be )ualified as the most political poets of our era. Because of that abstention of their poetry from the eneral movement of civili%ation, the development of the world, they have contributed to the holdin back of that development. *hich means the real ones+the poets who are the political poets +are the reactionary poets and writers. ,or me, writin about the workers, writin about the masses, is a conse)uence of my emotions. It&s not a dictatum, and has nothin to do with an ideolo ically committed direction in my poetry. I became aware of the social order of 'atin (merica and of the world as I became aware of the ocean, or of flowers, or of life. Naturally, that spectacle bein more movin , and more developed, and rander+which en a es all humanity+that has constituted a committed part in my poetry. But in eneral if you take the political part of my works, the part of my work that one can call political or social, it doesn&t make up a fourth or a fifth part of that work. -o I always refuse to be classified. This classification that they want to ive me is an anta onistic classification, a hostile classification. I am the poet of the moon, I am the poet of the flowers, I am the poet of love. !eanin I have a very old conception of poetry, which does not contradict the possibility that I have written, and that I continue to write, poems that are dedicated to the development of society and to the power of pro ress and of peace. EB: .ou have /ust said that you are the poet of the stars, of flowers, and of love. 0ne could add: of the stones, the trees, the rivers, the mountains of this new continent. I often think of the first Europeans tryin to describe this world: 1ernando 2orte% writin from !e$ico to 2harles the ,ifth that he could hardly continue to describe what he was seein because he didn&t know the words. 1ow important a problem has it been to name this "new# world3 PN: 'et me say it was not a problem4 it was our duty. The duty of the 'atin (merican poet is to name, meanin to complete the creation of the world. -ince the name, the word, is the first thin that e$isted without the knowled e or the name of the fundamental thin s. -o we have at our disposal a material e$tremely obscure and mysterious. (nd this knowled e of our own continent posed itself as a duty especially in the last years of the era in which I be an to write, after the twenties, when I was a youn university student, a youn poet. The reat, the ma netic attraction was European culture, and especially ,rench culture. (nd we even had writers, very ifted writers moreover, who hadn&t written e$cept in ,rench. Ecuadorians who so much despised their continent, which they didn&t know, that they not only chan ed direction, but they chan ed their lan ua e as well. (s a reaction to this aesthetic position, which was moreover a class position, the reat oli archs of 'atin (merica always presented themselves as representin hi h culture and wanted to ali n themselves with the latest of European society and its people. (t the time a certain kind of art for art&s sake predominated in 'atin (merica. I did not invent, nor did those who be an writin at the same time, that which motivated our determination to concern ourselves

with our countries, with our peoples. *e were not the inventors of this theory. It e$isted from the very be innin , even with the first poet to come out of the con)uistadores, the con)uerors: we have the e$ample of the poet Ercilla. The founder of poetry in my country was a -paniard, a pa e of 2harles the ,ifth, who came with the first wave of the con)uerors. (nd it was he who wrote the most dramatic and the most interestin thin s about 2hile, about its primitive Indian peoples who defended their liberty for three hundred years. It&s Ercilla who already had the erm of our determination. But in the 56th century we have the enrichin of the oli archs, the e$ploitation of our continent by capitalism, that allowed an aristocratic stratum to come out of the reat e$ploitation of our people, and that made fashionable only the European style of life. (nd pliant to this influence+and that influence persists into our own day in a conscious or unconscious fashion+many poets have wanted only to be cosmopolitan fi ures and to mer e themselves throu h European culture with the universal culture. But we have followed the e$ample of our reat predecessors, and we have cast our view on life, on the misery and the sufferin of our peoples, and on the rand eo raphy and the rand spaces, the rand historical events and the rand natural phenomena of our (merica. This wasn&t new, but iven that we belon ed to a new eneration where class conflicts were sur in more and more pressin ly, we also took on the personal stru le, isolated or collective, of the workers. (nd in doin that we broke the ties that bound us to that layer of the oli archy and definitively with that Europeanist mode which is not dead evidently, and which moreover it&s necessary to save, because one must not put in the same basket the ood and the bad of that situation. That means we have also the reat herita e of European culture, which we appreciate and we admire, and without which we would neither be able to live nor to develop as writers, as thinkers. *e owe European culture enormously. *e have to create our own culture, meanin to pay attention to our continent, to be ourselves, and that is a more difficult path. It&s a more ori inal path, and it&s a path that leads sometimes to vul arity. *ell, we are afraid neither of vul arity nor of reality, but we accept also the possibility of cultural relations with all the countries of the world, naturally while reco ni%in somethin indispensable in European culture. EB: *as that the oal of 2anto 7eneral3 PN: The 2anto 7eneral has no theory. ,rom the time I started to work, I found the sub/ects that were already there. In eneral, I am opposed to theory. The 2anto 7eneral is an or anic work that took a certain form that I wouldn&t wish to place in the conte$t of the classical poem. But finally it has a form all the same, thou h its enerality is not only a matter of sudden awareness. 8ather it&s the or anic life of each day of my life, when in enlar in that awareness I was able to write that book with the same sincerity, with the same love for all the re ions and countries of the (merican continent. I note that it is not only the product of a detached e$amination, of an analysis, that can lead to the carryin out of a work. It&s rather that the book be an with my own birth, or with my sudden awareness of myself as a writer. The 2anto 7eneral has in effect the ambition to enlar e itself into everythin , in takin all the phenomena of our (merican continent. (nd there are even parts on the 9nited -tates, on North (merica. But in eneral it&s the rowth of a personality, of a poet of 'atin (merica, who knows his continent and who wants to enter into that which he does not know. It&s a poem that is not finished and that can be continued by all the other poets4 it&s not a closed work4 it&s an open work where all the currents and all the new creations, and all the new problems of this new continent can circulate. EB: 1ow would you e$plain this emer in continental awareness3 PN: That corresponds historically to the reat importance+to the development+of the oli archs and of the classes, of the reat bour eoisie of 'atin (merica durin the time of 8uben :ario. There was a sentiment that one could call counter;revolutionary in that society. If we wish to use another word, it would be the word "anti;Bolivarian.# Bolivar thou ht in terms of the whole continent, and the liberators like -an !artin, and like -ucre, and like 0&1i ins thou ht always of 'atin (merica as a sin le reat continent, almost a sin le country. The independence movements intermin led with one another. (nd Bolivar, who was born in <ene%uela, set out for Peru4 -an !artin, who was an (r entine, went as far as Ecuador4 0&1i ins, who was 2hilean, formed the liberation fleet of Peru. (t the time, feelin s of nationality were very powerful, but they poured themselves out in a continental patriotism. But the bour eoisie, the rand bour eoisie 'atin (merica brou ht forth after independence, contributed with a certain effectiveness to the isolation of the countries of 'atin (merica. It&s a very lon process which is evidently tied to feudalism, which is tied also to imperialism. (nd then 'atin (merica became a

collection of bo$es closed off from one another, meanin a politics of local sub/u ation where the imperialist influences of En land and 7ermany or later of the 9nited -tates had the reatest potential in that isolation, that practically choked off communication between countries that spoke the same lan ua e and had the same ori ins. That isolation continues even now. Between our countries we now have only earth)uakes or revolutionary movements, or terrorist movements. But about North (merica, we know everythin . The vul ar reader, the contemporary reader, knows all about the divorces of 1ollywood actresses and naturally everythin about the Princess of !onaco. But the whole worker&s stru le or the social development of affiliated trade unions, the work of the universities, and even books by difficult writers, scarcely cross the borders. But in any case, accordin to !ariarte ui, the reat materialist philosopher and writer of Peru, our movement and this eneration thou ht anew with Bolivarian ideas that the cause of the 'atin (merican people is a sin le cause. Then we produced works that followed his e$ample and these new discoveries. (nd the 2anto 7eneral is one of these works. But I think that political thou ht is continental, and that the sentiments of our new enerations of writers, after almost thirty years, resemble one another enormously and ive rise to a sin le line of thou ht+naturally with very reat differences+but like a sin le continent that has the same problem of illiteracy, of i norance, of underdevelopment. EB: The -panish 2ivil *ar seems to have had a similar impact. PN: Indeed, the -panish war ave a new perspective to literature and enormously moved the writers of 'atin (merica. It&s very clear that there is no phenomenon as profound for the writers and for the peoples of 'atin (merica in contemporary history as the war in -pain, and that the war in -pain tau ht us a reater and more collective pluralist conception of our problems and of our ideas. It has been a moment of rapprochement amon the writers of 'atin (merica. The fact that we were over there, <alle/o, Pa%, me, that didn&t prevent differences in our ideas and in the production of each of us. But in any case I believe it is proper for you to point that out, because as I say the war in -pain for the first time presented the unity of 'atin (merican writers towards a historical phenomenon whose effects naturally continue to develop themselves on the 'atin (merican continent. EB: There are those who would speak of that poetry, )ualifyin it as materialistic or even as historical materialism. PN: I don&t believe that poetry can be made from historical materialism. That&s to say that historical materialism is a scientific and philosophical possibility which includes all sorts of phenomena. If someone finds historical materialism in my poetry, it&s a thin completely e$ternal to me. I&m not lookin for anythin in my work, neither materialism, nor materialistic, nor historic spiritualism. I only write. The only thin I need to write is the will to write and a paper and a pencil. (nd all the theories that one makes about my poetry are completely e$ternal for me. If one finds philosophical connections, it&s not my responsibility. I leave the door open for all that, but in eneral I could say that I am materialist in the sense of visible poetry, which is to say I can&t speak or sin or write e$cept about thin s that are e$tremely visible and touchable. If one calls that materialism, I am a materialist. .ou have only to o over my poems, only the title of my poems. I write on everythin ima inable, and on the revolt of man as well. That&s important4 it&s a part of the poetry. <ery important, and very honorable. It&s not all the poetry4 one has to clarify that. I was oin to tell you that I am the oldest of poets. I want to sin about the stars, the moon, the flowers, about love, e$actly like -ully Prudhomme, like <ictor 1u o, or like, before all else, all the poets of all time. I don&t want to be a revolutionary in poetry4 I don&t have a poetic doctrine4 I don&t have a poetic ideolo y. I am a poet by vital, biolo ical need, and that is my whole doctrine. (nd I detest in eneral philolo ical interpretation. No, the philolo ical is rather an e$ternal matter, but I detest the e$tra;philosophic interpretation of poetry in eneral, not only my own. I believe that it is enou h that poets only e$ist+it&s ood that poets e$ist+but if to forty books by poets one adds forty thousand books of poetic interpretation, where are the poets oin to live, I ask you3 I am a poet in this absolutely elemental sense: I o no further in the interpretation of my poetry than my need to sin , to e$press myself, to re ard the wonder of the world. (nd in the marvelousness of the world I find also catalo ed the stru le of mankind for a future. ,or to chan e the destiny of humanity is a reat part of life, and so I consider it.

EB: I have a sense here that you consider these discussions about mankind a rather facile evasion in the face of real life. PN: I have no theory about man. I have theories on the shoes I am oin to buy when mine are worn out or that my clothes are already ettin threadbare. I don&t know what man is. (nd I am a livin man, and life is not for thinkin about what substantially is "!an,# in that sense. Perhaps it is a thin that interests me less than the profession of a mechanic or of a eolo ist4 that&s more important. But this interminable debate on what is man is so much talk that it doesn&t interest me. *e know that we are born, and that we are oin to die, etc. But between all that it&s very difficult, or it&s very easy to say thin s. (nd I have nothin to do with that4 I don&t know what it&s all about. It is perhaps a reali%ation of what is most distin uished about philosophical idealism: to discuss eternally thin s that have no solution. In eneral I am a practical poet. Poetry in a certain sense ou ht to be practical too. *hy not3 *hy not practical poetry like useless poetry, why not matter, and why not dream3 But to try to find a contradiction between these different senses, that&s what I don&t understand. (s for the evasion which leads to certain philosophical systems or to interminable conversations and styli%ation of ar uments, that&s perhaps a necessity like reli ion4 that&s perhaps the attraction of the abyss, the attraction of the mystery. But we are so busy in this world that if we show that an investi ation is useless across many centuries, then why continue it in a form of torture for others3 I leave the philosophers free to continue to ask themselves what is it that man is. But don&t ask me, because I am completely i norant on that )uestion. EB: I would like to o back to what you were sayin about the contradictions of poetic lan ua e, between practical and impractical poetries. PN: ,irst it would be necessary to consider that there is a place for simple and direct poetry and there is a place for the e$perimental, for e$perimental poetry, for the chan es in lan ua e, and that poets and writers in eneral feel as if the measures of lan ua e or e$pression at a iven moment are not sufficient to their thou ht at the frontiers of their thou ht. 0ut of that are born the perpetual chan es, the perpetual schools and literary movements. 0ne cannot refuse to an aesthetic system, to an art, a chan e of clothes. But then, in respondin to a student, I would say that even if it&s a little bit of a ne ative reaction, a nihilistic and destructive reaction, there is a certain ethos which oes not only to the limits of poetry, but to all the arts, and especially to paintin . But let&s speak only of paintin and poetry. *ith the development of the bour eoisie, with the formation of the reat metropolises, writers and painters have become far removed from the understandin of the people, the common people, everybody. -ince the be innin of this century of the reat industrial bour eoisie that phenomenon has e$isted. *e can not not see it. *e can not refuse to look at and to e$amine the conse)uences that this can have. But the role of the romantic poet, of 7oethe, or of -chiller, or of =eats, or of Byron, or of <ictor 1u o, was lost with the be innin of the century, with the reat development of the industrial bour eoisie. The poets transformed themselves, the poets and the painters transformed themselves into specialists. The knowled e and the emotions which are channeled across written or fi urative e$pression, represented in paintin , escaped. (t the time, they had already made a place for art as a speciali%ed thin for a certain cultivated layer of the rand and the petty bour eoisie. The petty bour eoisie in its own way wanted to assimilate the lesson from the rand bour eoisie throu h the spirit of class abstention. The petty bour eoisie didn&t ali n itself with the workers but with the reat financiers. This entire economic phenomenon has had its repercussion. 1ow are we oin to lead ourselves, to lead ourselves back into a new state of thin s by chan in economic history and class relations3 1ow are we oin to lead ourselves back to that which has traveled so far away, makin use of all the methods of propa anda like abstract paintin , etc., which has produced reat works, but works which are very far removed from popular sentiment3 *ho is ri ht, the people or the abstract painters3 0r the most hermetic poets3 I don&t set myself apart from this problem, because my poems have been especially very difficult to understand. But I can say one thin : that my poems are the e$pression of an absolute sincerity. That is perhaps the case of other poets as well. But as a school of paintin , of theater, of films, of poetry, of prose, or of music separates itself entirely from the people, I find that it&s on a mistaken path, I find that it is in a blind alley that does not lead very far. But on the other hand, I do not refuse myself+it would be absolutely absurd to refuse oneself+the constant investi ation, the enlar ement of our possibilities of e$pression. -o these are problems that can&t be reached by criticism, not even by our observations, and

not even by our production, but by the correlation of social forces. *hen the class stru le, when the human condition will universally take on a new sense not only in certain countries+and let&s speak clearly, when the *est will be socialist+then perhaps we are oin to see a different formulation, or an orientation where a popular literature will be able to come to li ht without populism, and artistic investi ation and e$perimentation without e otism and e$treme individuality, but will be able to ive the human community the essential contribution of art, of contemporary art and of the art of the future. Translated by Patrick ,rank