Perhaps unconsciously seeking another literary pilgrimage, right around the same time as the publication in the TLS, I read Pablo Neruda's 1971 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, entitled ¨Towards the Splendid City. ¨
He spoke of his journey of exile, to freedom, a struggle to cross the Andes Mountains to escape the government of his homeland, who wanted his head. He had been a senator for the Communist party and represented an impoverished mining region in the desert north. A president he helped elect betrayed Neruda and other leftists. Neruda originally responded with fiery letters and speeches, but soon went into hiding in fear of his life. Supported by innumerable friends and his political party, he remained elusive in the capital Santiago, writing much of his epic work, Canto General. A few people that hid him are still alive and I hope to meet them.
Nearly a decade earlier he had helped 2,000 Spaniards flee their wore torn country to Chile. One of them was Victor Pey. He remained grateful and when Neruda needed help, he came through. He helped sneak his old friend to the land of Neruda's childhood, south central Chile, a wet land of volcanoes, frontier country. The poet wrote in his Memoirs, "I grew up in this town, my poetry was born between the hill and the river, it took its voice from the rain, and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests." Before sensual love, before politics, even before friendship, the raw Earth formed Neruda the poet and person. His first ever poem (he was not quite 11) is
From a landscape of golden regions
to give you, dear Mama
this humble postcard. Neftalí
The first line is about landscape and as much as he is referring to his stepmother, he is referring to Mother Nature.
This idea of poetry, a most precise way of naming things, as inextricably embedded into the natural world, I think will be the portal that I use to try to enter Neruda's world. Otherwise there is too much. I am too overwhelmed.
"That cold rain from the south of America does not come in impulsive warm squalls falling like a whip and passing, leaving a blue sky behind. On the contrary, the southern rain is patient and continuous, endless falling from a grey sky...Nature made me feel inebriated. I must have been about ten years old, but I was already a poet."
I am going to become inebriated in nature, Neruda's nature. I hope these little posts can show a little bit of what that's like. I don't know really know what to expect because I've never thought there's been much of a relationship between the human artist and the natural world. I've long assumed that we can look to nature's billions of years of experience to guide us in all parts of our life (though we usually don’t) with the exception artistic self-expression, which I believed as explicitly human, and not originating within our environment but exclusively from the soul or spirit. In hindsight this is shortsighted and arrogant, just the kind of thinking that hinders one's own creative powers. Perhaps this trip will undo that and by feeling the connection between the cosmos and art, I will unleash my own energy to travel to those hidden corners of the Universe that no one else sees or wants to go to, secret spaces that artists are drawn to in the same way that bees are attracted to nectar, from which they create their honey, their hart. The side effect of bees seeking nectar is pollination, without which life on Earth would not be possible as we know it. What is the side and likely crucial effect of artists seeking those unpopulated niches of life? I think that Neruda will help us find out.