Pablo Neruda – Ben Grade 10 IB

Pablo Neruda – Ben Grade 10 IB

Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet, is remembered not only for his works of literature but also for his supportive stance on communism. In many of his poems, he cherishes communism, promoting it as a just form of government. The diction, the symbols, and the allusions that Neruda applies in his poems clearly indicate that he favoured communism over capitalism as a more reliable form of government for the world.

Neruda’s poems are replete with powerful symbols in favour of communism and against capitalism. It is through the uses of these symbols that Neruda established his stance against capitalism and in favour of communism as a form of government, which can lead to a more egalitarian and productive society. In his “Ode to Bees,” Neruda describes the bees as “wearing a golden suit and quantities of yellow boots.” This beautiful uniform that all the bees have on symbolizes equality as well as willingness to work together for the common good. Uniforms generally are worn so that everyone appears the same and that no one stands out. Similarly, the bees are shown to be working together at the same level, representing equality and homogeneity. This style of clothing can be compared to an impartial communistic society, in which no one is above another, and everyone is equal in the eyes of society. In addition, Neruda states that the bees pass “swiftly drops of ambrosia,” which results in “the burning heat of summer the heart of multiplied honey.” This quote symbolizes honey as the final, sweet product of a communist society’s hard work. Like the bees, who work together of their own accord for the common good, citizens of a communist government, according to Neruda, will reap the fruit of their labour, which is as sweet as honey. In another poem of his, titled “Standard Oil Co.,” though, Neruda portrays Standard Oil Co.’s owners to be “suave smiling assassins.” This represents capitalism and its detrimental worldwide effects in its search for capital. In this poem, Neruda uses oil, the crude sludge, as the product of the capitalists, which symbolizes pollution, crime, war, and greed. By expressing his disdain and disgust towards this product, which in contrast to honey, is dirty, black, and slimy, Neruda establishes his preference for communism as a form of government that can bring equality and productivity to society.

Besides symbolism, Neruda applies many allusions in his poems to demonstrate the destructive nature of capitalism while portraying communism as the innate solution. In “Standard Oil Co.,” for instance, Neruda describes how “the Paraguayan fights its war, and the Bolivian wastes away in the jungle with its machine gun.” This is a reference to the Chaco War fought between Bolivia and Paraguay over a section of land rich with oil. The armed conflict that occurred was instigated by Western Powers, which Neruda labels as ‘Standard Oil Co.” The fact that two friendly neighbouring countries can engage in a war over resources demonstrates the destructive influence of capitalism and its subsequent materialistic greed. Furthermore, Neruda also describes how the “obese emperors” of ‘Standard Oil Co.’ purchase “silk, nylon, cigars [from] petty tyrants and dictators.” This description is an allusion to the small countries located primarily in North Africa or the Middle East, which western capitalist countries occupied for their own advantage. Due to the presence of oil, small dictatorships were established and funded by capitalist nations so that they could exploit the resources in the area. What was once a land of peace for the indigenous peoples is now a small pocket of inequality and tension. Neruda alludes to these events around the world to show the far-reaching and devastating effect of capitalism on even the most remote places. In the same vein, Neruda details in “Ode to Numbers” how numbers go “mad in their quantities, [evaporate] leaving an odour or a memory, leaving the numbers empty.” The numbers in Neruda’s poem is a reference to the materialism and greedy nature of capitalism. These numbers can be anything from bank summaries, income statements or anything related to the endless accumulation of wealth in capitalism that leaves out a person’s familial life. This ruinous force is the opposite of Neruda’s description when he writes, “may pairs of children’s eyes be born that will count again the ancient stars.” The resonant and peaceful family setting of this description refers to the movement of communism towards our natural state, away from the mechanicalness and tediousness of capitalism. As a result, Neruda is able to portray communism as the more just alternative to capitalism.

Neruda’s diction in his poems also contrasts the uncaring and gruesome nature of capitalism with the encouraging and gratifying essence of communism. In “Do Not Ask Me,” Neruda states that poetry wants to “abandon the hopes of my manifesto, [but] I’ll follow the letter of my law.” The word “hope” is contrasted to “letter.” “Hope” conveys a sanguine feeling towards communism while “letter” is about the concrete and indifferent nature of capitalism. The choice in the diction of this quote serves to emphasize the extent of capitalism’s apathy for its people. Not only that, but Neruda also states that the hopes are of his “manifesto,” a word that carries a positive connotation in his poem. Neruda chooses to incorporate “manifesto” over other words such as “proclamation,” which is associated with communism, in order to evoke all associated positive connotations. In a different poem, titled “Walking Around,” Neruda states that the narrator would only want “a respite of stones or wool.” The word “respite” implies that the desired break is from something unpleasant. The fact that the respite is of stones and wool relates it to the natural aspects of communism. Thus, it can be understood that the unpleasantness that the narrator is trying to get a respite from is the misery of capitalism. In addition, in “How Much Happens in a Day,” Neruda uses the word “joy” seven times in the second half of the poem. The word “joy” is chosen over “pleasure” as it conveys a deeper level of happiness that is almost divine. The materialistic satisfaction and earthly pleasure that is described in other poems such as “Standard Oil Co.” makes it clear that “joy” is used by Neruda to convey a different and more elevated level of contentment.

Pablo Neruda’s poetic mastery was never in doubt, and for it, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, but his outspoken support of communism, which is also evident in his many poems, stirred controversy in the West. Neruda died on September 23, 1973, with subsequent investigations exploring whether he might have been poisoned to death.