If you want to read one of the world’s best poets, Pablo Neruda is the perfect place to start. Start with five of the best Pablo Neruda poems to get a taste of his work and style.
Pablo Neruda (July 12, 1904–September 23, 1973) is recognized as one of the great 20th century poets. Neruda’s life was dominated by poetry, politics, diplomacy and temporary exile from his native Chile.
In 1971, Neruda was the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature. “A poet is at the same time a force for solidarity and for solitude,” Neruda stated in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
Neruda wrote nearly 3,500 poems in a wide range of genres: historical epics, passionate love poems, distinctive odes (lyric poems that address a particular subject), political manifestos, surrealist poems, and a prose autobiography.
Another great Latin American writer, Frederico Garcia Lorca, described Neruda in 1934: “And I tell you that you should open yourselves to hearing an authentic poet, of the kind whose bodily senses were shaped in a world that is not our own and that few people are able to perceive. A poet closer to death than to philosophy, closer to pain than to intelligence, closer to blood than ink.”
These are, in my opinion, five of his best poems out of his large collection of works.
Tell me, is the rose naked
Why do trees conceal
the splendor of their roots?
Who hears the regrets
of the thieving automobile?
Is there anything in the world sadder
than a train standing in the rain?
Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs,
when you surrender, you stretch out like the world.
My body, savage and peasant, undermines you
and makes a son leap in the bottom of the earth.
I was lonely as a tunnel. Birds flew from me.
And night invaded me with her powerful army.
To survive I forged you like a weapon,
like an arrow for my bow, or a stone for my sling.
But now the hour of revenge falls, and I love you.
Body of skin, of moss, of firm and thirsty milk!
And the cups of your breasts! And your eyes full of absence!
And the roses of your mound! And your voice slow and sad!
Body of my woman, I will live on through your marvelousness.
My thirst, my desire without end, my wavering road!
Dark river beds down which the eternal thirst is flowing,
and the fatigue is flowing, and the grief without shore.
There are cemeteries that are lonely,
graves full of bones that do not make a sound,
the heart moving through a tunnel,
in it darkness, darkness, darkness,
like a shipwreck we die going into ourselves,
as though we were drowning inside our hearts,
as though we lived falling out of the skin into the soul.
Death arrives among all that sound
like a shoe with no foot in it, like a suit with no man in it,
comes and knocks, using a ring with no stone it it, with no
finger in it,
comes and shouts with no mouth, with no tongue, with no
Nevertheless its steps can be heard
and its clothing makes a hushed sound, like a tree.
I’m not sure, I understand only a little, I can hardly see,
but it seems to me that its singing has the color of damp violets,
of violets that are at home in the earth,
because the face of death is green,
and the look death gives is green,
with the penetrating dampness of a violet leaf
and the somber color of embittered winter.
But death also goes through the world dressed as a broom,
lapping the floor, looking for dead bodies,
death is inside the broom,
the broom is the tongue of death looking for corpses,
it is the needle of death looking for thread.
Death is inside the folding cots:
it spends its life sleeping on the slow mattresses,
in the black blankets, and suddenly breathes out:
it blows out a mournful sound that swells the sheets,
and the beds go sailing toward a port
where death is waiting, dressed like an admiral.
What did you do, you Gideans,
mystifiers, false existential
in the tomb, Europhile
cadavers in fashion,
pale worms in the capitalist
cheese, what did you do
confronted with the reign of anguish,
in the face of this dark human being,
the kicked-around dignity,
this head immersed
in manure, this essence
of coarse and trampled lives?
You did nothing but take flight:
sold a stack of debris,
searched for celestial hair,
cowardly plants, fingernail clippings,
“Pure Beauty,” “spells,”
works of the timid
good for averting the eyes,
for the confusion of delicate
on a plate of dirty leftovers
tossed at you by the masters,
not seeing the stone in agony,
no defense, no conquest,
more blind than wreaths
at the cemetery, when rain
falls on the flowers still
and rotten among the tombs.
In Salvador, death still patrols.
The blood of dead campesinos
has not dried, it does not dry with time,
the rain does not wipe it off the roads.
Fifteen thousand machine-gunned:
Martinez was the murderer’s name.
To this day the taste of blood lingers
in the land, bread and wine of Salvador.
I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as one loves certain obscure things,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,
and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose
from the earth lives dimly in my body.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
so close that your eyes close with my dreams.