The Biography of a Poet
A Finalist for the PEN/Bograd Weld Prize for Biography
The most definitive biography to date of the poet Pablo Neruda, a moving portrait of one of the most intriguing and influential figures in Latin American history
Few poets have captured the global imagination like Pablo Neruda. In his native Chile, across Latin America, and in many other parts of the world, his name and legacy have become almost synonymous with liberation movements, and with the language of erotic love.
Neruda: The Poet’s Calling is the product of fifteen years of research by Mark Eisner, writer, translator, and documentary filmmaker. The book vividly depicts Neruda’s monumental life, potent verse, and ardent belief in the “poet’s obligation” to use poetry for social good. It braids together three major strands of Neruda’s life—his world-revered poetry; his political engagement; and his tumultuous, even controversial, personal life—forming a single cohesive narrative of intimacy and breadth.
The fascinating events of Neruda’s life are interspersed with Eisner’s thoughtful examinations of the poems, both as works of art in their own right and as mirrors of Neruda’s life and times. The result is a book that animates Neruda’s riveting story in a new way—one that offers a compelling narrative version of Neruda’s life and work, undergirded by exhaustive research, yet designed to bring this colossal literary figure to a broader audience.
Neruda scholar and translator Eisner (The Essential Neruda) provides a bracingly comprehensive and authoritative account of the "poetry, personality, and politics" of one of the 20th century's most revered poets. The heavily researched narrative illustrates how Neruda's formative years in Chile, volunteer role on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, frequent travels as diplomat and cultural ambassador, marriages and affairs, and "ambition and belief in his own greatness" shaped his poetry. Claiming to be "neither unbiased nor hagiographic," Eisner doesn't let the enchantment of the verse soften his disapproval of the poet's serial adultery or mistreatment of women, and questions Neruda's self-appointed "people's poet" status. Nevertheless, the thematic arc of Neruda's poetic vocation is invitingly presented; several of his books are given a patient and thorough analysis, including the "monumental cultural event" of the early work Twenty Love Poems, published in 1924. Meanwhile, the descriptions of places where Neruda lived and traveled are poetry themselves, such as Eisner's description of how the young Neruda would "watch the light blue ocean pulse its universal heartbeat." This efficient and moving study should delight scholars and poets with its depth of detail and excellent translations, and may even draw new admirers who share Neruda's belief that "poetry is like bread; it should be shared... by all our vast, incredible, extraordinary family of humanity."