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Neruda in Cuba

poeta-pablo-neruda-580x283The month of July 1940 passes and Delia del Carril, wife of Pablo Neruda at the time, writes to the Cuban Juan Marinello to inform him that circumstances have ruined the poet’s plan to pass through Havana, although, he points out, “he has the firm intention of to go”.

The couple travels by sea to Mexico, where the poet will assume the position of Consul General of Chile, and once in that position it will be very difficult for him to move to the Cuban capital without a plausible reason. That is why Delia asks Marinello that the Cuban friends write to the Chilean authorities “and let them know of your wish that Pablo pay you a visit.” He adds that the poet “is getting quite ahead of his Canto General”, and that “if he does not write personally and has left me that pleasure”, it is because he is overwhelmed by a series of “tedious and unpleasant” letters that he must send to Chile and he wants take advantage of the stopover that the ship they are traveling on will make in Lima to send them.

That handwritten letter dated July 29, 1940, which is in the collections of the José Martí National Library and whose reading is difficult, especially the initial page, due to the faded ink, bears a postscript from Neruda himself. “I can’t wait to go to Cuba,” he tells Marinello and asks him to greet Wenceslao Roces, translator of Marx into Spanish, the poet Manuel Altolaguirre, Nicolás Guillén, Francisco and Félix Pita Rodríguez, and Emilio Ballagas. He immediately adds: “And in particular to all of Havana except for the old bastard Juan Ramón Jiménez.”

It is worth clarifying that by then Platero’s poet had left Cuba. They had an old quarrel, which time had been intensifying, motivated by Juan Ramón’s opinion about the Chilean’s poetry, whom he considered “a great bad poet, a clumsy translator of himself who sometimes confuses the original with the translation” . Opinion that in 1942 he modified to say that Neruda expressed “with exuberant trial and error an authentic general Hispanic-American poetry, with all the natural revolution and the metamorphosis of life and death of this continent” to conclude: “You are prior, prehistoric and turbulent, closed and gloomy”, a judgment to which the Chilean was not insensitive, who did not stop expressing “the deep emotion with which I read his lines, which with their sincerity magnify the admiration that I have felt for his work throughout my life”.

deed song
It will not be until 1942 that Neruda comes to Havana for the first time. The great communist poet has been invited by a Catholic writer, José María Chacón y Calvo, then Director of Culture of the Ministry of Education. At the National Academy of Arts and Letters he gave four lectures, two of them on Francisco de Quevedo, and he evoked, says Volodia Teitelboim, in his biography of the poet, “for the first time in America, His Majesty’s Post Office, Don Juan de Tassis , Count of Villamediana, in love with the Queen, who one day sets fire to the curtains of the Palace stage in order to have a pretext to flee with the tall forbidden beloved in his arms”.

He came back in 1949 or 1950 for a few hours. He was returning to Mexico from Europe – he had attended a peace conference in Paris and the celebrations for the sesquicentennial of Pushkin’s birth in Moscow – and the plane he was traveling on made a stopover in Havana due to a technical failure. Persecuted in Chile after President González Videla’s betrayal of the Popular Front, then-Senator Pablo Neruda was “the wandering poet,” as the journalist Enrique de la Osa called him.

When he returned to Havana for the last time, at the end of 1960, he brought the poems of Canción de gesta, the first book – he boasted of it – “that a poet in any part of the world had dedicated to the Cuban Revolution”, and which closes with a Meditation on the Sierra Maestra that is also a summary of the poet’s life in that dawning hour: “… I receive my past in a cup / and I raise it for the entire earth, / and although my homeland circulates in my blood / without his career ever fading / at this hour my nocturnal reason / points to Cuba its common flag / of the dark hemisphere that awaited / finally a true victory…”

On that visit, in the Plaza de la Revolución, before a million people, the poet read, with his peculiar intonation, his song To Fidel Castro: “Fidel, Fidel, the people thank you / words in action and deeds that sing , / from afar I have brought you / a glass of the wine of my country…”

Bohemia magazine offered a cocktail in his honor and, of course, he did not leave Cuba without tasting the dormant black beans, the tachinos, the yucca with mojo and the roasted pork slices with juice at La Bodeguita del Medio. Aware of his presence in that very Cuban restaurant, two excellent comedians, René de la Nuez and the “Galician” Posada, did not want to miss the opportunity to greet him and, oddly enough, they entered the establishment riding a donkey, which made Neruda burst out laughing.

“The usual nonsense of the poet, his inconvenient attitudes, which led him to be offensive at times, perhaps without meaning to, did not leave the slightest memory,” narrator Lisandro Otero wrote in his memoirs (1997).

His love and fidelity to the Cuban Revolution were not clouded by those “painful misunderstandings” of 1966, when Cuban writers, in an open letter, judged “his poetic, social and revolutionary activity,” according to Neruda himself. The poet, offended, responded sharply.

While he did not forgive those who signed the letter, whom he lambasted or disparaged in his memoirs, the incident did not dampen his sympathies for Cuba and his Revolution. He says it explicitly in I confess that I have lived: “A black point, a small black point within a process, does not have great importance in the context of a great cause. I have continued singing, loving and respecting the Cuban Revolution, its people, its noble protagonists.”

(By Ciro Bianchi)

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