The year of July 12, 2004- July 11, 2005 is the year of the Pablo Neruda Centennial. My humble contribution, True Stone and Epitaph: the Poetry of Pablo Neruda , appears in the pages of the online journal Eclectica. Perhaps the following excerpt will serve to entice:
As consul to Rangoon, his tasks were not onerous. His voyage to the city actually amounted to a tour of Europe and the Far East. He made his first visits to Paris and Madrid, communed with the ghost of Rimbaud at Djibouti, was robbed in Shanghai, and arrived in Rangoon after what would have been a lifetime of experiences for most people. For him it was only the beginning of a life of adventure and poetry that would make him an almost legendary figure.
Such minor diplomatic posts were apparently provided, from time to time, by the governing elite of the country, to educate promising young Chileans in the ways of the world. Burma, India, Ceylon, India again, Java and Singapore: Neruda's posting changed almost yearly. In the process he met Mahatma Gandhi and the Nehrus. His sense of the injustice of colonialism had already begun to form, and his attendance at the great Panhindu Congress, of 1929, encouraged it even more.
The work of a consul was nowhere particularly burdensome nor was the salary ever sufficient, and the young consul was left with long stretches of days to fill as best he could. He spent the time learning the local landscapes, seeking beautiful lovers, and, most of all, reading. After leaving the university and his homeland, he began desultorily reading the great works of the western tradition. He also continued his already extensive reading in Rilke and the great French writers from Baudelaire to Proust.
His own poetry was proceeding apace. His Twenty Love Poems and a Desperate Song (1924), first published some years before he left for the Far East, had already brought him a degree of fame in his homeland. It remains among his more popular books, and four selections from it appear in The Essential Neruda.