Neruda Anti-Meme: Nomination for Worst Poem of the 20th Century

Okay, some blogs that I have been checking out lately have been publishing Chilean Pablo Neruda’s poetry in meme form. I would say his continuing popularity isn’t surprising as many famous artists are often celebrated in a historical vacuum. However, I’m not a fan of divorcing art from its political context. Neruda was a near life-long Stalinist from the Spanish Civil War to his death in the 1973, owing much of his fame (and pay) for cultural service to Soviet totalitarianism.

A particularly disgusting crime of Neruda’s was as a Spanish diplomat in charge of refugees of the Spanish Civil War. Neruda personally prevented non-Stalinist leftists and anarchists refugees from fleeing France, which no doubt lead to many of their deaths at the hands of Hitler’s war machine. Another crime was to help Mexican muralist (and Stalinist comrade) David Siquieros escape to Chile following his role in the murder of Leon Trotsky (not that he’s a great guy either) in Mexico.

I’m no poetry expert but I’m willing to go out a limb and call Neruda’s eulogy to Stalin the worst poem of the 20th century.

To be men! That is the Stalinist law! . . .
We must learn from Stalin
his sincere intensity
his concrete clarity. . . .
Stalin is the noon,
the maturity of man and the peoples.
Stalinists, Let us bear this title with pride. . . .
Stalinist workers, clerks, women take care of this day!
The light has not vanished.
The fire has not disappeared,
There is only the growth of
Light, bread, fire and hope
In Stalin’s invincible time! . . .
In recent years the dove,
Peace, the wandering persecuted rose,
Found herself on his shoulders
And Stalin, the giant,
Carried her at the heights of his forehead. . . .
A wave beats against the stones of the shore.
But Malenkov will continue his work.


8 Responses to “Neruda Anti-Meme: Nomination for Worst Poem of the 20th Century”

  1. brownfemipower Says:

    That’s really interesting drydock–I never heard of the dude until last night–but now that I know who he is i’ve been going around rereading all these poems–and I like this post you have written because it gives much more context.

    thanks for posting it.

  2. Mavis Beacon Says:

    I’m not gonna defend that particular poem, but your gonna have a tough time with art if you only enjoy the work of artists who lived by modern standards of morality and political ethics. Rudyard Kipling was a virilent racist, Shakespeare unkind to the Jews, even Twain’s depictions of race are a bit unseemly by today’s standards. Obviously, it’s valuable to hold our contemporaries to such standards and we shouldn’t hesitate to point out the errors of previous generations, but that hardly means we should throw out their work. I’m sure you’re not one of those PC types who wants to prevent public viewings of Birth of a Nation and keep Huckleberry Finn out of high schols.

  3. Mavis Beacon Says:

    I’ve just read some of your other posts and it seems unlikely you meant to advocate throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

  4. Tracking Neruda « The Anti-Essentialist Conundrum Says:

    […] Sandwich: I mentioned the poems needed a warning label… […]

  5. Alec Leamas Says:

    Perhaps it is more lyrical in the original Spanish?

    I have no particular opionion of Neruda, but methinks that poetry looses a bit in translation.

    See also Il Postino, an Italian film featuring Neruda as a central character, helping the protagonist woo the village beauty. Good movie.

  6. Chileno Says:

    Neruda was a limousine liberal. Great poet, confused man, totally overblown and overshadows Chilean poets, in what really is an exceptionally lyrical country, and thus has earned the title “chancho culia’o” in Chile, which means Fucking Pig.

    That title might have also come from his obesity and purported numerous affairs.

  7. drydock Says:


  8. Satya Dubey, INDIA Says:

    In the name of progressive stand, some of the poems/plays written by communist writers in India ( 1942-45) in the praise of stalin may be placed in the same category..

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