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This review is taken from PN Review 34, Volume 10 Number 2, November - December 1983.

TO A PURE SOLITUDE Isla Negra, Pablo Neruda, translated by Alistair Reid (Souvenir Press) £6.95, £4.95 pb.

The last poem in Neruda's autobiographical notebook, Isla Negra, concludes: 'and now in this discovered space/let's fly to a pure solitude'. A curious apotheosis for that poet 'of violated human dignity', but it is not an admission of defeat. Let us fly: the first person plural is no accident. In his twenties, as a diplomat in the east, Neruda had felt 'no connection with the poor multitudes'. In his thirties and thereafter, in Spain and in his native Chile, Neruda had immersed himself in the fate of those poor. Looking back in his sixtieth year, in the five books of poems which comprise Isla Negra, Neruda discovered a synthesis of opposites. Out of the turmoil of faces and places, both remembered and forgotten, he distilled, not the contents of the past, but himself, a community of consciousness where self was not lost; a society where solitude, not loneliness, was encouraged.

Isla Negra, the place, is a small village on the Pacific coast, south of Valparaiso. In 1939, the thirty-five-year-old poet, exactly midway on his road through life as it turned out, bought a house there. Isla Negra proved to be central in other ways. Most importantly, the wholeness of its living space became an image of the poet himself: an island on land. Its synthesis of opposites taught Neruda there was no paradox in committing himself to the future of Chile's oppressed and cultivating his art: 'The Isla . . . solitary on its rock,/clear in its ...


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