I rushed through Neruda’s biography yesterday–I hope you have a chance to check it out on your own before class tomorrow. Neruda fell in and out of favor with various Chilean governments, but his most profound disappointment came with the overthrow of Allende–the democratically elected president of Chile and the poet’s close friend–in 1973 (also the year Neruda passed away).
The military dictator Augusto Pinochet led the coup with the backing of Washington. Pinochet’s reign was marred by severe human rights violations–namely, the torturing and killing of political opponents and their families. Estimates vary, but documents and testimony suggest that he had as many as 3,000 and killed and 10 times that number tortured. Pinochet’s violent rise to power coincided with Neruda’s last days on earth.
Latin American poetry remains haunted by those counted among the Disappeared–those presumed to have been taken, tortured, and killed by the government during Pinochet’s reign, those vanished without a trace, without a reason, without explanation. For many, this amounted to a kind of secret or shadow genocide–one easily erased. But people around the globe have resisted this erasure, and continue to try to bring these atrocities to light.
I hope this brief capsule history will help you experience Martin Espada’s profoundly moving poem, “Rain without Rain,” more completely. It is a memorial for the Desaparecidos (the Disappeared), for Neruda, and for Whitman himself whose songs are chanted over–where else–the seas.