Isla Negra

word traveler

Every morning, on a remote shore along the Chilean coast, in a small house overlooking the sea, a bulky man blew his trumpet while observing the ever-moving sea surface. This man was Pablo Neruda, the most famous poet from South America, and the place where he chose to spend the later part of his life was Isla Negra, a tiny hamlet an hour’s drive from the capital, Santiago. In 1939, when Neruda started to compose Canto General, he felt the need of a new shelter. He found Isla Negra, a precious spot unknown to most people, on a newspaper ad. The place, a lot with a tiny stone cabin that back then looked more like a wreck, was sold to him by an old sea captain, and it slowly became the poet’s own boat . . . anchored on land.

And soon “the house was growing, as people, as trees . . . African sculptures, Chinese prints, Buddhas, compasses, maps, old paintings, and even a skull. Ship’s figure heads, shells, nautical decors and more than a hundred bottles the poet bought in the flea markets in France. Neruda loved to surround himself with collected objects, remains and relics from the past, while growing dreams about the future.

The wild coast of Isla Negra, with the tumultuous oceanic movement, allowed me to surrender with passion to the venture of my new song”.

Rambling and creative architecture, quirky collections of world art, and a stunning ocean view. In the house of Isla Negra Neruda found the perfect place to write, and put together an important part of his literary work. The poet’s appetite for life was endless. He indeed described himself as omnivorous---“I would like to swallow the whole earth, drink the whole sea".

Neruda hoped to leave the house as a heritage to Chilean people (“don't want my heritage of joy to die”), but sadly that refuge wasn’t far enough to escape Pinochet’s oppression. During a search of the house at Isla Negra by Chilean armed forces at which Neruda was present, a soldier asked Neruda if he hid weapons or something threatening in there. The poet remarked: "Look around---there's only one thing of danger for you here---poetry."

Sonnet LXXX by Pablo Neruda

My Love, I returned from travel and sorrow to your voice, to your hand flying on the guitar, to the fire interrupting the autumn with kisses, to the night that circles through the sky.

I ask for bread and dominion for all; for the worker with no future ask for land. May no one expect my blood or my song to rest! But I cannot give up your love, not without dying.

So: play the waltz of the tranquil moon, the barcarole, on the fluid guitar, till my head lolls, dreaming:

for all my life's sleeplessness had woven this shelter in the grove where your hand lives and flies, watching over the night of the sleeping traveler.