Pablo's Pablum

|

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….

That's from Pablo Neruda's poetical eulogy for Stalin (yes, that Stalin). As Neruda gets feted on the occasion of his 100th birthday, Stephen Schwartz spoils the party by remembering Pablo's politics.

NEXT: Parties Over?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. He was nevertheless a great poet.

  2. BTW, according to the author of the article I am a neophyte in this area for liking many of Neruda’s poems; however, since I’ve most of the authors that he lists, I beg to differ. Poetry, like music, is fairly subjective from the standpoint of appreciation, and its rather silly for the author to impliedly argue otherwise.

  3. Call me snake,

    Well, there are numerous great poets with rather screwed up political ideologies; indeed, Stephen Schwartz even mentions one besides Neruda – the traitor, anti-semite and fascist otherwise known as Ezra Pound.

  4. To say nothing of McKuen…

  5. It is possible to like someone’s poetry (or Art), but not him/her (or their values)

    Kind of like some people “support our military, but oppose what they do” 🙂

  6. Zorel,

    Naturally appreciation for another’s politics and their art can diverge, but there are dynamics whereby a supporter of a brutal dictatorship will see their poetry suffer. Good poetry of any sort requires subtlety, so that a moral position must be suggested by the poet through a web of associations, and completed by each thoughtful reader in their own way. How can this attitude be kept up by someone who has to constantly brainwash himself and others with the fundamental goodness of a man like Stalin or a historical record like that of the U.S.S.R.?

  7. BTW, my grasp of Spanish is poor enough that I’ve only read Robert Bly translations of Neruda, and haven’t found much of value there. But from Bly’s translations of Rilke, where I can appreciate the originals, I think he’s an awful translator. (I remember thinking some of his original work was well done, but it apparently wasn’t good enough to remember!)

  8. Akira Kurosawa was in a Communist organization, too. His movies seem none the worse for the experience.

  9. J. Goard,

    “Good poetry… requires subtlety…”? You aren’t staying up late to catch “Def Poetry Jam” after “Da Ali G Show”, are you?

  10. joe,

    I generally like the work of Pound (indeed, some of poems are brilliant); but I still acknowledge that he was a Nazi. Hell, one of my favorite noovels for years was Gorky’s “My Childhood,” yet I’ve always known that he was a supporter of Communism. Humans are pretty fucked up creatures and its not suprising that a great artist could also advocate or otherwise apologize for some horrific stuff.

  11. mitch,

    The rhetorical chanting typical of such performances strikes me overall as ugly and boring, no less so when I agree with the sentiments. After the great high of watching Ali G, especially. :-> I don’t deny that there are exceptions which have struck me positively, but I can’t point to one that has changed my live in the way that many “real” poems have.

  12. “But what serious reason can justify allowing the continued transformation of this loathsome figure, vain and selfish, ambitious and unctuous in his service to a totalitarian regime, into a champion of Spanish literature?”

    None, except the quality of his verse. Which Schwartz assumes must be terrible, because of his politics.

  13. lancer,

    Ezra Pound lionized Hitler and he is still a lionized (though controversial) writer – indeed, numerous apologia and hagiographies have been written about the man. In the realm of philosophy, Heidegger was also a fascist, yet he remains one of the world’s most influential philosophers. Indeed, numerous intellectual figures are still celebrated despite their anti-semitic or racist inclinations – for example, the philosopher Gottlob Frege is still read by most university philosophy majors, and he was an anti-semite. We also celebrate writers like H.L. Mencken, despite their anti-semitism.

    BTW, Neruda has been dead for decades.

  14. I am not particularly fond of the fact that many great intellectuals were sucked into Soviet hype (or merely lacked to courage to admit that they had been once they discovered the horrors of Soviet Russia), but that doesn’t make me dismiss their work out of hand. Indeed, I can find say the work of WEB DuBois to be in some degree wrongheaded (especially the economic determinism apparent in his work), while also admire him as a leader in tearing down the “moon light and magnolias” school that so informed anti-bellum southern history from the 1870s through the 1940s.

  15. Gary Gunnels has already spoken of Pound & Hoedegger. These guys were not poets but they have been lionized all right – Von Braun, Albert Speer. They were praised as technocrats who happened thru’ misfortune to be associated with the Party. Von Braun ended at NASA where many a US politician eagerly shook his hand when the space race was on. People have raised questions about Hiesenbergs relationship with the Nazi’s – I dont think his reputation as a physicist has been damaged at all.

    What i want to know is when will Nick denounce Baudelaire’s/Coleridge’s poetry for their drug use which causes reefer-madness ? At least, that is what the DEA claims, and the DEA is an honourable man.

  16. Gary: Did Pound lionize Hitler? I thought he only (“only”) lionized Mussolini.

    Joe: When was Kurosawa a Communist? The political rap I’ve heard on him is the opposite — that his earliest pictures, made during World War II, were on some level propaganda for the militarist regime. (Which I can’t really hold against him, given the circumstances under which he was working … I think Stray Dog should put to rest any suspicion that he had any deep-rooted militarist sympathies. Then again, I haven’t seen the movies in question; perhaps they’re more offensive than I’m imagining.)

  17. Jesse Walker,

    As I recall, during his time in Italy in WWII Pound praised via radio shows not only fascist Italy, but also fascist Germany. When he was arrested he claimed – amongst other things – that Hitler was a righteous martyr.

    Some qoutes from his radio messages:

    “Now if you know anything whatsoever of modern Europe and Asia, you know Hitler stands for putting men over machines. If you don’t know that, you know nothing. And beyond that you either know or do not know that Stalin’s regime considers humanity as nothing save raw material. Deliver so many carloads of human material at the consumption point. That is the logical result of materialism. If you assert that men are dirty, that humanity is merely material, that is where you come out. And the old Georgian train robber [Stalin] is perfectly logical. If all things are merely material, man is material -and the system of anti-man treats man as matter.”

    – Ezra Pound

    “Even Mr. Churchill hasn’t had the grass to tell the American people why he wants them to die, to save what. He is fighting for the gold standard and monopoly. Namely the power to starve the whole of mankind, and make it pay through the nose before it can eat the fruit of its own labor.”

    – Ezra Pound

    In speaking to American involvement in WWII, Pound asked:

    “Why did you take up with those gangs? Two gangs. Jews’ gang in London, and Jew murderous gang over in Moscow?”

    You can find the complete text of Pound’s broadcasts in Ezra Pound Speaking – Radio Speeches of World War II. They are often a rambling mess that remind one of Gore Vidal’s style of speech (though Vidal is no anti-semite or fascist as far as I know).

  18. SM,

    Shit, in Huntsville, Al., where my wife hails from, von Braun is something of a folk hero, but its pretty clear from the most exhaustive book on the know on the subject of German rocketry in WWII that von Braun knew about the slave labor camps that supported his group’s efforts and that he turned a blind eye to them.

    For the book see here: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0029228956/reasonmagazinea-20/

  19. Most admirers of Pound regularly accompany their praise with disclaimers of his fascism (OK I’ve heard one or two that don’t, but they were obscure neo-fascists on the absolute fringe).

    The problem with Neruda’s (and other leftwing artists’) admirers is that they not only insist on telling us what a great artist he was, but that his politics evidenced a superior humaneness.

    It is unfair to call Mencken an anti-semite. He hated everyone 🙂

  20. some people actually separate the art from the artist and enjoy both for as much or as little as they’re worth.

  21. Isaac Bertram,

    You would perfer misanthrope then? 🙂

    I’ve met Pound lovers who go apoplectic over suggestions that he was a fascist – they explain that he was “insane” or “misunderstood” or make similar excuses. Indeed, from what I’ve read, Pound didn’t get a bullet in the head for treason largely because of the efforts of psychologists and writers who lied on his behalf.

    Anyway, I happen to like quite a few of Neruda’s poems, and I also enjoy the writings of other lefty writers, but you won’t find me apologizing for their often screwed-up politics. In other words, I can still enjoy Gorky’s “My Childhood,” and loathe Gorky’s involvement with Stalinism.

  22. Joe and Gary: Thanks for the info.

  23. A better person to compare Neruda with is Cesar Vallejo– more or less a contemporary, also a communist, also Latin American/Spanish-Language and also a Modernist…and in every way a worthier poet!

    It is worth it to set aside your exasperation with Vallejo’s misguided political affiliations– and mostly because his art is complex and problematic enough to lift his passions and sympathies above the topical. This isn’t the case with Neruda, whose poetics were cheap, obvious and pandering…and do nothing to redeem his vile political affinities.

    Pound was a slender talent, and ultimately a failed poet.

    Neruda, one suspects, was a more considerable talent, betrayed by his own tempermental penchant for showiness and blowhard grandiosity, and whose real talents would have made him out of step with what was then current fashion– something unacceptable to him, given his relentless ambitions…had he had more integrity, he would have written in the traditional style that suited him. But then we might never had heard of him.

  24. Quotes, man, quotes.

  25. Douglas Fletcher,

    You should probably read Teachout’s biography of the man if you want to hash out this issue more.

  26. “We also celebrate writers like H.L. Mencken, despite their anti-semitism.”

    I’ll have to call you on that one. What part of his writings are anti-semetic? He actually advocated taking the Jews from Germany into the United States before WWII.

  27. “Pound was a slender talent, and ultimately a failed poet.”

    How can you SAY that? He’s a giant of modernism, the equal of Elliot!

  28. pound himself repudiated most of his politics near the end of his life. i remember reading one exchange with burroughs where he called his anti-semitism “suburban.” an odd word choice, from an odd man.

    a failed poet, hardly. shit, him and yeats are about the only two i can stand. maybe i have a thing for fascist verse-herders?

  29. Douglas Fletcher,

    That simply demonstrates his complicated nature; nevertheless, his Diary illustrates that he held some rather vicious anti-semitic and racist views.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.