The Dictators

An odor stayed on in the canefields;
Carrion, blood, and a nausea
Of harrowing petals.
Between coconut palms lay the graves, in their stilled
Strangulation, their festering surfeit of bones.
A finical satrap conversed
With wineglasses, collars, and piping.
In the palace, all flashed like a clockdial.
The gloved laugh redoubled, a moment
Spanning the passageways, meeting
The newly-killed voices and the buried blue mouths. Out of sight,
Lament was perpetual, and fell, like the plant and its pollen,
Forcing a lightless increase in the blinded, big leaves.
And bludgeon by bludgeon on the terrible waters,
Scale over scale in the bog,
The snout filled with silence and slime
And vendetta was born.

— Pablo Neruda

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda was a true cosmopolitan and traveled the world as poet-diplomat for his country. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), he used his poetry to support the leftist faction and to document the murder of the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca by Franco’s army. He continued to lean left after his return to Chile and joined the Communist Party of Chile in 1945. He was an ardent supporter of Stalin and Castro, and was forced to flee Chile in 1948 because of the government’s crackdown on communism. He was allowed to return to Chile in 1952. A support of the socialist president Salvador Allende, Neruda was considering leaving Chile after the dictator Pinochet seized power in September 1973, but he died just a few days after the coup.

[Research note: Pablo Neruda, “The Dictators,” Poetry (January 1952), p. 207; Rita Guibert, “Pablo Neruda, The Art of Poetry No. 14,” Paris Review 51 (Spring 1971); Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, “Pablo Neruda’s importance was as much political as poetic,” Guardian (April 10, 2013)]

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