The Chilean poet and Nobel Laureate was born Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto on this day in 1904. He chose his pen name in honour of the Czech poet Jan Neruda, and it became his legal name in 1946. Called by Gabriel Garcia Marquez "the greatest poet of the twentieth century in any language," he was known across Latin America and the world for his passionate, powerful and political work, as well as for his diplomatic service. When he died in 1973, thousands of his countrymen and women defied a curfew put in place by the military dictator Augusto Pinochet to crowd the streets in mourning.
Below, a poem by the writer:
The Old Women Of The Ocean
To the solemn sea the old women come With their shawls knotted around their necks With their fragile feet cracking.
They sit down alone on the shore Without moving their eyes or their hands Without changing the clouds or the silence.
The obscene sea breaks and claws Rushes downhill trumpeting Shakes its bull's beard.
The gentle old ladies seated As if in a transparent boat They look at the terrorist waves.
Where will they go and where have they been? They come from every corner They come from our own lives.
Now they have the ocean The cold and burning emptiness The solitude full of flames.
They come from all the pasts From houses which were fragrant From burnt-up evenings.
They look, or don't look, at the sea With their walking sticks they draw signs in the sand And the sea erases their calligraphy.
The old women get up and go away With their fragile bird feet While the waves flood in Traveling naked in the wind.
Translated by Jodey Bateman (via All Poetry).
Image source: Colombo Telegraph