Name at birth: Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Baloalto
Poet, diplomat, bohemian and political activist, Pablo Neruda was a household name throughout Latin America for much of the 20th century. In his 20s he was already famous for his Spanish-language poems of melancholy, love and eroticism, published in best-selling collections such as Crepusculario (1923) and a 1924 title translated as Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. His writing continued in waves from 1927 to 1943 as he worked as a Chilean consular official in Burma, Ceylon, Java, Argentina, Spain, France and Mexico. His poetry turned political as he witnessed poverty in Chile and civil strife in Spain. In the latter country, his friend Federico Garcia Lorca was assassinated and Neruda helped 2,000 Republican refugees relocate to Chile. He was elected to Chile's Senate and joined the Communist Party in 1945, was forced into hiding in 1948, fled to Argentina in 1949, and in 1950 published Canto General, a sweeping work of poems devoted to the beauty and struggles of Latin America. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 and died of cancer days after the 1973 overthrow of another friend, socialist Chilean president Salvador Allende, by Augusto Pinochet.
He hastily took his pen name as a teenager, inspired by Czech writer Jan Neruda, to avoid detection by his father, who loathed the writing profession. He continued to be known by variations of his birth name, including Ricardo Reyes and Neftalí Reyes, until he legally changed his name in 1946… His writing had French, Russian and Latin American influences, but he said none was greater than that of U.S. poet Walt Whitman… Among the many women involved in Neruda’s overlapping love affairs and marriages were three wives: María (“Maruca”) Antonieta Hagenaar (married 1930, estranged 1936, divorced 1943), Delia del Carril (married 1943, estranged 1955, divorced 1966), and longtime lover Matilda Urrutia (married 1966).