My Life with Pablo Neruda
My Life with Pablo Neruda is a love story written by a muse, who speaks to us out of the sorrow and violence of a military dictatorship that precipitated her beloved’s death. Matilde Urrutia was the lover and wife of Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda; for her, he wrote some of the most celebrated modern love poetry in the Spanish language, including The Captain’s Verses and One Hundred Love Sonnets. At age seventy-two, a year before her death, Urrutia penned her memoirs, not only to share her side of their famous romance but also to document what happened to her as a persecuted widow of a national hero. Alex’s English translation of Matilde Urrutia’s original work, Mi vida junto a Pablo Neruda, was published by Stanford University Press in 2004.
From My Life with Pablo Neruda:
“We arrive at the small plaza at the base of San Cristóbal Hill. From all sides men and women emerge; the people come out to join this cortege, to say good-bye to their poet, a man who thought so much of them, who fought so hard to see that equality would one day reign, that they would live with justice. … At every turn, more and more people join with the procession and they raise their voices together, shouting, ‘Pablo Neruda! Present! Now and forever!’ Everyone marches, seemingly unaware of the message of terror that the soldiers want to convey with their machine guns ready at every corner. … We are surrounded by rifles and machine guns. What a militaristic display for the funeral of the most pacifist man in the world, of a poet! It is a hair-raising funeral.
The people know what this display signifies. They have already lost many loved ones. There is so much blood on the streets of Chile, and for this, the people’s display of such valor is doubly emotional. They are here shouting: ‘Pablo Neruda! Present! Now and forever!’
I will never forget this moment. Their faces reveal a mixture of pain and rebellion. Each one of them feels the horror inflicted on so many friends and family: arrested, disappeared, tortured. And in this moment of suffocating darkness, like a shout for freedom, one can hear, ‘Pablo Neruda! Present! Now and forever!’ This shout brings me a ray of light, of hope; this is a people full of life, and those who use their boots to try to suppress them will have a very hard time. Soldiers, this is the voice of the people. I am sure that everyone is afraid, but this is how they will meet their destiny. I hear a timid voice sing, ‘Arise, wretched of the world.’ Many voices join in: ‘Arise, prisoners of starvation.’
‘Are they going to shoot us?’ someone asks me. I look at the people, all of them with heads held high in defiance. It is beautiful to see their courage. My tears have dried up. In this moment, something very strong has been born in me: it is the awareness that I am not alone. Pablo has left me an inheritance: these people. I also lift up my head. The pain I feel inside is great, but I am not alone. Now, I am a woman accompanied by the world.”
Urrutia draws strength from her husband’s writings after his death as she faces her fears of remaining silent in the face of injustice. Her graceful prose offers not only a glimpse of her life with the great poet but also a portrait of the nobility of suffering under an unjust political regime.